I’ve been cooking at home more often lately. As I tinker in the kitchen, I’ve been better about remembering to write down great recipes that I come across. Recipes in the trial phase go on cards (or slips of paper if I’m being honest). But the keepers go straight to my Moleskine recipe book.
I love this book. The pages are just the right size for every recipe I’ve put in, plus there’s a conversion table and an expandable pocket in the back to keep loose recipes. Add two bookmarks and stickers (!) to label things and this might just be the coolest recipe book ever.
Of course, a recipe book is only as cool as the recipes in it. One day someone might inherit this thing from me and I want it to be full of delicious recipes, but also full of recipes they might not have tried before. As fate would have it, last week I made a recipe two nights in a row that meets both of those criteria.
I present to you: Nicecream.
That’s right. Liquid nitrogen icecream.
If you’re looking for a science demonstration to do, look no further. Nicecream wins over any crowd, every time. For maximum impact, go for the elementary school set. They love helping to stir ingredients together and watching as the condensation cloud spills out of the bowl as you pour in the liquid nitrogen. Getting to eat the icecream at the end is the (perhaps literal) cherry on top.
As you probably know, nitrogen is a gas at room temperature. In fact, it makes up more than 75% of the air we breathe. But as gases are wont to do, if you get it cold enough it condenses into a liquid. In this recipe, we use the frigid liquid nitrogen to freeze cream into icecream. As it transfers its heat the cream, the nitrogen warms up and boils off. (It boils at -320F so it doesn’t take much warming up to go back to being a gas.)
This recipe carries with it both a Nerd Alert and a safety warning. Liquid nitrogen is very cold — between -320F and -345F (-196C to -210C) — and should be handled carefully. You should always wear closed shoes, cryogloves (cold-resistant) , and protective glasses when dealing with liquid nitrogen. It should also be transported in a vacuum flask, both to keep it from evaporating and also to allow you to safely carry it around.
Obviously for this recipe you have to acquire liquid nitrogen. As a scientist, I was able to get it from a research lab at the university (thank you!). As an undergrad in physics, we also had liquid nitrogen readily available. So step one might be to ask your favorite physical scientist if they could get you some liquid nitrogen and maybe even the vaccuum flask to carry it in. If that doesn’t work out, there may be other places in your community where you can buy liquid nitrogen; google can help there.
Liquid nitrogen is fairly cheap to produce, but your cost will depend on your source. In industrial quantities, a gallon (3.75 L) might cost 25 cents or less; in the retail market, prices are higher. I’ve seen retail prices in the ballpark of $3.75 for a liter. So if you’re going retail, this won’t be your cheapest pint of icecream, but that’s hardly the point, right?
Once you have all the materials and ingredients, this recipe is a five-minute effort to get you the creamiest homemade icecream you’ve ever tasted. The liquid nitrogen acts to freeze the cream so rapidly that ice crystals have barely any time to form, leaving you with smooth, delicious icecream in whatever flavor you like.
Here’s the vanilla recipe, also seen in the photo above.
Liquid Nitrogen Icecream
Time: 5 minutes
Serves: 15 – 20
- 1.5 qt half and half
- 1 qt heavy cream
- 1.5 c. sugar
- 5 T vanilla
- ~5 L liquid nitrogen
- Large (4+ gallon) stainless steel pot (needs to be able to withstand the extreme temperatures)
- Long-handled wooden spoon
- Cold-resistant gloves
- Vaccuum flask (i.e. dewar)
- Mix together half and half, cream, sugar, and vanilla in the pot.
- Slowly pour in small amounts of liquid nitrogen at a time, stirring the cream mixture continuously so there is no clumping and even freezing occurs.
- Admire the cold cloud emerging from the bowl. Notice that it sinks to the ground instead of rising.
- Continue adding nitrogen until icecream is desired consistency. This will take between 3 – 5 liters of liquid nitrogen.
- Add desired toppings and serve immediately.