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. Was debating on a fun dessert for a birthday gathering this weekend. Adam’s inspired me to serve mini milkshakes….probably in liqueur glasses. Now to play with flavors and add-ins. (Many of our gatherings are participatory eat-ins, so this will be fun.)

    1. Hey Jeanne —

      Small servings of various shakes make a really fun party dessert. It’s helpful if you have more than one blender jar. And be sure to clear some freezer space to store the finished shakes and you’re whipping up flavors two, three, four, five, six… Just don’t freeze them for too long or you’ll be serving shake pops.

      Hmmmm…shake pops. Now there’s an idea…

      As David said, I have a book out with plenty of shake ideas. It’s called Thoroughly Modern Milkshakes.

      1. Drat David. Books are my guilty pleasures and the usurper of my paycheck. But, if you insist.

        However, I have some of your Ultimate Choc Chip Cookie dough in my freezer I thought I’d include in a shake.

        Plus some trimmings from my Walnut-Studded Dark Chocolate Brownies (also in the freezer awaiting an occasion) as another option.

        And for another, perhaps a drizzle of a chocolate stout syrup I’m experimenting with….

        1. Jeanne,

          Did you say chocolate-stout syrup? Where do I sign? You could also do great things with the Fat Toad Farm Cajeta I saw elsewhere on LC. That stuff is AMAZING!

          By the way LC folk, LOVE the art for this post. Wish I’d found it for the book…..

          1. I agree that poster is pretty sensational and so appropriate. I think my landlord looks exactly like that too. This whole post is fabulous.

  2. Love this. I think we all romanticize the fountain counter. My parents have fond memories of taking jobs as soda jerks when they were working through school. Similarly, I found myself digging “cold mud” (chocolate ice cream) for milkshakes in a diner where I worked as a waitress in college.

    My milkshake of choice used to be a simple black and white. Now I enjoy flavors with more depth: coffee, caramel. I haven’t yet, but am eager to make Adam Ried’s milkshakes—especially test this idea of chocolate sorbet instead of syrup.

    1. Hey Allison,

      Ah yes, I had my college ice cream scooping days…well, summer, too. Happily, I’ve left it to the pros.

      I hope you like the sorbet in the shakes. I think it gives a nice flavor bump over the usual syrup. Despite my devotion to all things chocolate, my favorite shake in the book, even after developing more than 100 flavor combos, isn’t actually a straight-ahead chocolate shake. It’s mocha-cardamom. Coffee ice cream, chocolate sorbet, milk, a sprinkle of espresso powder for good measure, and a tiny bit of ground cardamom.

      1. Okay, you got me with the cardamom. One of my favorite flavors, and combined with coffee ice cream, chocolate sorbet… sheesh, Adam, you know how to knock a girl out! Glad to know which is your favorite (despite the fact that we’re supposed to love all our “children” the same, right?). Thanks for sharing/replying to my comment.

        1. Oh Allison, I’m in the cardamom camp, too… big time. In fact, we’re having a snowy day here in Boston so for lunch today I made avgolemono, which I flavored with a cinnamon stick and couple of cardamom pods, in addition to the lemon of course. Made with homemade stock, which I cooked down until it was like chicken jello, and garnished with mint and scallions, it made me insanely happy.

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