Chef Anthony David looks sad. “We have a term for it,” he states, with a shudder. “It’s called temperature abuse.” I try hard to look sympathetic. “There, there,” I mummer kindly, kindly patting a scoop of dulce de leche with my spoon. “It ruins the ice cream,” he continues mournfully. “It could even get — gasp — ice crystals.” (*Insert horrified shudder*).
It seemed like an innocuous enough question. How well does Häagen-Dazs ice cream re-freeze? If you’ve never bought a carton of ice cream, intending to go straight home, and then got distracted by a shoe sale at the mall, you’re a better woman than I am. Once home, the obvious thing to do with your now-mushy Belgian chocolate is to bung it in the fridge and go watch two back to back episodes of How I Met Your Mother, while waiting for it to look respectable again. Right? Apparently not.
There’s a reason this is considered the Louis Vuitton of ice creams. Luxury is all about details, and at Haagen-Dazs, they’re obsessive about details. Which brings me back to Chef Anthony, who’s cheerful again at the sight of a big tray of chocolate fondue. We’re at the opening of the brand’s Chennai outlet. At one of those determinedly glitzy parties, with an annoyingly chirpy emcee, pounding music and free ice cream scoops for all. Between forking out chunks of cake, and twirling them in the decadently thick chocolate sauce, he explains why this ice cream is considered among the best in the world.
It’s certainly come a long way. The exotic, faintly European-sounding name is a red herring, meaning — well — nothing. Clever marketing pushes the idea of Häagen-Dazs as a global brand, deliberately calling no particular country home. The products, however, are all made in their ice cream facility in Arras in Northern France. Conveniently, the brand also has a romantic back story. Enter Reuben Mattus, “a young entrepreneur with a passion for quality… working in his mother’s ice cream business selling fruit ice and ice cream pops from a horse-drawn wagon in the bustling streets of the Bronx, New York.” (You can almost hear the grainy voiceover.) This family business did so well that by the 1960s, Mattus and his wife Rose decided to start a company dedicated to ice cream, which he named Häagen-Dazs. They offered just three flavours: vanilla, chocolate, and coffee. The brand exploded. Then in 1983 they sold the brand to General Mills. Today it’s available in 50 countries, including India, which joined the list three years ago.
While this isn’t your chunky, hand-churned, artisanal ice cream, it works hard on maximising it’s appeal by using every available resource, and making the most of globalisation and modern technology. It’s also resolutely global, bringing together what it declares to be the ‘finest ingredients’ in the world. Arindam Haldar, director, Premium Foods, General Mills, India, helpfully lists them: “Vanilla from Madagascar. Cocoa from the Ivory Coast, chocolate from Belgium, mangoes from India.” Where in India? Nobody is really sure. It’s all veiled in dreamy secrecy. Which makes you wonder whether the global shopping list is more a marketing ploy than a culinary necessity. The strawberries, for instance, are the Senga sengana variety from Poland and the Hood totem from the Pacific Northwest region of the U.S. considered the best in the world because they’re bright red all the way through.” How do people read this and not roll their eyes?
This kind of obsessive attention to detail does have its advantages. Chef Anthony explains how complex simplicity can be. “Our vanilla is just milk, sugar, cream, eggs and real vanilla,” he says, adding, “Try it, and it will change the definition of vanilla for you.” The sorbet, similarly, is just fruit puree and sugar. They take as much pride in what they leave out, as what they put in: No additives. No preservatives. No artificial flavours.”
Which is why temperatures are so important. “When the ice cream is made, it’s boiled and then quickly frozen to – 21 degrees Celsius, because research has shown that it retains its flavour and texture at that temperature.” Once the ice cream reaches the store, there’s a strict protocol to follow. “We put it in a tempering freezer for 12 hours, where it moves from– 21 degree C to – 17 degrees C. This is the perfect temperate to scoop it. And by the time it’s served and you eat it, it’s – 14 degrees C, which is the best temperature for releasing the flavours.” Incidentally, these rules apply to your ice cream cartons too, which are stored at – 21 degrees C, so they will be – 17 degrees C when you reach home. (Provided you don’t suddenly decide to take a detour for that perfect pair of silver stilettos.)