These machines also make custard terrifically fast. At Gilles, that means the finished product is ready less than twelve minutes from the time the mix is poured into the machine -- although the exact time varies by flavor. Recipes that contain more sugar take a little longer to finish (which makes sense when you think about how much harder it would be to freeze an ingredient like sugar versus, say, cream). The iron lung’s quick-freeze method is also key to keeping the product’s ice crystals small, which is what gives custard its iconically silky, super smooth texture.
Next, the custard is sent down a chute into a dipping freezer, where it’s ready to be dished up. Because it’s served as soon as it’s made, the temperature of the custard is higher than that of scooped ice cream, which has to be kept in a freezer before serving. This makes for a softer product, similar to soft-serve ice cream -- although thanks to the low overrun and small ice crystal formation, you end up with a completely different, infinitely more luxurious texture.
We Ain't Afraid of No Yolks
Fat, as you’ve surely heard time and again, equals flavor. This axiom is largely true: delicious heavy cream, for instance, contains at least 30% butterfat, whereas skim milk contains less than .5% -- which is why it’s so bland and watery. So you’d be forgiven for thinking that more butterfat is always the answer to better flavor. That axiom isn’t always true in frozen applications, however. “With higher butterfat, custard loses its velvety texture and starts getting greasy,” Linscott says.
And so, frozen custard mix is required to have at least 10% butterfat, generating a mouthfeel that’s rich -- but greaseless. Custard also must contain 1.4% egg yolks: fewer eggs, and it’s considered ice cream; less butterfat, and you’ve got “ice milk,” which sounds like it would be Ned Flanders’ favorite non-popsicle frozen dessert. The FDA regulates these ratios, determining what can be called “frozen custard,” just like it regulates everything else.
Custard stands use mixes from different suppliers, many of which offer varying degrees of butterfat or egg yolk content -- meaning there’s lots of choices for burgeoning frozen custard stands to choose from. Chances are, your favorite stand has been using the same formula for decades, which is why you can tell the difference between Leon’s and Kopp’s -- even without that telltale triangular wafer cookie.
Milwaukee Weather is Perfect for Custard
Weirdly enough, the Midwest has ideal weather for selling custard. You’d think that people would buy more custard during massive heat waves, but it turns out that ultra-high heat just makes people cranky and lazy. “Usually when it gets that hot, people aren’t moving. There’s a sweet spot between about 60 and 80 degrees when you do your best sales,” says Linscott. “Those 95-degree days, sales go in the tank.”
Weather affects not only how much custard is sold, but what flavors, as well -- which should come as no surprise to anyone whose favorite flavor is brandy Alexander or pumpkin pie. Linscott has learned that by selling different flavors at different times of the year, he'll automatically sell more. Some surprising exceptions to that rule: butter pecan and turtle, which are popular year-round.
Although custard flavors now come in tiramisu and Snickers chunky cheesecake, the most popular flavor is still... vanilla: while Milwaukeeans love standing out with their custard affection, they don’t appear to want to buck the status quo. I’d like to think that the subtlety of this flavor just allows our dairy to shine. No one can resist the power of Wisconsin dairy.