Things sometimes get tough on the kitchen equipment beat. This week it's been -- sigh -- ice cream scoops. What an assignment.
To test ice cream scoops properly you can't just go out and buy those gigantic cartons of glotzy chocolate-marshmallow that line the aisles of the supermarket. Plastic picnic spoons will go through that stuff, thanks to emulsifiers, stabilizers, general puffing up, etc.
What you're looking for is real ice cream, something that really freezes instead of just sitting there being spongy. Real ice cream is always either homemade or very expensive, but the fact that it freezes so solidly in a good freezer makes it the perfect testing ground for scoops.
But even after you've got the ice cream and the scoops, things are not as simple as they might seem. It appears that the very most perfect ice cream scoop has not yet been invented.
You're talking about two main concepts when you're talking about ice cream scoops. One idea, a relatively new one, is to put antifreeze inside the business end of the scoop. The other idea is more old fashioned; it's just a half-sphere of metal with a little curved strip inside that shoves out the scoop of ice cream when you squeeze the spring between the two sections of handle.
Of course you could also use a regular serving spoon that you'd dipped for a minute or two in hot water. And if you have a microwave, a few seconds of waving will render the ice cream malleable but not melting.
To release the ice cream from the old-fashioned scoop, you squeeze the handle, which moves the curved strip of metal in such a way that it pushes the ice cream out. But the shape of the handle makes it uncomfortable in the hand and too prone to slipping out of control. They'd come in handy where they were originally used -- in working with great vats of ice cream that you can get your whole arm into.
The old-fashioned scoops in larger sizes -- about half a cup -- feel too big to be comfortable. And then, the handles get slippery when they're cold or wet, as they will be when you're using them with ice cream. Once it's in there, though, the little metal strip does a great job of getting it out.
In favor of these scoops, it should be said that they can be used for other things besides ice cream -- the larger sizes are fine for scooping out potato salad or coleslaw, particularly if you're working with large quantities and want neat, uniform servings.
The smaller sizes work better than anything else for serving ice cream or sorbet in a decorative way at a special dinner. They produce neat, uniform balls of, say, different flavors of sorbet.
And these scoops do have a sort of ice-cream-parlor look that becomes more valuable as old-fashioned ice cream parlors disappear.
But if what you want to do is get your ice cream out fast, during the commercials, what you want is something with anti-freeze in it. It works simply by melting that part of the ice cream that comes in contact with the scoop, and since it's slightly melted it releases easily too.
These come in paddles and scoops, and feelings undoubtedly run high on either side of this issue, but our experimenters came down on the side of the scoop. The paddle, with its wide, flat shape, feels a bit unwieldy in the ice cream and tends to deliver too-wide globs of the stuff.
The rounded scoop is also a little awkward to use but more comfortable than the paddle; it feels compact, controllable. The anti-freeze scoops come in a regular size, and also in one that's very small, for scooping out teeny, decorative balls. This scoop wouldn't work for fruit, but it is terrific for decorative work with iced desserts.
Our experimenters decided that what the world really needs is something with a shape that's not quite paddle and not quite scoop either, but more spoon shaped. Until that comes along, go with the rounded scoop.
These anti-freeze scoops and paddles will last indefinitely, assuming you avoid putting them in the dishwasher. Temperatures above 140 degrees destroy their anti-freezing properties.
Count on about $10 for the larger-sized scoops in either anti-freeze or old-fashioned varieties. They are both widely available.