Milkshakes Without Borders


There I was, about to ditch my workaday life in Boston and decamp to Paris for a year of shopping, cooking, eating, and traveling, and what was on my mind?

Milkshakes. (It should have been visas.)

My friends were throwing a farewell party with a menu of stateside treats I might miss while immersed in rillettes, Reblochon, saucisson, fromage de tête, poulet de Bresse, gâteau de l’Opera, vin ordinnaire, and all things good and French. With anticipatory separation anxiety coursing through my veins, three things leapt to mind: iced coffee (heavy on the ice, please), cheese doodles (either puffy or crunchy; I’m not proud of this fact, but I love them), and above all, milkshakes (preferably of the chocolate persuasion).

I’ve sometimes proven to be a bit slow on the uptake. Embarrassing but true. I was no different with milkshakes. I liked them as a kid, of course, although in my imagination I always saw myself slurping them at a classic ice-cream parlor rather than in front of the freezer at home. But there was no proper, old-timey soda fountain in the ‘burbs where I grew up. No Woolworth’s, whose 132nd anniversary is this very day, or Schrafft’s or Bailey’s nearby. No spinning stools, no boomerang-patterned Formica counters, no career waitresses in white-aproned polyester uniforms, and no bendy straws for sipping shakes in unison with your squeeze. In truth, it wasn’t until adulthood, when I learned to make shakes with chocolate sorbet in place of chocolate syrup, that I fell head over heels for them. Off the deep end I went, and I’ve yet to look back.

Fast forward about eight weeks into our year in France. We’re ensconced in our minuscule apartment on the hairy northern edge of the 18th arrondissement, down the back side of the hill from Sacre Coeur. The daily cascade of new experiences in a foreign country, conducted in a language in which my skills roughly matched those of a toddler, had thus far distracted me from pangs for the familiar. I had, however, paid visits to the Parisian ice-cream shops, les glaciers, that I’d researched prior to departing the States. After extensive sampling, there was good news (great ice cream) and bad news (no milkshakes).

I’d thought through this possibility beforehand. Knowing that our kitchen would be too small for the ancient, harvest gold clunker of a blender that had been my milkshake partner for years—I now had a cutting board set across the sink for counter space, and I could literally reach everything in the kitchen without taking a step—I’d brought along a multitasking mini food processor for milkshake-making as well as other, less significant duties.

With ice cream, sorbet (both chocolate, of course), milk, and the food processor, I stood at the dawn of my first milkshake on French soil. It would be a cool, creamy, grounding gulp at the end of a trying day spent attempting, to no avail, to open a French bank account. I plugged in the beast, filled it with ingredients, secured the lid, and hit the GO button.

Crackling, sparks, and a puff of smoke. The processor was motionless. Pas de purée. Ooooohh. Yikes. Pas d’adapteur. In my eagerness, I’d forgotten to bother with an adaptor and had fried the poor, defenseless thing. Mon dieu! With the tiny freezer crammed full, my ice cream and sorbet began to melt right along with my mood.

Luckily, our apartment was directly above an appliance store, so salvation was just a few flights away. I dashed downstairs, balked at the price of a new food processor, and instead bought a cheap, compact immersion blender. Minutes later I was back in the kitchen with an actual French appliance whose proper French plug fit into our typical French outlet without the aid of an adaptor. The ice cream and sorbet were softened but still intact enough for the purpose at hand. Booyah!

Indeed, that was a shake de la shake, and not just because it was smooth and frosty and deeply chocolatey. I loved it even more for its surroundings, which I’d finally gotten right. This dark, petit Paris kitchen was an ocean away from the quaint, iconic soda fountain I’d pictured in my mind as a kid, and about 30 years too late, but it was just where I needed to be.

* * *

So tell us, what are your favorite milkshakes? Milkshake flavors, memories, hankerings?



  1. The old fashioned mixers at the corner candy stores were actually the original “immersion” mixers. And they could take four steel containers a time!

    My older brother would take me to Louie’s candy store back in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. Vanilla was the milkshake of choice – with two scoops of tub-served ice cream from the deep freezer, ice cold milk from the ‘fridge, and maybe a squirt or two of syrup. Maybe even a spoon of malt. Then the steel container was placed into the blending stand where it was whipped into what was the best milkshake that I can remember – and at only .15 each!

    A couple of salty stick pretzels – 3 for a nickel – and it was heaven.

    It must have made a deep impression on me – I worked my way thru college at the local Carvel stand. And had a reputation for making the best milkshakes in the neighborhood…

    – Jeff

    1. Wow, Jeff, in what year were milkshakes 15 cents?

      I have to say that I’m ALL OVER your suggestion of dipping pretzel sticks in a vanilla malted. OMG — cool, creamy, sweet, crunchy, salty. Inspired!

      Have you ever encountered a concrete? Not that far off from your pretzels and shakes. It’s a midwestern thing — fabulous, dense frozen custard with mix-ins. In the book I pair crushed chocolate covered pretzels with either choco or vanilla frozen custard. I think you’d be a fan.

      1. We’re going back to late 50’s, early 60’s for that .15 shake. About the same time a bus ride was a dime and a gallon of gas was less than .30

        I know memory can be unreliable, but the counter-served ice cream from the tubs in the luncheonette freezer was richer and the flavors more honest. Made for a better milk shake.

        Carvel had their own version called a Thick Shake. When I was working there in the 70’s, I think they rang up at .50 each.

        I’ve heard of “concrete” – I think Steve’s up in Boston did something similar by scooping out ice cream, putting it on a marble counter, then mixing in all types of candies, cookie bits, nuts, etc by hand, then into a cup or ice cream cone. Cold Stone Creamery here in NY recently tried the same. Both chains didn’t make it though – I think that the $5 ice cream cone was a bit of an overreach.

        You have me waxing nostalgic and hungry. I think I just may plan a Milkshake Party for the coming spring! Not a bad entryway to summer…can’t beat homemade…

        – Jeff

        1. Hey Jeff —

          Yes indeed, Steve’s in Boston (I live about a 10-minute walk from the original location) did something similar to concretes with the mix-ins. They used ice cream though (nothing wrong with that!) whereas the frozen custard in a true concrete is a bit denser, with less air incorporated.

          A milkshake party is a fine way to welcome spring — I admit to having thrown a couple in my day. Have friends bring blenders so you can get a couple of flavors going at once.

          Blend on!

  2. I guess lassis aren’t milkshakes, strictly speaking, but I’m gonna cheat my way into this on the cardamom connection and tout our family fave, a banana-lemon-cardamom lassi made with real, no-fillers, whole-fat buttermilk. We usually have a stock of overripe bananas in our freezer, so when the mood strikes, we’re prepared. What make this irresistible even to a banana hater like me is the play of the lemon’s tart juice and pungent zest against the piney-warm cardamom. The bananas and buttermilk provide rich bass notes. And the banana-ness that usually would push my yuk button gets canceled by the buttermilk and lemon’s astringency.

    1. Hi Liz —

      Lassis aren’t cheating! I put three lassi recipes in the book — salted, sweet (yes, with a pinch of cardamom), and mango. I’ll admit, though, that the salted lassi is something of an acquired taste. It may be the sort of thing you have to grow up with.

      Your banana-lemon-cardamon lassi sounds wonderful. I’m going to buy some bananas on my next shopping trip. I don’t know where you’re located, but can you get Kate’s buttermilk wherever you are? Great stuff. That said, I tend to use yogurt, which I always have on hand, for lassis. A drop or two of rosewater is also a nice addition to a plain lassi.

      1. Mmmm. Salty mango lassis. I can imagine that…while living in Hawaii (w/ 3 pesky prolific mango trees in the yard) we were mangoed out. But a favorite way w/ fresh mangoes was to slice ’em and drizzle a bit of soy sauce on top. Or put ’em on the curb in bags and hope someone would haul them off to enjoy.

        1. Hmmmm… soy sauce on mangoes is a new one for me, but not hard to imagine given that so many folks salt their watermelon. Here in mango-deprived (relatively speaking, of course) New England I can scarcely conceive of such as thing as too many mangoes. But I know it can be — other friends who have lived in Hawaii had stories like yours about garbage bags full of them for the taking at the curb.

  3. Many moons ago, almost 40 years actually, my best friend and I walked to her house for lunch. Almost everyday for a whole grading period during our freshman year we made hand mixed vanilla milkshakes adding extra vanilla extact. We ate colby cheese and dill pickles with some kind of butter cracker along with the shakes. I can’t have a vanilla shake now without thinking of that menu or of that great metabolism for that matter. Black raspberry has been my kick now for several years.

    1. Hey Penny —

      Oy… please don’t mention metabolism. Fun as it was to develop more than 100 shake flavors for my book, I felt strongly that if readers were going to drink a whole shake, which presumably they would, then I had to also, to see if the last sip would be as appealing as the first. So over the course of developing the recipes in a single summer, I drank well over 100 shakes. Then I promised my doctor that my next book would be about the wonders of lettuce with plain lemon juice!

      You’re right about those shakes of your youth, though. A bit of vanilla extract makes a huge difference in a vanilla (and many other) shake(s).

    1. Hey Brian —

      YOU BET a malted is in the shake family! Malt powder — try Horlick’s brand, if you can get your hands on some — adds a subtle toasty caramel note to the shake, so you should use it with whatever flavor might appeal to you. In my book I pair malt powder with chocolate, vanilla, caramel, Irish Breakfast tea, and orange-molasses shakes, among others. And that other shake relates to your float idea — chocolate-Guinness. Excellent combo…..

  4. Actually when I was growing up there was a pharmacy in our town within walking distance of our home that had a soda fountain. The milkshake I always ordered from there was chocolate. However, as I grew up, I have experimented with many different flavors and some with added-in crushed candies. I now like mint chocolate, strawberry with real strawberry pieces, and many, many other flavors too. I have a sweet tooth, but also a love of ice cream, so I don’t see me ever giving up at least a milkshake every month and even more often in hot summer months.

    1. Hey Lauralee–

      Those old soda fountains are the bomb, aren’t they? I finally got mine when I was in college. Same sort of deal as yours–small local pharmacy with a small soda fountain counter. If memory serves, I think it had only four ice cream flavors–chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and maple walnut. Despite my chocolate predilections, that was when I first sampled the wonder that is maple walnut ice cream.

      As you point out, though, now there are far wider horizons in ice cream and milkshakedom. I developed more than 100 flavors for my book. It was a banner milkshake summer, that!

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