On a little corner shop in Brooklyn, magic happens. That’s where husband-and-wife team Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna create crave-worthy flavors like Nanatella, Coconut Fudge and Mexican Hot Chocolate at their ice cream shop, Ample Hills Creamery. Now you can recreate the magic at home with aid from their first cookbook, “Ample Hills Creamery: Secrets and Stories from Brooklyn’s Favorite Ice Cream Shop.” We spoke with Cuscuna, who owns and operates the business with Smith (and is also a full-time teacher!). With the new book, and a second shop opening next month, life is sweet for this pair.
Making ice cream seems so intimidating! Is it really hard to do?
No, it’s really not. The cool thing about ice cream is that you can experiment — add a little more, take a little away. It’s not as intense as, say, baking would be; some baked goods are more time-sensitive and you have to be very precise with ingredients. We just made a recipe from the book the other day with our kids. It was just like, “What do you think it needs?” They’re like, “I think needs a little bit more cinnamon.” “OK, add a little more.” It’s flexible. You can taste it prior to putting it in the ice cream maker. You can’t taste a cake before [it’s done].
What recipes from your book would work best for a beginner?
I think some of the flavors that don’t need to cooked. I think Bananamon [banana cinnamon] is one of the easier ones because you’re not using egg yolks in it, and so therefore you don’t need to cook it to pasteurize it. You just need a blender and an ice cream maker.
What’s your most popular flavor at the shop?
Salted Crack Caramel. I was making cones last week at the shop and I had the book with me, and somebody peeked in and said, “Is that the book? Is the crack recipe in there?” I think the PepPermint patty flavor is also really amazing because it’s made with homemade peppermint patties. It’s a huge crowd pleaser and everyone loves it.
You create such unique flavors. Do you think people are bored with vanilla, chocolate and strawberry?
I don’t think people are necessarily bored with them. I think certain people like simplistic flavors and they don’t want a lot of stuff in their ice cream. That I get, I just think that we have so much fun with our flavors, just from creating and naming them and involving the public. Part of it is just not taking ourselves too seriously and trying to make, like, the most artisanal ice cream with goat cheese and sour cherries. [We’re] more like, “What do we like to eat? What do our kids like to eat? How can we make a cool flavor combination that everyone would like?”
That’s cool that the public gets a say.
We do that a lot. We did a “Walking Dead” Georgia On My Brain, which is blood peach puree, and there’s a splash of bourbon in there.
Running an ice cream shop sounds like it’d be all fun all the time. What’s not fun about it?
You would think it’s all fun and games, owning an ice cream shop with two kids, but having them want ice cream all the time can be difficult. We’re trying to keep them involved in it with us, but at the same time we have to limit their intake. I’m a teacher as well, so [everything] combined is really intense.
Make it at home: Bananamon
For the banana ice cream:
11⁄2 cups (360 ml) whole milk
3⁄4 cup (90 g) skim milk powder
3⁄4 cup (150 g) organic cane sugar
11⁄2 teaspoons vanilla extract
11⁄4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 pound (455 g) ripe peeled fresh bananas
2 cups (480 ml) heavy cream
1 (12-ounce/340-g) box or about 25 vanilla wafer cookies
1. Make the banana ice cream: In a blender, combine the milk, skim milk powder, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and bananas and blend until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add the cream. Stir until combined.
2. Transfer the base to an ice cream maker and churn it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
3. Break the vanilla wafer cookies into quarters. Transfer the ice cream to a storage container, gently folding in the cookie pieces as you do. Serve immediately or harden in your freezer for 8 to 12 hours for a more scoopable ice cream.