Thursday 14 August 2014

Häagen-Dazs - real or nothing

One of the things that dismays Paul about me is my love for ice cream. He doesn't see the point and doesn't get why I love it so. He does have a point, of course: it increasingly looks like sugar is seriously damaging to your health. So, despite the beautiful weather, I have been turning down very kind offers of ice cream samples and I didn't take part in last month's BSFIC challenge.

Eventually and inevitably, I got an offer too good to refuse. The chance to attend a lunch, cooked by a Masterchef winner, to launch the Häagen-Dazs summer campaign. As I don't actually watch Masterchef, I had no idea who Natalie Coleman was, but it sounded impressive. Plus the event was being co-hosted by Great British Chefs and I bloody love that site.

When I arrived, a little late and a little discombobulated, I was shown to a roof terrace and plied with booze. A good start. They were serving cocktails designed to fit in with the ice cream flavours, so I started with a Rossini, which went down very easily and followed it up with a salted caramel martini. Then we were invited down to watch Natalie demonstrate how to make a classic vanilla custard-based ice cream. The emphasis for this Häagen-Dazs campaign is real ice cream, showcasing the natural ingredients they use, hence showing us how to make it from scratch.
 Nothing ground-breaking, although she did share a useful tip about gently rolling vanilla pods on a board to help release the seeds.
"nestergen leaf" = nasturtium - and I don't know who got the crab, but it sounded good!
More drinks, and then it was lunch time. To match the real ice cream were dishes featuring real eggs, milk, cream and butter. So delicious but good lord it was all very rich. To the point where it didn't really leave me in a great frame of mind or palate for tasting ice cream.
We started with duck egg yolks, confited in olive oil in the oven (no sous vide gadgetry!), served with green and white asparagus, hollandaise, nasturtium leaves and a generous shower of white truffle shavings.
Then more richness, in the form of meltingly tender, crackling-topped slow-cooked pork belly on a pillow of smooth, buttery cauliflower puree. A fat, sweet scallop was separated from the pork by a very welcome tangle of green apple and sharply dressed pea shoots. It was a bit too salty for my taste, and, although it was beautifully cooked and presented, I think I would have enjoyed it more had it not come just after confit duck egg and hollandaise. I envied Kerstin Rodgers/Ms Marmite Lover her vegetarian option - the pumpkin ravioli looked superb.
The vegetarian option
Natalie's ice cream was simply presented, with bowls and jugs of accompaniments for self-service. I garnished mine with a handful of roasted macadamia nuts and a pool of salted caramel sauce.
Then the serious fun began. Nadège Le Pennec, from the Häagen-Dazs R&D team, handed around a bowl of sugar and told us to put a bit in our mouths, while blocking our noses. I noted the teensiest bit of eye-rolling around the circle as we all did as we were told, and all thought "Sugar. Big deal". Then Nadège's magic trick as we unblocked our noses and discovered that the sugar was heavily scented with cinnamon. Completely undetectable just on the tastebuds, but revealed as soon as we let go of our noses.
Next came a blind tasting of four different vanilla ice creams. Two were pretty dreadful, with no aroma, an icy, milky texture and a taste that vaguely skirted around vanilla without actually hitting it. The other two were dense and creamy, a bit eggy, with enough aroma to survive freezing and a true vanilla flavour. We were split fairly equally between those two, when we were asked to guess which one was the Häagen-Dazs. Those of us who were wrong ( couldn't feel too bad about that though, because the one we picked... was Natalie's home-made. Pretty compelling, I thought.

The event drew to a close with opportunities to taste all the flavours, which I was in no state to appreciate, and we were sent home with little wicker hampers of the ingredients for real ice cream and Natalie's recipe.

I found it all interesting, because I didn't know anything about Häagen-Dazs prior to this. I remember when they launched in Australia in the late 1990s, and being vaguely aware of a "But they aren't even Danish, how can you trust them?" controversy. Which I don't entirely understand now, because they never claimed to be Danish - they are quite proud of their Brooklyn roots. So what with one thing and another, I'd never paid any attention at all to the brand. Now, well, it may have been lots of alcohol before lunch and the aroma of freshly grated truffle, but I totally drank the Kool-aid.

Which meant that when I saw this quote from Matt O'Connor of the Licktators in our local magazine, I bristled: 
Optima magazine No. 550 August 2nd 2014
"Milk protein powder, coconut oil, and a lot of air is what you are buying with Häagen-Dazs and the like. I'm amazed they can get away with it. Still, that's the Food Standards Agency for you," he says grimly.

So, as a little comparison, here is a screenshot of the Häagen-Dazs ingredients list for their vanilla ice cream, as sold on Ocado.

Fresh cream, condensed skimmed milk, sugar, egg yolk and natural vanilla.

And here is a screenshot of the Licktator's vanilla ice cream:

Wow. He really showed the big boys what real ice cream was all about, hey?...

So, to get rid of the taste of sour grapes, here is a recipe for one of the cocktails I particularly enjoyed. To be drunk with real ice cream, or by itself.

Salted Caramel Martini

35ml Butterscotch Schnapps
35ml Vanilla Vodka
15m Dry White Vermouth

Shake over ice and serve in a cocktail glass rimmed with salt

Edited to add: Daniel Young, of Young and Foodish, asked the Licktators on Twitter to comment on this comparison, and they stated that they were misquoted by Optima, that they were commenting about "Fake 99" ice cream in general.


Kavey said...

Glad you called that twat out!

Choclette said...

Indulgent maybe, but it sounds like a lot of fun. And well done for investigating the ingredients claim.

I remember when Haagen-Dazs first came out - it was the first "proper" mass produced ice-cream (other than Kelly's in Cornwall) that became available back in the 80s and it was a revelation.

Choclette said...

Really like your new header BTW.

Bettina Douglas said...

were you able to taste anything after that martini?

Alicia Foodycat said...

Kavey - thanks!

Choclette - I'd already seen their stuff on Ocado and thought it had too many ingredients to be for me.

Mother - fortunately there were crackers and apple slices to clear the palate a bit!

Sonya said...

When I worked in the US, my manager was a lovely Swedish guy who admitted with some shock and slight disappointment that one thing the US did well was icecream, even better than Sweden did it. There are some damn fine icecreams over there, even if they do tend to over-do it ("Chunky Monkey" *shudder*).
Vegetarian "options" annoy me a bit. Why is there an assumption that all courses must come with bits of dead animal?

Anyway, good on you for calling out BS where you find it :-) Should be more of it, because there's an awful lot of BS around.

grace said...

still, cinnamon doughnut ice cream sounds awfully enticing... :)


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