In Dennis D’Amico’s dairy technology class, students face an exciting challenge. They have the chance to invent their own ice cream flavor and then make it in the UConn Creamery.
D’Amico, an associate professor in the Department of Animal Science in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR), upped the stakes last spring by having the class vote for their favorite flavor. The most popular ice cream would be added to the array of selections at the UConn Dairy Bar.
After the votes were counted there stood a clear winner: Brown Butter Brickle created by Charlie Parchen ‘23 (CAHNR), a nutritional sciences major with a minor in food science. This savory new flavor is now available at the UConn Dairy Bar for scoops and in half gallons to take home.
Parchen says the inspiration for Brown Butter Brickle came from another sweet treat.
“It’s my favorite cookie – brown butter, brown sugar, and chocolate and toffee chips,” says Parchen. “It’s complicated to make as an ice cream, but we were given a great opportunity to make whatever flavor we wanted. It was a ‘go big or go home’ moment.”
While some of the recipes could easily secure ingredients for their creations, Parchen went the homemade route and created his own base mix to flavor the ice cream.
Parchen browned butter, which involves slowly cooking butter on low heat until it turns amber in color and develops a nutty flavor. He then carefully added brown sugar to sweeten the mix.
“I had to experiment and there were a couple failed attempts at this browned butter and brown sugar base mix. I was thinking about what we learned in class and how it would play into the ice cream. Dr. D’Amico offered a lot of pointers to make sure it blended well,” says Parchen.
According to Parchen, the flavor tastes even better as it freezes, with the brown sugar continuing to seep into the ice cream, creating unexpected spots of sweetness.
“We’re always trying new things with the goal of making it immersive for the students,” says D’Amico who collaborates with creamery manager Bill Sciturro to create these unique, hands-on experiences for the Animal Food Products: Dairy Technology course (ANSC 3641).
D’Amico had a previous class create yogurt using Aronia berries, tying the course into other research on Aronia occurring in other CAHNR departments. Another year, they conducted consumer research and sensory evaluation to identify the best type of chocolate chip for the Dairy Bar’s Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream. He also spearheaded the Creamery branching out into cheeses.
“It allows us to share a lot of our first-hand knowledge with the students on dairy food production. Students get to participate in good problem-solving exercises in the class because with ice cream they can dream up all kinds of flavors, but then they must tackle production issues and how to make it work.”
For the first part of the course, students are in the classroom learning the chemical, physical, and microbiological components involved in the production and processing of milk-products. D’Amico says the fact that the students know they will later incorporate this learning into making a successful ice cream keeps the class engaged.
Sciturro visits D’Amico’s class to talk about ice cream production and brings students on a walkthrough of the Creamery to learn first-hand how the equipment works and the process. Afterwards, students develop and produce their ice cream flavors in the Creamery.
D’Amico says voting is about more than what tastes best. In research and development, food product perception is an important aspect to consider, so the visual appeal and combination of ingredients are factored into the selection process.
Over the summer, D’Amico and Sciturro scaled up the production of Parchen’s winning flavor. While they found a tasty solution to substitute, adding brown sugar was tricky. As a result, the brown sugar in every bite had to be consistently poured in by hand.
“We made a small batch and once people find out how good it is, I expect it won’t last long,” says Sciturro. “It’s delicious.”
While Brown Butter Brickle ice cream may disappear quickly, Sciturro and D’Amico are excited to have established an annual tradition with a new winning ice cream to be crowned this spring.
“This was so fun,” says Parchen. “How many schools are there that not only have a great ice cream place, but then you can take a class where you get to make ice cream for that great ice cream place?”
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