With the temperatures closing in on unbearable and the official return of that hot New England summer weather now upon us, ice cream season is about to hit its peak time. Can you think of a better way to cool down on a sweltering July day?
And as you may know, Concord is home to many places to get a cone or a sundae. At the local level, there’s Arnie’s Place, Ballard’s Ice Cream, Frekey’s Dairy Freeze, Buza Dairy Bar and Granite State Candy Shoppe. For national spots, you’ve got Friendly’s and Dairy Queen – and for you frozen yogurt fans out there don’t forget about Orange Leaf.
All of them are serving up some great-tasting frozen treats, but did you know that two of them are actually making the stuff you’re devouring?
That’s right, both Arnie’s and Granite State Candy are in the business of churning out their own scoopable desserts. It’s certainly a labor of love that adds an extra level of planning to the business, but totally worth the extra time.
Owner Tom Arnold started making his own ice cream 20 years ago, and has now stockpiled a recipe book that includes the 46 flavors that currently make up Arnie’s menu – and quite a few more.
When it comes to making ice cream, Arnold spares no expense. He gets as many ingredients as he can from local sources. The mix, which contains 14 to 16 percent butterfat, is bought in Concord. The maple syrup he uses is also local, and while the vanilla extract comes all the way from Madagascar, it’s the best you can find.
Even the employees who make it are an investment. There’s only a handful or so who make ice cream at Arnie’s, and Arnold likes them to be there for a couple years before teaching them the tricks of using the ice cream maker. Even fewer are trusted to create Arnie’s top seller – chocolate.
“It’s pretty involved, using sugar and cocoa,” Arnold said. “So we’ll make enough to last a few weeks.”
When we stopped in last week, Hannah Thompson was about to “cook” up a batch of coconut roasted almond. A single batch will make 2 ½ tubs, and she was ready to make two of them.
It starts with a bag of the aforementioned local ice cream mix and a shredded coconut base mix. Once the machine has turned the liquid mixture into a consistency that more resembles ice cream, Thompson added a whole lot of almonds. It needs to happen toward the end, because they want the sliced almonds as is and not broken up into a ton of little pieces. Once it comes out of the machine, shredded coconut is mixed in, because after all, it is a coconut-flavored ice cream, so give the people what they want.
As for how you tell when it’s ready to take it out of the machine?
“It’s not an exact science,” Thompson said. “You just learn to know what to look for. Thickness and consistency.”
While the timing of adding ingredients differs between flavors, it all generally takes about the same time. Once it’s done, it goes to the really cold freezer and then to the walk-in freezer until it’s needed for scooping.
“At this point, we’re probably going through 700 gallons a week of scooped ice cream,” Arnold said.
Ed Brand, one of the store’s chocolatiers, is the go-to person when it comes to making Granite State Candy’s frozen creations.
“I make ice cream every day,” Brand said.
Especially this time of year. It all starts with the ice cream mix they get from Contoocook Creamery. The mix consists of milk, cream, sugar and a stabilizer – a standard combo for starting ice cream.
When we stopped by last week, Brand and head chocolatier Caleb Ruopp were ready to make a fresh batch of Fred and Ginger. It’s a rather simple recipe, as it consists of two bags of mix, some ginger and vanilla extracts and ginger chunks.
Once they put it all in the machine, it’s a waiting game. There’s no exact time for each flavor, rather a trained eye as to know when the ice cream is ready to be taken out of the maker and put into the waiting cardboard tubs. But Brand still sets a timer to remind himself to check out the product.
“Science is science,” Brand said. “And there’s a lot more room on the warmer side than when it’s totally frozen.”
Each flavor is a little different, but a batch will yield about four or five tubs, with each tub being 2 ½ gallons. For certain flavors, a batch will last for some time, but not vanilla, as Granite State goes through five tubs a week. That’s more than 12 gallons. Talk about an epic brain freeze.
Once the mixture has turned to ice cream, the labeled tubs are put in a deep freezer – somewhere between minus-30 and minus-40 degrees.
“So it freezes as fast as possible,” Brand said. Because of the whole science thing behind it.
The peppermint stick is made with broken pieces of Granite State’s candy canes, while they also make their own pistachio paste.
As to when to add the ingredients depends.
“The absolute best way to do it for the perfect quality is to add it as it comes out of the machine,” Brand said.
When you go out for ice cream, sometimes the list of flavors you can fill your cup or cone with can be overwhelming.
Sure, there are always the tried and true flavors like vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Then there’s ones like peanut butter cup, cookies and cream and chocolate chip (with or without mint). But others you have to wonder: How did anyone think that up?
Well, for those who make their own ice cream, it comes down to trial and error. Some ideas work out great and end up on the menu as really good sellers. Others, well, not so much.
Over his 20 years, Arnold has tried many different recipes. The most recent one to make the menu was last summer: blueberry pancake. It was created for one of his longtime employees’ significant other, who had suggested the combination. And so far, it has done pretty well.
They will even get suggestions from customers about a pairing they’d like to try, but it all comes down to ingredients, time and whether or not they think it will sell.
Granite State added a pancake and bacon flavor last year that took a few tries to get the recipe down to something that could actually be consumed. It was a matter of getting the right amount of batter and bacon to make it so the ice cream would actually freeze. Kind of important, if you ask us. The folks at Granite State have a few ideas for new flavors as the summer rolls along, so make sure you keep an eye out the next time you’re in there for a refreshing treat.
Odds and ends
Ballards may not make their own ice cream, but their list of flavors is epic and totally worth the trip. And don’t forget to get one of the many specialty cones like the candy-coated chocolate-dipped waffle variety.
We already told you all about the newest addition to the ice cream scene, Frekey’s Dairy Freeze, but it’s worth noting they have a new soft-serve machine that you should totally try out.
If you’ve never tried gelato, Buza Dairy Bar (in Vibes Gourmet Burgers) is the place for you. It’s worth a taste and might just be your new go-to for frozen desserts.
Friendly’s was one of our faves growing up and is still dishing out great sundaes and candy-mixed creations.
The Dairy Queen Blizzards are a great snack that you can get at the drive-through, and make sure they hold it upside down.
Fro-yo mixed with candy? Orange Leaf can totally satisfy any craving you have on that front.