food-icecream

Photos by Tristan Spinski / The Washington Post

Chef-owner Krista Kern Desjarlais holds a cone of her black raspberry chip ice cream at Bresca and the Honeybee in New Gloucester, Maine. Top of page, customers wait in line at the shop at Sabbathday Lake.

NEW GLOUCESTER, Maine — Outlet Beach on Sabbathday Lake looks like a lot of Maine swimming holes: crystal-clear water, a crescent-shaped strip of sand, picnic tables under tall pines, and parents watching their kids dive off the board on the little dock, or squiggle down the water slide.

And, of course, there’s ice cream.

But take a look at the chalkboard outside the slightly lopsided yellow ice cream shack at Bresca and the Honeybee at Outlet Beach. The flavors are anything but typical: blueberry panna cotta ice cream with brown butter streusel; pear shiso sorbet; salted licorice ice cream; nasturtium leaf ice cream with pink peppercorn ribbon; and black raspberry chip with chocolate sea salt shell, to name just a few.

Inside, owner and chef Krista Kern Desjarlais is busy transforming local cream, fruit, vegetables and herbs into a dazzling array of ice creams and sorbets. Making ice cream at the lake is not a summer side job for Kern Desjarlais. This is her full-time gig, and she is producing some of the richest, most innovative ice cream imaginable.

She first spotted the property in winter 2013. “My husband and I were driving home and took a shortcut,” she said. “We passed the lake and there was a ‘For Sale’ sign on the shack. I thought it was the cutest place I had ever seen.”

At 43, she had just had her daughter and was spending 18 hours a day running Bresca, her highly acclaimed restaurant in Portland. She had been nominated for James Beard Awards and had fielded offers for TV shows. “There I was in my early 40s achieving everything I had waited my whole life for,” she said.

But the stress was getting to her: “I’d come home exhausted and see my daughter sleeping and then wake up and do it again. I couldn’t find the balance ... Once you have a child you ask yourself, ‘What am I really doing?’ As a woman, I had to make the ultimate decision: family or career? And then this sign popped into my life.”

Kern Desjarlais first worked in the food industry at age 14, starting at a catering company in Connecticut, and then slinging burgers and scooping ice cream on summer jobs. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Southern Maine, she decided to get a master’s in medieval studies. She figured she would make a career teaching college and doing research.

But as a student needing extra money, she landed a job with a private chef and discovered a love of cooking. She found herself spending hours studying and then going to the grocery store roaming the aisles feeling “this deep comfort looking at different types of food and imagining what I might do with all these ingredients.”

She left the master’s program and spent the next few decades cooking in New York, Paris, Las Vegas and Aspen. She’s staged with such luminaries as pastry chef Jacques Torres, Guy Savoy and Richard Leach.

Once she decided to make the move into ice cream, things happened quickly: After a five-year run, she closed Bresca on May 13, 2013, and opened Bresca and the Honeybee less than two weeks later. (In 2016, she also opened Purple House, a tiny bakery/restaurant in nearby Yarmouth that has been “temporarily closed” since the beginning of the pandemic.)

In her “old life,” ice cream was just one element on a menu, something to pair with cake or a tart. But Kern Desjarlais’ love of frozen desserts has always been strong. “I’ve become consumed with the endless possibilities of ice creams and sorbets, granitas and cremolatas.”

So for Bresca and the Honeybee, she hunted down a local dairy to supply fresh cream and connected with farmers and local suppliers to source the freshest eggs, seasonal fruit and herbs. At first, customers “only asked for the basics: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry,” she said. “But Krista the chef needed to do her thing.”

Those standard flavors earn trust with her customers. “If you make great chocolate or vanilla ice cream, people are then willing to try your olive oil ice cream or burnt honey and rosemary, or even Oxo Beer cherry ripple,” made with local craft beer, she said.

In an ironic twist, after spending months developing ice cream flavors the year she opened Bresca and the Honeybee, Kern Desjarlais discovered she was dairy intolerant. Years later, after severe knee and joint pain, she learned she was also gluten intolerant. To taste her ice cream these days, Kern Desjarlais has to pop a Lactaid. All of Bresca and the Honeybee’s crumbles and ice cream toppings are now gluten-free.

On a hot day in late May just before summer’s opening weekend, Kern Desjarlais was working with her sous chef, Sherry Lai, making Key lime creme fraiche ice cream. She warms the sugar, milk, vanilla bean and salt mixture and then lets it cool before folding in Vermont creme fraiche and Florida Key lime juice.

In contrast to the jolt of sweetness that comes with most ice cream, what she’s after is balance. Is there enough salt to pop the flavors? Does the sorbet need more acid to make the fresh fruit and herbs sing? (Kern Desjarlais often adds fruit vinegars to her sorbets to add a subtle sour flavor.) And when she makes her ice cream and sorbet bases, she finds it’s important to refrigerate them overnight, then taste to adjust salt, acid or other flavorings before churning.

“When you’re making ice cream and sorbet bases you want the flavors to be exaggerated because they always diminish when you freeze them,” she advised. “Add a pinch more salt, a touch more vanilla, a bit more fruit.”

In addition to being an ice cream chef, Kern Desjarlais is also something of a park ranger. Although the nearby Shaker community “owns” almost all the land on Sabbathday Lake, she is responsible for the upkeep on the nearly 4 acres of lakeside land she leases. On a typical summer day she can be seen picking up stray garbage, sweeping pine needles off picnic tables, and making sure boats are safely launched.

Her 11-year-old daughter, Cortland (“like the apple”), hangs out on the dock with a friend, jumping into the water, catching baby frogs and water bugs, looking like a happy kid at summer camp.

Kern Desjarlais never stops experimenting. Her latest creation: artichoke ice cream. Basing her technique on a French recipe that dates back to 1825, she poaches fresh artichoke hearts in a sugar syrup with vanilla, and orange and lemon zest, then purees the mixture and folds it into a sweet cream base. After the ice cream is done, she tops it with candied grapefruit and toasted pistachio. This recipe seems to meld her interest in history, food and creating flavors that few have tasted before.

Life on a pristine summer lake in Maine seems to suit Kern Desjarlais.

“The world is moving so fast,” she says. “We are all connected all the time. But cell service here is not great, so people can’t be looking at their phones all day. When you’re at Sabbathday Lake you have to focus on where you are. This is a place you can come and forget about time. You can take a swim, stare at trees and cool off with an ice cream cone. Here you can just be.”

Watermelon Lime Sorbet

Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes, plus overnight chilling and at least 6 hours freezing time

Servings: 6 to 8 servings

This refreshing sorbet hits the spot on hot summer days. Plan on letting the sorbet mixture sit overnight in the refrigerator before you spin it in your ice cream machine, then at least six hours in the freezer after it’s churned. Depending on how tart you prefer your sorbet, you may want to add more lime juice, as the flavor will weaken once frozen.

The sorbet mixture needs to be refrigerated overnight before being churned in an ice cream machine and, to properly firm up, will require at least six hours of freezing time before serving.

Sorbet can be frozen in an airtight container, with a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap pressed against the surface of the sorbet to prevent freezer burn, for up to one week.

INGREDIENTS

1¼ cups granulated sugar

½ cup cold water

2 tablespoons light corn syrup or tapioca syrup

2 limes, plus more to taste

4 cups watermelon chunks, seeds removed

Pinch of fine sea salt, to taste

STEPS

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the sugar, water and corn syrup and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the sugar has completely dissolved, about two minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool until lukewarm.

While the syrup is cooling, finely zest the limes and juice them; you should get about a quarter cup of lime juice.

In a blender or food processor, puree the cooled sugar syrup, watermelon and lime juice (reserve the zest) until smooth. Strain the mixture, pressing on solids with a silicone spatula, through a fine-mesh sieve set over a four-cup measuring cup with a spout. Whisk in the lime zest and sea salt. Transfer to a quart-size jar with a lid and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to churn, taste the sorbet base, and add more lime juice (up to two tablespoons), zest and/or salt, if needed. (Keep in mind that once frozen, the lime flavor will weaken slightly, so if you prefer your sorbet more tart, add lime juice now.) Churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions for your ice cream maker until the sorbet reaches a consistency of Italian ice. Depending on your ice cream maker, this can take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes. Transfer to a lidded container and freeze to firm up, at least six hours.

To serve, remove the sorbet from the freezer and let sit at room temperature for about five minutes; then scoop and serve. Makes one quart.

Nutrition per serving (½ cup), based on 8 | Calories: 160; Total Fat: 0 g; Saturated Fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 42 mg; Carbohydrates: 42 g; Dietary Fiber: 0 g; Sugar: 37 g; Protein: 1 g.

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

— Recipe from Krista Kern Desjarlais, chef-owner of Bresca and the Honeybee in New Gloucester, Maine