What makes Babcock ice cream so good to eat—and so good for science, students and industry?
By Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz
There might be a thousand ways to make ice cream, but Babcock introduced its preferred formula when the plant and store opened in 1951—and, although new flavors are constantly being created, it hasn’t wavered from that basic recipe.
“As far as we’re concerned, there’s a huge value in keeping it the same,” says Bill Klein. “People love to come back after 30 years—and I guarantee they spent four years eating Babcock ice cream—and have it again. They love knowing it’s the same product.”
But nostalgia isn’t the only draw. Science is foremost at play here. As CALS/UW-Extension professor and food science department chair Scott Rankin puts it, “It’s wonderful for a reason.”
It all starts with fresh, high-quality cream from a hyperlocal source—the university herd one block away. These cows produce about 3,000 pounds of milk a day. Babcock needs between 10,000 and 15,000, so additional milk is brought in from a handful of local farms. Standard Babcock ice cream starts with a base mix of 12 percent milk fat and 10.7 percent “milk solids not fat,” components of milk including protein, carbohydrates, water-soluble vitamins and minerals.
With other ingredients, too, quality comes first. Babcock uses real cane sugar rather than corn syrup; corn syrup, although cheaper, affects flavor and texture. Babcock also uses gelatin stabilizer, a rarity in the industry because it is an animal byproduct, twice as expensive and not as shelf stable—but with Babcock’s relatively small batch and quick turnaround, that’s not a problem, and Klein believes it produces a cleaner taste.
All Babcock ice cream starts with the same base, a blend that tastes like fresh, sweet cream. It gets vat-warmed to about 110 degrees, run quickly through the pasteurizer at 185 degrees and then on to a cold storage vessel for aging, always moving so that it stays cooled at around 34 degrees. Babcock lets the base age overnight, much longer than the industry standard of four hours, to allow all ingredients to fully hydrate and the milk fat to crystallize, which results in a richer, more viscous mix. Meanwhile, samples are run through a rigorous flight of tests in the onsite quality control lab.
The next day the fun begins as the base is customized into dozens of flavors. Haas and his colleagues lean over giant vats like chemists over cauldrons, pouring high-grade vanilla, caramel, chocolate syrup and other liquid flavors from enormous beakers, stirring them into the base mix with an oar-like spatula. Liquid flavors are added before the mix enters the freezer. Solid ingredients, known as inclusions—hunks of cookie dough and buttery yellow cake, slivers of bittersweet chocolate, creamy chunks of peanut butter—are added at the end of the freezing process with a grinder attachment, just before the ice cream is packaged.
Once the liquid flavors have been added, it’s time to freeze. The mix is pumped into a barrel surrounded by Freon, cooling it to 21 degrees as it spins. Inside the freezer, air is introduced, known as “overrun.” (Because air, a needed ingredient, also is free, it can be a cheap way to increase volume. An average discount supermarket brand has 100 percent overrun; standard Babcock has 80 percent.)
As the mix spins, ice crystals, air cells, fat globules and proteins are all bonded together in a delicate balance. The spinning—20 razor sharp steel blades scraping at 200 rpm—exemplifies one of the most crucial developments in ice cream making to date, helped in part by decades of research by food science professor Rich Hartel, an expert on ice crystal formation.
If the ice crystals get too big during spinning, the ice cream will taste crunchy. If you want creamy, smooth-tasting ice cream, you need the smallest ice crystals possible. The trick is keeping those original ice crystals intact and tiny. The rapidly spinning steel blades make for the tiniest ice crystals because they scrape ice from the barrel rather than ice from ice. The end result is a product surprisingly low in fat yet still creamy and rich, with a heartier shelf life.
Tags: Babcock, Bill Klein, Bob Bradley, Dairy, food engineering, Food science, ice cream, Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz, Scott Rankin
Posted in Featured, Food, Main feature, On The Cover, Summer 2012 | 11 Comments »