Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream Recipe

A liquid nitrogen ice cream recipe - it uses a vanilla base, and makes a wonderfully creamy ice cream.

Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream

This liquid nitrogen ice cream recipe is a bit of a departure for me - as anyone who reads this site regularly will recognize. I wasn't much of a science geek in college. At the time I was more interested in apertures than atoms, cyanotypes over cryogenics, and vignetting before viscosity. My interest in chemistry pretty much started and stopped in the photography lab. So, it is with a bit of wide-eyed wonderment and curiosity that I observe the molecular gastronomy movement. Watching what is going on is both exciting and intimidating - the laboratory is melding with the kitchen and vice versa. A whole new vocabulary of textures, tastes, and techniques is emerging and evolving.

A friend of a friend showed up at a recent cooking night with a hardcore, four foot tank of liquid nitrogen. What might one do with a giant tank of liquid nitrogen? LN2, for those in the know, btw. Make liquid nitrogen ice cream, of course.

Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream - creamy!

I needed a play-by-play explanation. Apparently many school-aged kids make liquid nitrogen ice cream as part of elementary-school science lessons. My school however, never made it beyond shaking cream in a jar with a marble to make butter - the year after that we sprouted lima beans.

To make liquid nitrogen ice cream you start with an ice cream base in a metal mixing bowl. Fire up the mixer (Kitchen-Aid was in use here) at low-med speed. Pour the liquid nitrogen into the bowl a bit at a time as the mixer is running. It freezes up ever so creamy and beautifully.

Will I die if I eat it? I asked that. I also asked a host of other questions. Are those plumes of Halloween-looking smoke coming off the bowl going to gobble up all the oxygen in the room? Are we all going to go to sleep and never wake up? You really, really, need to be careful with this stuff - do your homework and really get up to speed on the proper way to handle it (some starter links below). You need to treat it as seriously as you would a deep fryer filled with hot oil and the like. You like your fingers, right? LN2 can cause them to shatter. Imagine what it could go if you got it in your eyes. Survival instincts aside, I savored every bite of the ice cream.

Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream Recipe

There are lots of chefs playing around with LN2 in the kitchen. If jumping into the molecular gastronomy pond is something that piques your interest, liquid nitrogen ice cream seems like a good gateway recipe. Not sure if I see myself going down to the local welding supply shop to stock up on it, but I understand the allure.

There is an great eGullet thread on cooking with liquid nitrogen. It covers safety considerations, LN2 experiences, and input from people using it in their own kitchens. Also, be sure to read this materials sheet on liquid nitrogen.

One of the things I'm curious about and don't have a good (or well-founded) sense of, is how these "extreme" culinary techniques impact the nutritional or beneficial properties found in food. When I say extreme I mean the extreme fast freeze brought on by liquid nitrogen, or the chefs using lasers - that sort of thing. My sense is that these types of techniques are tough on (natural) ingredients. I have a good sense of what high temps can do to beneficial essential fatty acids (like those found in nuts or unrefined nut oils), or to the phyto-nutrients in fruits and vegetables - and it's not always pretty. I'd love to open this up for discussion.

I'll include the base recipe for my favorite vanilla bean gelato below, I suspect it would pair quite nicely with a tank of the cold stuff. Let me know.

Need more? Here are some links:

Material Safety Data Sheet for Liquid Nitrogen

- Mark Powell's Food Hacking site is. the. best. Super inspired and inspirational.

Keep an eye on Miss Louisa Chu, she is always posting great first-hand accounts from the food science front. Have fun poking around her archives.

- Molecular Gastronomy Resource List courtesy of A La Cuisine.

- Molecular Gastronomy through the Wikipedia lens

- For the cook that really has everything - the anti-griddle

- The book. The man.

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Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream Recipe

heidi notes: This is a nice, creamy gelato-type base. Infuse it, add stuff, get creative. I wrote this recipe a few years back - I tend to use arrowroot instead of cornstarch as a thickener in recipes that need it (it is usually less-processed than cornstarch). But because I haven't tested arrowroot in this base, I'll give you the cornstarch version. If you use this as a base for liquid nitrogen ice cream, please read up on the safety precautions that must be observed when handling LN2.

4 cups whole organic milk
1 vanilla bean, split
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place three cups of the milk in a saucepan with the vanilla bean over medium-low heat.

Meanwhile, pour the remaining 1 cup milk into a large glass measuring cup. Add the sugar and the cornstarch. Mix well.

When the milk starts to simmer, remove it from the heat and pour in the cornstarch mixture, stirring the whole time. Return the saucepan to medium-low and stir, stir, stir, until things start thickening up, 10 to 12 minutes. It should end up thicker than, say, a runny milkshake, but thinner than a frosty one.

Pour the mixture through a strainer into a mixing bowl, whisk in the vanilla extract, and let it cool on the counter for 20 minutes or so. I like to then chill it in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight until it is completely chilled.

Now you are ready to place this mixture in a metal-bowl mixer and do the liquid nitrogen thing (see above links and do your safety reading and research first), or you can just freeze this using the manufacturer's instructions on a standard ice-cream maker.

Serves 6.

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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Comments

How do I get an invite to the ice cream party? Seriously, that sounds like a blast. -h

Heidi

Awesome. Thanks for sharing. As to how you came up with this insane recipe (seltzer and lemon juice?) - that should be a secret you never divulge.

Wayne

In response to Wayne's request for the Circus Peanut Sorbet recipe: 1) Chop 45 circus peanuts finely. 2) Add one cup of water. 3) Mash with a potato masher. A lot. For a long time. Have a friend around to keep you company. 4) Store glop in refrigerator for 24 hours to let remaining chunks soften. 5) Put glop through blender on a high setting. 6) Add two cups seltzer and about three teaspoons lemon juice. 7) Freeze. I might also add that this recipe (like many others) seems to work far better with liquid nitrogen. We tried it in an ice cream maker, and after 45 minutes it was still 100% liquid. It took a good eight hours in the freezer, with occasional stirring, to reach the consistency of sorbet, and it was still clearly inferior to the rich creamy texture we achieved at JB's party with LN2. I presume that the failure to freeze in the ice cream maker is related to the fact that circus peanuts are approximately 84,000% sugar, but perhaps someone more knowledgeable will have greater insight.

wotw

WOW that's... umm... different!

Paige

A really fun, inexpensive, rewarding and addicting chemistry project - and safer than handling LN2 - involves barley, yeast, and coned-shaped flowers of Humulus lupulus.

HosieO

JB you are clearly the ice cream man. One of the recipes you mentioned that caught my interest is "Circus Peanut Sorbet" - care to give us a run down of how that works? Or if it was good?

Wayne

My physics professors always made this stuff as the grand finale of their demonstrations. It was a lot of fun, and tasty! :) LN2 is not that expensive; rather cheap actually. The most expensive part is the packaging. It's usually ~$2/gal in individual dewars and ~$0.50/gal when delivered to a bulk storage unit. It is readily available from the same industrial gas suppliers who sell welding gases (oxygen, acetylene and argon); and frequently available from companies which sell compressed carbon dioxide that is used for soda fountains.

Jeremiah

Sounds really cool... and something to be done once... I wonder what the energy costs are of liquidfying the nitrogen... sounds expensive from an energy (not monetary) perspective.

David

I've been throwing a weekend-long party centered around making ice cream for the past 17 years. About 10-12 years ago - shortly after the 1st write-up of LN2IC showed up in (Scientific American? Popular Science?), we started testing LN2 ice cream. Within 3 years, we'd completely stopped using our vast array of hand-crank churns and moved exclusively to LN2. Why'd we start? Because we're geeks. Why'd we continue? Because: A) how else are you going to produce 83 different flavors of Ice Cream in one weekend? We're talking 5 minutes a batch. B) no other method so easily allows one to make a 1 cup, or smaller, test batch to see what you're coming up with. C) The environmental impact of 200L of LN2 released in to the atmosphere is pretty much null, while the disposal of gallons of salt-water in to the woods has quite an impact. D) The extreme cold of LN2 freezing allows an alcohol level in your mixes that you could NEVER get to freeze with normal methods. (Lagavulin Espresso, Drambuie, Midori Sherbet, MacKeson's XXX... and more. I could swear we did a vodka ice one year, but can't find it on the list.) E) The texture is, in most cases 80-90% as good as slower churn methods (though with the level of experimentation we get in to (Chicken Liver with Fried Onion, Circus Peanut Sorbet), it's doubtful that most of them would come out really fabulous anyway. (Though I must say that my Tom Kha (Coconut/Galangal/Lemongrass, based on a cooked-custard recipe) was AMAZINGLY good.) I must, however, disagree with your comment "And as most ice cream aficionados will tell you, immediacy is a key ingredient when striving for a phenomenal ice cream experience." - In our experience, most ice-creams (assuming they're properly formulated to not freeze in to a solid block) are FAR better after they've been left to set in a freezer for a couple of hours. As for safety: While we try to keep people from playing with it too much (as much because we don't want to waste any in case we need it), people have drunk a bit, it's been poured over people's bodies, and otherwise 'mishandled' and we've never had a bad outcome. The extreme temperatures at work mean that - as long as you don't actually get the body part in question frozen, the LN2 will boil and create an insulative layer of (gaseous) N2 between it and whatever. THAT said, don't be stupid. :)

JB

i remember making butter from cream when i was younger! but i don't remember the marble. I remember the butter being so delicious... and i would love to make it again. do you remember exactly how it was done?!

Tanya

Very interesting and cool!

Joe

What a new way to use liquid nitrogen! I knew that people who work on racecars use it, and my cousin got a wart frozen off with it. Now ice cream too?!?

Renee

Very cook trick, Heidi.

Nic

Uh yeah, this is pretty cool!! And even without mixer! Awesome and fun!!! I want ice cream!!! How much does the LN cost? I live down the street from UC Davis, is that where I should go try to get it?

Johnna

Ooooh heidi, It's very funnn........

Jane

As a former Chem major, I think this stuf is just freakin' weird. What, aside from shock value is it for? Is the risk worth the, in this case, speed? So, I was one of those people who expected every bunsen burner to explode when I got a flame near it. But still, why?

BeeJay

I tried your gelato base, and I think there was too much corn starch. It seemed artificially gummy. :-( Then again, I don't have an ice cream maker. So I froze the base in ice cube trays, broke them up, and put them in a food processor.

Jessica "Su Good Eats"

Thing is, you actually can safely dip your finger into liquid nitrogen so long as you do it slowly and gracefully. The idea is that you end up with a pocket of air around your finger that protects it from freezing. When we made liquid nitrogen ice cream in January, we played around with that, and I was astonished about how my finger did not immediately snap off and shatter.

Danielle

Looks like fun, I have the advantage of being a chemist so I can get the N2 and know how dangerous it is! This is so going to be made in the next couple of weeks!!

jenny

Im still interested though :D Three cheers for science geeks!

Casey

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