Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Hot Ice Cream (Methylcellulose)

Hot ice cream is an interesting way to surprise your guests.  It takes on the magical property of being a solid gel when heated and “melts” when it starts to cool.  This creates the illusion of ice cream melting on the plate while really the opposite temperature change is occurring.  To make the most of the surprise, you should serve it in "scoops" that resemble real ice cream.

For those of you have heard of hot ice cream but have never experienced it, I must warn you in advance that the name can be a bit deceiving.  The consistency and texture is more like a soft custard, rather than having the taste and feel of real ice cream.  The addition of whipped cream or more solidified dairies such as marscapone cheese can help add a more true ice cream texture.

The magic of the consistency comes from using methyl cellulose, which is a hydrocolloid derived from vegetables.  Methyl cellulose has the intriguing property of being a thermo-reversible gelling agent, which is what allows your hot ice cream to liquefy as it returns to room temperature.  Perhaps the most accurate way to think of methyl cellulose is to say that it is the reverse of gelatin, which sets as it cools.  The methyl cellulose has a somewhat similar setting effect that gels as it is heated.

Methyl cellulose comes to you in the form of a white powder that, like cellulose, is odorless, tasteless, and indigestible.  When you find recipes using methyl cellulose it is important to take into account the type and even the brand used, if at all possible, as there are differences in concentration and some of the subtle properties between the ones readily available to amateur chefs. 

In general, when using methyl cellulose, you want to add the powder to the working solution and then cool it down to below 5 degrees Celsius in order to allow the jellification process to start through hydration.  When the solution has reached a temperature below 5 degrees, you heat it up to between 50 and 70 degrees Celsius, at which point it solidifies.

Aside from just serving a surprising hot ice cream on its own, or in the place of traditional ice cream, the unique properties of this process lend itself to creating great ice creams to incorporate into hot toddies and other hot mixed beverages.  It can also create interesting juxtapositions by reversing traditional temperature roles. (For a play on pie a'la mode, instead of hot apple pie with vanilla ice cream I tried a chilled coconut cream pie with a hot lime sorbet).

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