Apronomics: Max Crask of Ices Plain & Fancy
Going to the ice cream shop for a scoop of something sweet is a happy thing. And at Ices Plain & Fancy, which opened in 2014 in the Shaw neighborhood, whimsical pink and blue walls and ice cream made on the spot turn the experience into pure magic.
While you watch, ice cream is ash-frozen with liquid nitrogen at -321F and added to a line of stand mixers in which the ice cream base and toppings are mixed. The result is dramatic, akin to a bubbling witch’s cauldron. But the technique isn’t just for show—the process freezes the ice cream almost immediately, which results in an ethereally smooth, dense treat. “You’re guaranteed fresh ice cream because it’s made immediately and hasn’t been hanging around in the freezer,” says chef Max Crask, who opened Ices along with college pals Troika Brodsky, Matthew Deutschmann and sister Darla Crask.
The methods may sound modern, but the inspiration for Ices Plain & Fancy actually dates back to the Victorian era, specifically Agnes Bertha Marshall’s Ices Plain & Fancy: The Book of Ices, a book she wrote in 1885 that suggested using liquid nitrogen to create ice cream. As an homage to its culinary muse, Ices Plain & Fancy features a framed portrait of Marshall on the wall.
Besides the classics—chocolate, vanilla, mint chip and others dubbed its ‘nostalgia avors’—Ices Plain & Fancy, which has cultivated relationships with local growers, also offers a rotating selection of seasonal concoctions. “I don’t like to run commodity fruit, because it doesn’t taste like anything and what grows in Missouri and Illinois is so intense with flavor,” Crask says.
So in early summer, you’ll find locally grown strawberries, followed by the season’s luscious berries, watermelon and even sweet corn. Seasonal treats this year included berries and cream and peach chai. “Summer is fun because of all the great produce that’s available,” Crask says. “We try to stay as local as we can, which is a fun challenge. We call winter our candy season because that’s when nothing’s really growing here, so you can let your imagination fly.”
Besides resulting in silky ice cream, liquid nitrogen has another benefit: it makes it easy and cost-efficient for Crask to experiment with flavors. “I don’t have to make huge batches to see if something’s going to work, and I can easily tweak recipes,” he says. One particularly innovative flavor was the Cluckin’ Hot, made with crispy chicken skin for Southern’s fried chicken festival in June. Another hit this summer used POPtions’ caramel cheddar Chicago-style popcorn to produce caramel ice cream topped with flash-frozen cheddar corn.
Adults can indulge in Ices’ boozy ice cream cocktails, including sweet twists on the Sazarac and the Old Fashioned, and the seriously delicious Ancho & Lefty, which combines chocolate ice cream, Ancho Reyes ancho chile liqueur, Aztec chocolate bitters, Ancho powder and cocoa nibs. “The freezing point of alcohol is much lower than the freezing point of water, and the liquid nitrogen allows us to freeze the alcohol itself,” Crask says. “This means we’re able to make what is essentially an actual cocktail with an ounce and a half or more of full-proof alcohol. With other alcoholic ice creams on the market, there might be only half a cup of bourbon in five whole gallons of ice cream.”
8 oz. vanilla ice cream base (use your favorite homemade vanilla ice cream recipe)
1 oz. maraschino cherry juice
3-4 maraschino cherries
generous pinch of chopped dark chocolate
1 c. liquid nitrogen
» Mix ingredients in a stand mixer. Pour in liquid nitrogen, which can be purchased from a medical gas supplier.
» To prevent freezing, heat bowl with blowtorch as necessary.
» Scoop and garnish with cherries and more chopped chocolate, to taste.