When Terry and Jeremy Letzelter make ice cream, the cold hits your chest before you’ve even taken a bite. It feels like a burst of air conditioning on a hot day, a chilled cloud washing over anyone in the vicinity. Their alchemy creates near-instant gratification, and the trick of their trade is liquid nitrogen.
The father and son started flash-freezing ice cream about two years ago. The fundamentals are pretty simple: a vanilla base, toppings, a cup of liquid nitrogen. But the topping possibilities are endless, which meant a year of almost endless experimentation.
“We froze everything,” Jeremy said. He can’t even remember all the ingredients they tried—spicy foods, coffee, and bacon, just to name a few.
“The grandkids were sick of eating ice cream at the end,” Terry added about their taste-testing guinea pigs.
Halfway through 2014, they settled on a recipe and opened Smoking Ice Cream, so named for the frozen vapor that accompanies the making of their treats. They toured summer festivals to offer their wares to the public, setting up their mobile dessert trailer at the New Albany Farmers’ Market and the All Ohio Balloon Fest in Marysville, among others.
They offer some typical toppings—caramel, butterscotch, Oreos, ground chocolate, M&Ms—as well as seasonal fruits and themed ingredients, like popcorn at the Marion Popcorn Festival. They start with their pre-prepared vanilla base, add the chosen sweets—like peanut butter and chocolate chips for the ever-popular peanut butter cup—and then they pour on the liquid nitrogen, which is 321 degrees below zero and creates an icy fog that spills out around the trailer.
Though the smoke adds to the presentation (they also include lasers after dark), there’s food science behind the showmanship. The extreme cold creates microscopic ice crystals and flash-freezes the dessert in 20 seconds or less. The result? “People look at us and their eyes just get wide,” Terry said. “They can’t believe how smooth it is.”
They can add cake dyes to color the ice cream, and sometimes they add crunchy toppings after the fact, like graham crackers (for Jeremy’s favorite, apple pie) or pretzels (for Terry’s favorite, caramel pretzel). There have been more ambitious experimentations behind the scenes as well. Jeremy likes one with Greek yogurt, almond milk, and protein powder, and they also created a margarita ice cream that they enjoyed at a family gathering. Although they don’t offer those to the public, they’re eager to include anything and everything they have on hand.
“Literally, we can make anything you want,” Jeremy said. “Like last time, we had a girl that wanted Oreos and peanut butter. Didn’t sound that good, but she loved it.”
“If a person asks for something weird,” Terry said, “and if we have it…”
“We’ll do it,” Jeremy finished.
Some people come for the strange fantasy flavors they can’t find in the grocery store, while others flock for a new take on traditional favorites. For every customer who approaches, several more crowd around for the show; the children’s eyes grow in wonder while a blast of frozen air rolls over them. Because ice cream in the summer has always been magic, and now it includes a spectacle. •