Izzy's Ice Cream Café
2034 Marshall Ave., St. Paul
Medical Arts Building
825 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis
Marshall Fields Minneapolis, First Floor
Adele's Frozen Custard
800 Excelsior Blvd., Excelsior
3403 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
Look, I'm not saying that Christmas isn't the very worst birthday. Clearly, Christmas, Christmas Eve, Boxing Day, those are the Iron-Maiden-with-Thumbscrews of birthdays. I don't need to tell you about the gruesome present piggybacking, the ghastly happy birthday hats drawn on Santa Claus paper, the grisly, vicious, achingly hollow "Happy Birthday!" postscripts on the frolicking reindeer holiday cards.
I mean, don't tell me that I'm turning into a politician, skipping over the real problems to focus on the flashy, easily remedied crowd-pleasers. Oh, no. Don't you dare denigrate the very real sufferings of the summer-birthday afflicted, those invisible, hardworking, taxpaying citizen-ghosts who flit among us.
I mean, please, please, won't you let them into your hearts? Just picture them. Sitting there all year behind their penmanship workbooks, watching the other kids' mothers ferry in groaning cartons of cupcakes, and then--boom! A week after school ends, this town is a ghost town, and you're watching Mom complain that it's too hot to cook while she tries to hammer a candle into an unwrapped brick of Blue Bunny ice cream.
Do not stand by and let these injustices fester.
No! Especially not when we live in a greater metropolitan area just brimming with tasty ice cream cakes and delicious frozen pies.
For instance, did you know that the various Izzy's locations around town now sell ice cream cakes that have all the snazzy jazz and pop of something on a bridal-magazine cover, but are filled with Izzy's heat-busting, crowd-pleasing, homemade ice creams? It's true!
Here's the deal. Give the Izzy's folks two days notice, and they will make a cake for you from any of the flavors they have on hand or commonly make, such as Norwegian chai, cream cheese, bananas Foster, bubble gum, chocolate dulce de leche, coffee espresso chip, banana macadamia nut, lemon custard, strawberry cheesecake, and about a billion others. If you can't choose just one, they'll layer two flavors in there for you, separated by a layer of their rich homemade fudge or caramel. You also get to choose between a graham cracker or chocolate cookie crust. (Izzy's prices start at $21 for a six-inch round ice cream cake that feeds six to eight, and stagger up through several sizes till they reach the $40 range for a vast ice cream disc that serves 30-some guests.)
If you don't have two days' notice, there are generally about a dozen beautifully decorated cakes ready to go in the St. Paul store. I'm particularly enchanted by the ones that are bright green outside, fuchsia up top, and decorated with little black spots of watermelon seeds; they look like cross-sections of watermelons, as seen in the most innocent of electric Kool-Aid dreams.
However, if you do have two days' notice, Izzy's cake decorator, Nicole Bettini, will decorate a cake to your exact liking: daffodils or lilies, mums or poinsettias, frogs in wheelbarrows, bowling balls smashing into bowling pins, ballerinas, unicorns, a replica of your favorite Gong Show iron-on, or whatever. In keeping with the unspeakably wholesome tricycles-and-moo-cows air at Izzy's, Bettini works full-time at the archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and part-time decorating cakes to pay off her college loans.
In this instance, part-time doesn't mean amateurish, however, as Bettini has been decorating cakes since she was 11, working at her mother's side on wedding cakes in Tulsa and learning all the tricks of piping poppies and ruffling roses. (The buttercream Izzy's uses to ice their cakes is a freezable buttercream invented by Bettini's mother.)
These fancy ice cream cakes are part of Izzy's larger plan to try to move into the non-cone parts of the ice cream business. If you check out their website or stop by the St. Paul store, as I did a few times recently, you'll find their new, non-cone possibilities staggering: The best invention has to be golf-ball sized scoops of ice cream stuck onto a lollipop stick and dipped in dark Belgian chocolate. This, my friends, is an Izzy Pop. It's a great development, because of the dark chocolate, yes, but also because it solves the great ice cream dilemma: By the time your mouth starts to freeze, whoops! It's gone. These cost $1.25 each, but--party planners, take heed!--they're just $1.10 each if you're buying 25 or more. They're a particularly great treat to pass out at parties because of the no-mess, no-plates factor.
Izzy's is also experimenting with restaurant-worthy frozen desserts such as "cherry bombs," Belgian chocolate domes filled with their cherries jubilee ice cream, which is made with a touch of cherry brandy; and fancy sorbet concoctions, like half-coconut shells filled with coconut sorbet, or whole frozen hollowed-out lemons or oranges, filled with lemon or orange sorbet. Fancy!
Pies--pies are always less fancy than cakes, by dint of their modest shape and humble nature. Until you close your eyes, that is. So please note that two of Minnesota's--and, I say, the world's--best frozen-treat makers also sell their wares in pie form.
At Adele's in Excelsior, where the homemade frozen custard is nothing so much as a velvet sunbeam illuminating a meadow of butter, they sell frozen custard pies that put the "Hey" in "Hey, that's my frozen custard pie--tell dad to get his mitts off it." Chocolate raspberry truffle pies have an Oreo cookie crust topped with fudge, layered with their achingly rich and supple chocolate custard, and topped with more fudge, hard dipping chocolate, and fresh raspberries. Turtle pies are also built on an Oreo cookie crust, but here you find that crust topped with fudge, pure and gorgeous vanilla custard, fudge, caramel, salty cashews, big toasty pecans, and--heavens.
It's hard to do these things justice. As sunset over the Grand Canyon is to color, Adele's custard pies are to good dessert. Remember how you felt about candy when you were a kid and you figured, as an adult, you could never feel that way again? If you try one of Adele's frozen custard pies, you will. Whole ones cost $14.95.
Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, just when you think you have traced the design of heaven in an ice cream pie--oops, no you haven't, because that's what they're doing at Crema. Golly! I stopped by Crema for a couple of slices ($4.25) of their ice cream pies, and I tell you, we live in a blessed world. Crema sells three kinds of ice cream pie: crème de menthe, made with mint ice cream with chocolate chips topped with a homemade chocolate ganache; crema, made with the subtle, creamy coffee flavor that is the house signature, and likewise topped with rich ganache; and turtle, made with vanilla ice cream, a layer of caramel, and that chocolate ganache, topped with pecans. (Whole pies cost $22.95.)
I've written about Crema's ice cream before, and all I can say is that it's my well-considered opinion that Crema makes the best ice cream in the country: fresh, organic local milk, ice cream recipes that use a chef's small-batch techniques, flavoring ingredients imported from the farthest corners of the globe. (It's sold in supermarkets under the brand name Sonny's.) The mint ice cream in the crème de menthe is nothing short of elegant: subtle, clear, ringing, singing--it's what mint would be if mint was the ringing sound of a bell, causing ripples in a vessel of pure spring water. The chocolate just makes it yummy. The Crema flavor has such finesse, such balance, such fine clarity, that it reminds me of nothing so much as a fine sauternes, so well-knit and essential is the flavor.
You know, sometimes I meet people who have been living in Minnesota for a while and have never been to Crema. I don't understand these people. You call that living? But I digress.
Anyhoo, ganache is chocolate combined with cream so that it's pliable, and coating the various ice cream pies with it is an idea of simple genius: The chocolate shell both adds interest to the ice cream and keeps it fresh, sealing off the precious cream inside from other freezer flavors. It also makes it a sturdy choice when you need to drive one across town.
Whether it will make the drive to Brainerd in a hot car, that I'm less sure of. Yes, I do know that some of you reading this are shaking your fists, gnashing your teeth, and shrieking, "I'm going to be up at the lake when that birthday strikes, and these horrible loved ones who plague me and follow me everywhere are going to be happy with a candle smashed into a block of Blue Bunny, no matter what you say, and I hope you end up in the domestic-know-it-all jail with Martha Stewart!"
To you teeth-gnashers I say: Hey there now, turn that spleen into ice cream!
So I phoned up Robin Martin, owner and creative force behind Gateaux, maker of Minnesota's fanciest wedding cakes, whose work is often featured in national bridal magazines. I asked Martin to turn her attention away from her everyday work of creating French villages from fondant and gum paste, whipping up towers of edible 3-D Monet water-lily landscapes, and concocting White Bear Lake fantasy backyards replete with blinking fireflies. (Check her website, www.gateaux-inc.com, for the jaw-dropping details.) Instead, I asked her, What could you do, ice cream cake-wise, if you were trapped in a distant cabin and faced with a looming birthday?
Well, Robin said, what about this: Soften ice cream in the microwave till it just gets to the consistency of soft-serve. Press it into a simple glass mixing bowl lined with plastic wrap, refreeze it until it gets hard, and unmold it onto a plate. Then you'll have a classic ice cream bombe shape. Cover two-thirds of the bombe with red jimmies, and the other third with black jimmies, use Oreos as spots, marshmallows as eyes, and some black licorice as antennae, and voilà!--a ladybug cake. Isn't that nice?
Now, I, for one, think that's very nice. That's not like being marooned in the middle of nowhere with a nowhere birthday, not at all.
What? Yes, I suppose you could just use all-black jimmies and make a spider cake. If you must. I don't think that's very nice, though. What did you say? You want to use all brown jimmies, so that you can fashion a cake resembling an engorged wood tick? And a strawberry on top will symbolize Lyme disease? And then you'll win the misery championship, stealing the crown from the Christmas birthdays?
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