If the 4th of July has you feeling nostalgic for drive-ins, soda shops, and old summer loves, perhaps it's time to revisit an all-American blast from the past, the iconic "Coke Float" — updated to ice cream form. I can guarantee that memories of this fresh take on the classic will linger all summer long.
As a reward for braving the dentist as a kid, my father would often take me to our local soda shop for a feast of greasy grilled cheeses and mile-high chili dogs. The antiquated pharmacy was a small-town relic, a living legacy of time gone by. The black-and-white checkered tile floor, glossy red booths, and shiny old jukebox were a mere peek into the past. My imagination ran wild there, and I remember swiveling back and forth on my barstool, pretending a pale pink poodle skirt and flippy pony tail swished from side to side.
I most likely ordered a "brown cow" to wash down my diner meal (fluoride be damned!) and I would squeal with delight when it arrived with a heap of extra cherries. I would proceed to mash it up until it reached a milkshake consistency, because everybody knows the best part is the creamy sludge that lingers at the bottom. To this day, I still consider ice cream and Coke to be one of the great culinary pairings, and it's not uncommon to find me (in all my adult glory) relaxing on a hot summer afternoon with a fizzy float in my hand.
As a self-declared ice cream addict (I own four ice cream makers and counting!), I'm constantly pondering the difficult decision of what flavor to whip up next. And finally the most brilliant of all ideas occurred to me."If I'm always pouring Mexican Coke over my freshly churned French vanilla, then why not simplify things by pouring it into my French vanilla to begin with??!!"
And that was the beginning of that.
Okay, so my brilliant idea definitely didn't simplify things, but I can assure you that all of the experimenting sure was fun. As you might already know, there are numerous factors that go into creating an ice cream flavor — it's so much more than just sugar, eggs, milk and cream. Depending on what qualities you are looking for, there are countless factors that can alter the final texture and taste. And so I set out in search of carbonated bliss.
Personally I'm a soft serve kind of girl, and I mostly gravitate towards a rich and custardy vanilla base. But while I wanted my Coca-Cola ice cream to be silky and light, I thought my usual addition of golden yellow yolks might distract from the subtle flavors of the soft drink. With eggs out of the question, it was time to look elsewhere.
My main concern when developing the recipe was excess water from the soda itself. Since "slushy" wasn't exactly the result I was aiming for, a few scientific adjustments would need to be made. I started by reducing three cups of Coca-Cola to help concentrate its flavor. That alone would not remove as much water as I would like, so I turned to a few (scientific) sleeper favorites for help.
I pulled together three powerful tricks to fight the dreaded ice crystals. First, evaporated milk contains sixty percent less water than regular milk. This, along with its high concentration of milk solids, helps yield a creamy texture and luscious taste. Next, gelatin, which can improve ice cream's texture by preventing the formation of ice crystals; it is especially helpful when excess water in the form of additives is present. (Like when adding Coke.) Gelatin also keeps ice cream soft without it melting into soup; think soft serve. Lastly, cornstarch allows the base to thicken without the presence of eggs, and it can help absorb any pesky water that might be lingering behind. Their powers combined... well, let's just say it worked.
After a few delicious tests behind me, it was on to the topping. Coca-Cola ice cream just begged for some crunch. Perhaps it's just a weird Southern thing to pour a sleeve of roasted peanuts right into a Coke, but there's just something about that combination of salty and sweet that surprisingly works. I took it up a notch by making a crispy peanut brittle — peanuts roasted and swirled in a blanket of golden caramel — that, quite literally, are the cherries on top. It doesn't matter if you sprinkle them on top or swirl them right in, just try not to eat them all in one sitting. (I dare you.)
If you're looking for a patriotic recipe to celebrate our nation's birth, I can't think of anything more American than a bottle of Coke. And yes, this recipe may not be quite as simple as say, pouring soda pop over store-bought ice cream, but sometimes that's not the point. Sometimes it's about taking something familiar and turning it on its head. I say cheers to that!
Coca-Cola Soft Serve with Peanut Brittle Crunch
Makes approximately 1 quart
For the ice cream:
3 cups Coca-Cola Classic (two 12-ounce cans)
1 (0.25 ounce) envelope unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup evaporated milk
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
For the peanut brittle:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 cup dry-roasted peanuts
Kosher salt, to taste
For the ice cream, pour the Coca-Cola into a large, flat-sided skillet and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Continue boiling until the soda is reduced to approximately 1 cup, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin powder over the water and set aside. In another small bowl, combine the cornstarch with a few tablespoons of milk and whisk until smooth.
Combine remaining milk, cream, evaporated milk, and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Whisk in the corn starch slurry and return to a boil, stirring constantly. Allow the mixture to boil for 1 minute, then remove from the heat. Add the Coca-Cola reduction and moistened gelatin, and whisk until the gelatin is completely combined.
Transfer the ice cream base to a gallon-sized plastic zipper bag. Press out the air and place in a large bowl filled with ice water until cold, about 30 minutes. (The mixture can also be transferred to an airtight container and held in the refrigerator for up to two days.)
Pour the ice cream base into an ice cream maker and churn according to instructions. It can be served immediately or transferred to a freezer-safe container and chilled until firm.
When ready to make the peanut brittle, line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment and set near the stove. Combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, swirling the pan occasionally to help dissolve the sugar. Do not stir. Continue cooking until the sugar begins to turn a golden amber shade, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the peanuts. Pour the nuts out to the baking sheet. Let the peanuts cool completely before breaking into pieces.
To serve ice cream so that it resembles swirled soft serve, transfer it to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip. Freeze the bag in 15 to 30 minute increments until the ice cream is firm, as needed. Squeeze and pipe the ice cream in a circular motion into a bowl or cone.
Top the ice cream with a piece of peanut brittle before serving. For extra Coca-Cola flavor, pour soda over the top for a "double Coke float."
(Image credits: Nealey Dozier)