I was curled up in bed one evening, enjoying a scene from the film Young Frankenstein in which Frau Blucher (cue whinnying horses) offers the good eponymous doctor first brandy, then warm milk, and finally Ovaltine before he goes to bed, much to his increasing irritation.
Ovaltine. I hadn’t thought about it in decades. The next several scenes of the film played to a distracted audience because I was too busy (falsely) reminiscing about a malty, vitamin and mineral-infused powder and how delicious a hot, milky mug of the stuff would send me off to sleep at night.
So I went out and bought some then next morning.
When I returned home with my prize (secret decoder ring sadly not included), I heated up some milk and stirred in three heaping tablespoons, just as I was told to do in this commercial. I took a sip and remembered something important:
I didn’t like hot Ovaltine as a kid. Thirty years later, I still felt the same way. Rather than spend the morning being a Sulky Sue, I poured myself a cup of hot coffee instead and remembered the way I truly enjoyed the official beverage of Captain Midnight: cold.
Really, really cold. I’d save my heaping tablespoons for sprinkling over vanilla ice cream and stir them in– essentially making myself Ovaltine ice cream. More correctly, I was making myself an Ovaltine shake in a bowl because I’d stir it so much that it would soften and melt enough for me to ladle it into my mouth like cold soup.
Highly caffeinated and momentarily filled with energy, I decided to go ahead and make myself some Ovaltine ice cream then and there so that I could save precious time and energy later when I’d return home, brain-fried and exhausted from work, looking for something sweet and comforting when I no longer had the will to heap or stir.
And I thought it would make a lovely little Christmas treat to share with my readers. Something special that wasn’t another god damned Holiday Cookie. I made the ice cream in no time, but I let it sit covered in my freezer between the half-finsished bottle of limoncello and 2-lb. bag of pecans to languish uneaten and un-photographed.
Why? It seemed too simple to share. It wasn’t enough. Almost reflexively, I felt that, since this was the Holiday Season, it needed a little extra oomph. I needed to deck this ice cream’s halls with boughs of something. But what?
Marshmallows were the first things that came to mind. It stood to reason that, if one would drink hot cocoa or Ovaltine garnished with cute little marshmallows, why not ice cream? It would make for a nice little trimming.
I thought about swirling marshmallow fluff into the ice cream, but I wanted the option of not having every serving marshmallow-laced.
What about a dollop of marshmallow fluff on top? For no discernible reason, the idea left me as cold as the ice cream shoved in my freezer. Instead, I thought I would make a marshmallow fluff whipped cream. I thought I was being brilliant, but I just wound up giving myself an ice cream-induced headache.
Or, rather, an ice cream garnish-induced headache. I went through five batches, each one better than the next, but still not right. Too sticky, not flavorful enough to match the ice cream, too absolutely irritating. I couldn’t get my dessert spectacular enough. Or pretty enough. I was spending so much time, money, and energy on this whole marshmallow business that I was beginning to wish I’d never made the ice cream in the first place. I just wanted the whole thing to go away. I was stressing myself out over a dessert. I felt ridiculous. And I’ve never been a huge marshmallow fan to begin with.
Then I made an important connection:
The way I was feeling about my Ovaltine ice cream was precisely the way I felt about Christmas– what was initially a simple, delightful, and comforting idea had transformed into something complicated, annoying, and stress-inducing. This little exercise in making a malted ice cream became, in it’s own way, an unexpected gift– I realized that it wasn’t Christmas (or my ice cream, for that matter) that I had grown to loathe, it was all the other stuff– the irritating marshmallowy fluff– that gets in the way:
The wish lists; the awful sweaters; the cheesy and inescapable Christmas music; the garish decorations; the wasted money; the expectations; the enforced Holiday cheer; the sappy, sticky, saccharine sweetness that has fixed itself to the holiday. What was once a season of good will has transformed itself over the years into an overblown marshmallow world in the winter.
And anyone with sufficient marshmallow experience can tell you that marshmallows are hard, tasteless things when they get cold.
And then I realized another important thing: I’m being terribly hard on the poor old marshmallow. I had burdened an essentially innocuous piece of gelatinous poof with all the evils of Christmas Present. And I’m okay with that because this whole exercise has made me understand what is and is not important about both Christmas and desserts:
a) They should both be sources of comfort and joy.
b) They should both be shared with those you love.
c) Neither of them need an excess of trimmings. They are both at their best when approached simply.
All the rest is just fluff.
In apology to the marshmallow and to show that I bear it no true ill will, I give you a little, fluffy bonus of holiday goo: Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra mincing about together singing “Marshmallow World.” If these to Italians don’t take it seriously, why on earth should I?
Oh, and Merry Christmas. Really.
Ovaltine Ice Cream
Though I thought up this ice cream on my own, there are several other people in this world who thought of it before I did. However, the recipe is my own, with a special thanks to my go-to vanilla ice cream base, courtesy of Mr. David Lebovitz, who seems to know a little something about ice cream making. So I’ve heard. The method for making this recipe I got from him. And I like it very much, thank you.
And p.s. As noted, I do not recommend using mini marshmallows for garnish for reasons already mentioned. They are placed in the photo for purely contrary reasons.
Serves 2 to 4
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cups light brown sugar
A heavy pinch of salt (think “big man fingers”)
2 cups heavy cream
5 large egg yolks (think “big chicken [insert body part of choice here]“)
1/2 cup Ovaltine
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. In a medium saucepan, warm the milk, sugar, and salt long enough to dissolve sugar. If the mixture looks a trifle curdled, do not panic, just blame the brown sugar and move on. There is straining involved later in this recipe and all will be fine.
2. Pour the cream into a medium-sized bowl and set a fine mesh strainer on top.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Gradually add some of the warm milk mixture to the eggs and whisk constantly. Pour the now-warm yolks into the sauce pan with the rest of the milk and cook over a low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the sides and bottom of the pan with a spatula as you go. When the mixture looks like custard, it is precisely because that is what you have made. When it is thick enough to coat the back of your spatula, remove from heat and pour custard through the mesh strainer and into the awaiting cream. Stir in the Ovaltine and vanilla extract. Feel free to add or subtract the amount of Ovaltine recommended. It’s your ice cream, so make it as intense or feeble as you dare.
4. Set your bowl of ice cream base into a larger, ice-filled bowl and stir until cool. Cover and refrigerate until completely chilled, then go ahead and freeze it in your ice cream maker (provided you have an ice cream maker. If you do not have an ice cream maker, return custard to your refrigerator until you have purchased one, then proceed) according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
5. If you insist upon garnishing, I suggest adding a light dusting of both cocoa powder and Ovaltine powder for the finish. I do not recommend adding the mini marshmallows as seen in the above photograph. They are to be avoided for reasons twice mentioned or alluded to. If, however you still insist upon using marshmallows, I suggest placing your Ovaltine ice cream in a microwave for 90 seconds on high. When the ice cream is fairly bubbling, add marshmallows, then take a moment to seriously reconsider your priorities.