Dana Cree is the kind of person who makes you smarter, just by standing near her and listening to her speak. She's also the sort of chef who is equal parts artist and scientist, amassing accolades from both her peers (in the form of multiple James Beard Award nominations) and the rabid fans who devour her pastries and ice creams at The Publican, Publican Quality Meats and Publican Anker in Chicago. Cree recently joined 1871 Dairy to further expand her line of Hello, My Name Is ice creams, but just in case you can't make it to the Windy City, she's also written the book Hello, My Name Is Ice Cream, the Art and Science of the Scoop to empower the nation's frozen treat eaters to craft their own.
Cree came to Extra Crispy HQ to drop a some sweet knowledge about ice cream and toppings—as well as making the case for a.m. indulgence in the form of a homemade butterscotch-drenched, ice-cream-topped, oatmeal- and banana-centric sundae. Watch the entire Facebook Live video below. No need to grab a paper and pen—you can buy the book when it hits shelves on March 27 and in the meantime, crib our notes below.
On the physical makeup of ice cream:
"Ice cream is one of the most scientific foods that we eat. If you think about it, it's all three states of matter at the same time. It's a liquid because the sugar bonds with the water and keeps some of the water unfrozen, which is why ice cream is soft and not a popsicle. It's also a solid because some of the water does freeze into ice. It's also a gas because it has air whipped into it. In order to get all three states of matter to coexist peacefully and stay put takes an immense amount of physics and science."
On the delicious complexity of burnt sugar:
"Sugar doesn't cook, it decomposes. So it actually is degrading and breaking down in a manner that is irreversible. The sugar molecules are often long chains of of sugars and as they break down, they fragment and fell apart and lose their sweetness. They start to gain color at a certain point which is what we call caramel. Then if you start to take it past caramel into what you'd think is burnt sugar, the flavor actually becomes intensely interesting. And as these sugar molecules fragment further and further, they start to turn into other flavor molecules that we would associate with floral or bitter. If you treat it the same way you would other bitter flavors that we love, like coffee or chocolate, and add a bunch of sugar and a bunch of cream to it, you can actually make burnt sugar very, very delicious."
On all those mysterious "stages" in candy recipes of yore:
"All of those stages—hard crack, hard ball, soft crack—refer to very specific temperatures. In this day and age, we have access to candy thermometers pretty readily, so if you're at all nervous about which stage to cook it to, you can rely on that. But my grandma actually taught me this when I wanted to learn how to make popcorn balls, she taught it to me over the phone, the way people would test the doneness of sugar was to drop a little spoonful of it into a glass of ice water. It would immediately cool and show you what its texture was. If it threaded into the bottom, that was your thread. If it formed a soft ball, you were at 230° and if it formed a hard ball, you were at 240°, soft crack 250°, hard crack 280°. Each of those was, I think we call it a 'life hack' these days—it's a grandma hack."