Walk into San Francisco's Smitten ice cream shop and you won't be able to peruse freezers with tubs of ice cream or sample a flavor. It's not because Smitten doesn't want you to try its strawberry white balsamic, sweet corn with summer berries or honey nectarine flavors, but because Smitten whips up each ice cream scoop made to order from scratch.
The ice cream is made with fresh ingredients in just 60 seconds in a machine called the Brrr, which uses liquid nitrogen to drop the temperature to negative 321 degrees Fahrenheit. (And if you can master the machine you earn the title Brrr-ista). The result is ice cream with a creamy, smooth mousse-like texture, that lacks stabilizing ingredients found in traditional ice cream and has a fresh flavor.
"It smells like real mint, not toothpaste mint," a first-time customer remarked.
The made-to-order ice cream with fresh, natural ingredients and Brrr machine are the brainchild of Robyn Sue Fisher, who founded Smitten in 2009. She was inspired to go into the ice cream business after she said she noticed that some ice creams labeled natural contained chemical flavor enhancers and had very little calcium. So she went to Stanford Business School and took ice cream making classes at the Penn State Creamery.
She also discovered the key to making a very smooth texture. Often ice cream in your freezer will have a layer of ice crystals, which can make the ice cream less smooth. Fisher explains that those ice crystals can develop when pre-made ice cream is being moved through the food distribution chain.
"Those are created by temperature fluctuations that the ice cream goes through before you take it home. Every time you open and close the door of the freezer it's affected."
Fisher says the Brrr machine has software that understands what is happening to the product itself and makes sure the ice cream keeps it's creamy, smooth texture.
But it wasn't always smooth sailing. Fisher started with a hacked-together ice cream machine from parts she bought from Craigslist, but that wasn't creating the product she wanted, so she started prototyping.
"We were looking at everything that scrapes ice from airplanes, and how do they get off ice off the windshields to snowplows and how that is currently being done, and how we can use that information to morph our mixer."
She spent about two years making machines and working with engineers when finally she created the Brrr machine. Because you can get frostbite, she does not advise working with liquid nitrogen at home, so as much as you may want to start creating an ice cream lab of your own, you probably shouldn't. Plus, a scoop at Smitten will only set you back about five dollars, which is comparable to other high-end ice cream stores.
Now since you can't sample flavors, Smitten guarantees that if you do not like the Blood Orange with Pistachio Shortbread, Olive Oil with Lavender Shortbread, or other more adventurous flavors, you can order a replacement scoop of vanilla or chocolate. And you still get to choose cup or cone.