Start your blenders
Frosties, smoothies, frappes, milkshakes, slushes - call them what you will, frozen drinks are hot. Cool debuts are in the news, like mega-chain McDonald's plans for a new line of smoothies and frappes following the success of its McCafe. As the weather warms, frozen drinks are a small indulgence, affordable yet able to sustain an upcharge when customers are craving something icy. Plus, they appeal to all ages, concocted with or without alcohol. These days, they are beverage menu essentials, whether you doctor up a smoothie mix for a signature or create your own frozen drinks from scratch. You can marry your espresso maker and soft-serve machine for caffeinated shakes. Or show off the seasonality of summer's bounty of fresh ripe fruit. You don't have to fool around with molecular gastronomy to get creative with frozen drinks.
"There are operational issues with using fresh fruit in smoothies," points out Jennifer Faren, product manager for Kerry Group, maker of Jet Smoothies. "You can't get some fruits year round and often there's inconsistency in quality." Plus, fresh fruit has to be washed and prepped; there's often a lot of waste and spoilage.
For those reasons, many operators turn to frozen fruit as a smoothie solution. This obviates the seasonality and spoilage issues. However, notes Faren, "I think you tend to get less flavor from frozen fruit over fresh, as well as less eye appeal."
That's where Jet Smoothie mixes come in. They add real fruit to an antioxidant-rich green tea base for intense flavor. The concentrates are ready to use; just pour over ice and blend into a frozen drink. Packaged in 64-ounce aseptic cartons, Jet mixes are shelf-stable, good for up to a year unopened; after opening, they stay fresh, refrigerated, for up to a month. Powdered mixes are also shelf stable, but they can be hard to mix evenly, resulting in a chalky texture.
Jet offers 11 fruit smoothie flavors and one frappe (add espresso and/or syrups to this neutral base for creamy frozen coffee drinks). The most popular are Strawberry or Strawberry-Banana, next is Mixed Berry or Wild Berry, then Mango and Peach, says Faren. Jet's newest flavor is Very Cherry, a mix of three cherry varieties: Bing, Rainier and Montmorency.
Of course, these flavors are just the starting point for smart operators looking to create their own signature smoothies. Add yogurt or ice cream base to create a Peaches & Cream or Strawberries & Cream smoothie, for example. Add fresh or frozen fruit for more visual appeal. Bananas add creamy texture as well as flavor. And for grownups, a jigger of rum, tequila or vodka turns a standard smoothie into a creamy cocktail.
Flip's milkshakes are a gas
At Flip Burger Boutique in Atlanta, fancy fixings accompany the burgers, which average $7 to $9. Flip doesn't serve ordinary frosty treats either. Liquid N2 Milkshakes are crafted with super-cold liquid nitrogen and blended in exotic flavors. The N2 trick is performed by chef Richard Blais, who used similar high-tech wizardry to win points on TV's "Top Chef."
At minus 320°F, the liquid gas turns cream into ice cream in a flash. The shakes are made to order, then topped off with more of the cool stuff. The nitrogen totally disappears and doesn't interact with the ingredients; it just freezes.
"As it evaporates, the gas looks like fog drifting out of the cup," says general manager Sebastijan Katic. That drama sells a lot of shakes. Flavors are dramatic too. Currently in the lineup are Nutella + Burnt Marshmallow ($7), Krispy Kreme ($6), Pistachio + White Truffle ($6) and Foie Gras ($9)."The foie gras shake is sweet," claims Katic, "and tastes a bit like dulce de leche with a hint of gaminess." The truffles in the Pistachio + White Truffle shake are the kind pigs dig up—not the chocolate kind. "It has a good pistachio taste with the truffles in the background," comments the GM.
Blais is always experimenting with new combos. Previous specials have included Peach + White Chocolate and Sweet Tea. If flavors prove popular enough, they make it onto the permanent menu at the Milkshake Bar. The trick is not for milkshakes only—Flip also shoots a blast of nitrogen to freeze the top of its martini and skates the olive over the surface.