Back in the 8th Grade, long before I began bullshiting my way through blogging , law school, and college, I was a professional bullshitter in primary education. One of my greatest feats was winning First Prize in the Staten Island Science Fair by–get this–a project that involved making ice cream with liquid nitrogen. I still don’t know how I pulled it off. There was no real science, other than the fact that I knew someone who was willing to let me shoot some liquid nitrogen into a styrofoam container of milk, vanilla, and sugar. Now, this was an extremely inefficient process. Not to mention dangerous and messy. But, science!
Now, 16 years later, someone has commercialized this process! An ice-cream shop in San Francisco has perfected the process of making ice cream with liquid nitrogen–instead of, you know, regular refrigeration.
Despite the warm wood and cheery red accents, Smitten Ice Cream can feel a bit like a mad scientist’s shop. There’s the industrial-sized tank of liquid nitrogen that greets you inside the entrance of its new flagship location in Oakland. And there’s the billowing clouds of nitrogen when the stainless steel ice cream machines churn out personalized scoops to order.
With Smitten’s Oakland store set to open next week, Gizmodo went to visit and get the, erh, inside scoop on how these machines make some of the best ice cream out there.
I have to say I was skeptical when I first heard about Smitten’s schtick, which just seemed like a way to differentiate itself from the other cultishly trendy ice cream shops in the Bay Area. (That there is more than one such ice cream shop perhaps says something about the San Francisco of 2014.) I’ve made liquid nitrogen ice cream before, and the lumpy result was, put charitably, no better than supermarket brands. It’s kinda fun but definitely not worthy of cultish devotion. But when I tried the ice at Smitten’s original San Francisco location, damned if it wasn’t delicious and creamy.
In theory, liquid nitrogen is supposed to make the best ice cream because its extremely low temperature prevents the formation of large ice crystals—hence the creamier result. In practice, though, superchilling your cream causes it to stick to the cold steel bowl, creating those lumps I encountered stirring by hand. That’s where Brrr does its job.
I did not reserve the name NitroCream, alas.