Monday, August 29, 2011

Greatest Desserts: Rhubarb & Crème Fraiche Sherbet

I have bonded between bites of a rhubarb cobbler and made lifelong friends. Some would attribute this to my winning charisma, but I know better. When shared, the tartness of rhubarb transforms its consumers into both addicts and a support group. In short, when we eat rhubarb together, we are forever linked. And though these uniting forces cannot be denied, I have found a rhubarb product brings my altruism into question.

Snookelfritz creates seasonal artisan frozen desserts, emphasizing sustainability and using local ingredients. Their pints are sold at Chicago farmers markets and some neighborhood stores. While many of their flavors are nothing short of creative (raspberry-rose petal, roasted strawberry-brown sugar, maple-candied), their Rhubarb & Crème Fraiche Sherbet stands out as being among the finest frozen desserts I’ve ever had.

Though there is never a need to dilute pure rhubarb, this sherbet creates a balance of flavors that (rather that compete with another) seem to ask one another to dance. Unlike the overpowering strawberry with which rhubarb is usually paired, the subtle crème fraiche gracefully lets the rhubarb take the lead while it is whirled round and round. And the texture of the sherbet is the light, soft footing that effortlessly carries your taste buds across the dance floor.

I will say it again: this is one of the finest frozen desserts I have ever had. As I think now, the Brown Butter ice cream at Toscanini’s (in Cambridge, MA) comes to mind as another on this short list, as well as the Mile High Blackberry Ice Cream Pie on Virginia’s Skyline Drive. Snookelfritz’s Rhubarb & Crème Fraiche Sherbet is one for the history books.


Update: Snookelfritz appears to have stopped being in business. This may or may not be because of the same shutdown that killed Nice Cream.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Chicago Blackhawks Ice Cream: Phase 4

What is Chicago Blackhawks ice cream? As far as I know, no such flavor exists outside my kitchen. Together, gentle reader, we will explore this question to create the definitive Chicago Blackhawks ice cream…even though hockey current events mean we will be enjoying our treat from a dish instead of a cup.

After exploring strictly the visceral elements of hockey in Phase 3, I decided to retreat back into the team color approach taken in Phase 2…or so I thought.

Pictured is black cherry ice cream with brownies, which is not the deep red color I expected. Truth be told, the whole thing was a disaster. (Let’s be honest, though: Bad ice cream is better than “good” almost anything else.) My ice cream maker wasn’t producing anything thicker than a milkshake, I overcooked my brownies and I forgot to put in the white chocolate chunks, an addition my brother suggested to keep the visceral “shattered teeth” motif. But I am not ungrateful; I ate the messy liquid and stuck the leftovers in the freezer, hoping its frozen consistency would be somewhere between soup and a rock. The leftovers, though ice cream, lacked the punch I’ve had in other fruit ice creams I’ve made. The brownies were a fantastic touch, but again the cherry ice cream was yellowish brown, not red. This was easily the low point on the journey to hockey/ice cream marriage.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Death of Local Chicago Ice Cream?

Finding homemade ice cream in Chicago isn't easy. I can think of only two scoop shops that specialize in homemade ice cream, one gelato place and a few artisan ice cream makers that distribute at farmers markets and grocery stores. But that last category could soon be eliminated.

Friend and fellow blogger, Dawn Xiana Moon, made me aware of this news story. In short, small artisan ice cream makers in Illinois are being targeted by Public Health to maintain the same standards that are held for billion dollar national ice cream makers. These licenses were not mentioned when the businesses were created, so why are they being brought up years later? Effectively, this could end the use of local, organic ingredients and, by doing so, end small business ice cream production in Illinois.

Nice Cream is first on the hitlist. And you can help. You can donate to their Kickstarter page or attend their fundraiser. Also, stay tuned to the Nice Cream website on further instruction for writing a letter to the state.

UPDATE: Dawn has more info.
UPDATE #2 (3/23/2012): Here's the latest.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Great Waldough Search

Finding doughnuts in Chicago that aren’t from the ubiquitous Dunkin Donuts is not easy. The best reviewed donut place on Yelp (Old Fashioned Donuts) is all the way down on 112th Street and the other major players (Huck Finn and Dat Donut) are at closest 34th! Speaking for northside Chicago, this is unacceptable.

Doughnut Vault heard the call when they opened their River North business, a converted elevator shaft with fancy décor. But while their donuts are meaty, their hour-long lines are frustrating, their options somewhat simple and their supply extremely limited. Happily, Chicago’s Year of the Donut was only getting warmed up.

Dirty Betty’s offers lower-fat, baked donuts with inspired flavor combinations. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but Pomegranate Glaze (top left) wins with me. Another flavor, Ginger with Key Lime Glaze (bottom left), is more citrusy than most pastries hope to be. And the chocolate glaze on their Chocolate Toffee (top right) doughnut is the easily best chocolate topping I’ve ever had on a doughnut. Unlike Doughnut Vault, where the only difference between their yeast doughnuts is the glaze, the doughnuts at Dirty Betty’s are unique from one another in every way and they’re all delicious.

Since Dirty Betty’s lives inside Cookie Bar, I wasn’t at all surprised by the range of options. The daytime business, a 70’s disco cookie joint, makes Jalapeño Chocolate Chip, Red White & Blueberry and, my favorite, the Potato Chip Chocolate Chip cookie. Can’t decide between cookies and doughnuts? Then you should go on Saturday when they make both cookies and doughnuts all day.

How good is Dirty Betty’s? I’ve been making a mental list of best donuts I’ve had, absolutely certain that Dirty Betty’s makes the list.

Note from 2012: I have since tried Dat Donut and in my opinion it wasn't any more special than your average mom-n-pop doughnut shop. Two more Southside locations to go.