Mrs. Wonka

mrs-wonkaThe name “Mr. Willy Wonka” is synonymous with delicious chocolate, zany confections, and unusual flavors. Who doesn’t, for example, want to try a Wonka’s Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight? See what’s simmering in the Inventing Room? Or take a sip of that amazing, rich, creamy chocolate that’s been mixed by waterfall? But you can’t of course, it’s just a story in a book.

But what if I told you that you could?

Enter Gabi Carbone, co-owner of, and flavor wizard for, The Bent Spoon. Established in 2004, the Bent Spoon is a renowned artisanal ice cream and good ingredients bakery in Princeton, New Jersey. And when I say “renowned” I mean that it is legend.

gabi-and-matt

Photo courtesy of the Bent Spoon

Not only do they have a mission to use regionally-sourced and preferably organic ingredients, they offer some of the most unique and delicious flavors your tongue has ever dared to taste.  Alongside classics like vanilla, chocolate, and pistachio, you will also find avocado, sweet corn, basil, bacon, kale, cardamom ginger, habanero pepper, heirloom tomato, and green tea.

In addition to ice cream and sorbets, the Bent Spoon offers baked goods so amazing, you will find yourself standing in their long line of daily customers to snag a fork-pressed peanut butter cookie, a creamy cupcake, or a brownie with a well of caramel sea salt embedded in the center.

browniesGabi has brought her flavor wizardry to our library events too. She created chocolate Earl Grey ice cream for Alice in Wonderland, lime sorbet “Bombo” for Treasure Island, nector & ambrosia sorbet (with a hint of pomegranate) for The Lightning Thief, and honey ice cream for Robin Hood. Recently, I caught up with Gabi to chat about her magical Wonka touch.


Tell us a little about your culinary background!

I think both Matt [co-owner of the Bent Spoon] and I have been involved in culinary everything from the time we were in our young teens. I got my first job at a good ‘ol café near my house. They had a soft serve machine and I started learning how to use it. It was a small family run business, and Matt bussed dishes at a restaurant! Both Matt and I grew up with families that really enjoyed food and had small gardens… and we both worked in food service at a young age. We got a taste for all of it.

After I graduated college, I lived in Japan for a year. I took every possible class and visited every grandma to learn how to make miso, soba, ramen…basically everything! I eventually went to the French Culinary Institute in New York City for pastries. That was my formal education, but ice cream making and almost everything else came from absorption. If you really love it, you search out teachers wherever you can.

How do you craft or discover different flavors of ice cream?

We have over 550, probably 600 flavors by now. It all comes from wanting to make it taste as much like the pure thing as possible. Cantaloupe, pear…to make it taste like a cold version of that thing. Once that part is good, it’s deciding what spins on that. A great example is Matt’s grandma always loved to eat pears with sour cream. We had to figure out how to craft that. Then we may taste it and think “oh, this could use some lavender just for fun.” Starting out 12 years ago, it was really important for us to perfect the individual flavors. When we first started out, we didn’t have a flavor like ‘Peach Rose’ or ‘Bellini’ because we wanted to perfect just the flavor of peach. We built on the core flavor.

yummy-tripleWhat’s the most unusual ingredient you have experimented with?

There’s a lot of them. Oysters, lobsters, mushrooms, different kinds of wood…

Seriously?

Yes! I joke that we go through periods, like our wood period. It almost doesn’t matter what it is because every ingredient is fascinating to work with. But milk and cream are still amazing ingredients. Everything gets reverence.

If you could turn one non-edible flavor into a baked good, ice cream or confection, what would it be?

A wet brick. I like the smell of a brick building after it rains.

I heard rumors about marshmallows flavored with mushrooms. Is that true?

Yes, marshrooms! They are delicious. I love them because they are so earthy in taste. I use maitake mushrooms, which are the hen of the wood mushrooms. They are beautiful, gorgeous, earthy and delicious. It’s a cool way to eat your mushrooms – enjoying it as a marshmallow on your hot chocolate.

What are the challenges of flavor experimentation?

Very few challenges, really. It’s more about just doing it. Ice cream making is sometimes like making a soup. You start with an idea and if you don’t like the way it tastes, you add a little of this and add a little of that. Try it.

Once though, I made a peach sriracha flavor, which was delicious. But after seven days, not so delicious. The garlic got very strong. So one challenge is to see how an ice cream tastes a week later. Sometimes it’s awesome because the flavor develops even more. But sometimes it doesn’t work. Like if it’s a garlic, or onion, or a chocolate chip Bellini flavor. It’s great for four days, maybe. But get it to a week? It tastes like a big onion.

In a few words, describe your philosophy on creating delicacies for your customers.

Real. Lots of love. I feel like local and sustainable are together, they are not separate things. You can throw organic in there, too. Community, for sure. Empathy is a huge one, believe it or not. Thinking about the chicken that laid the egg that’s eventually going to be here, or someone who is growing the product, what it takes to make it, empathy for the customer with a food allergy…that’s a big one.

mini-cupcakes

Of all the goodies at The Bent Spoon, which one has the most rabid fan base?

You’d be surprised, but every area has its own fan base. The banana whip people are the banana whip people, the hot caramel people are the hot caramel people, the chocolate sorbet people are the chocolate sorbet people, and the hot chocolate people are the hot chocolate people. And we know what you are, Dana!

My blood is 75% Bent Spoon hot chocolate.


I’ll finish this post with a quote from the blog, Serious Eats. They visited the Bent Spoon and had the following to say:

“These are the kinds of flavors so powerful that they go beyond mere taste—conjuring up memories, rather than just sensation. ‘This tastes like Peanut Butter Ripple at this one, tiny ice cream place on the Jersey shore,’ mused my dining companion, as we worked our way through the flavors. ‘This tastes like stealing my neighbor’s pears in September.’ ‘This tastes like Thanksgiving.’ And with the lingering warmth of all those pumpkin pie spices, with the bite of cranberry and sweetness of apple, it truly did.”

It’s fantastic, fabulous, and dare I say it? Wondercrump flavor magic.

Hauntingly Delicious

hauntingly deliciousIt’s a scrumptious birthday cake, but be warned…this cake is haunted. Pull the flame on the candle and out pops a ghost!

We read The Bake Shop Ghost, written by Jacqueline Ogburn and illustrated by Marjorie A. Priceman (Houghton Mifflin, 2005). Miss Cora Lee Merriweather’s cakes and pies might be sweet, but her personality is downright dour. After she dies, she haunts her bake shop, chasing off potential successors one by one. But she finally meets her match when Annie Washington moves in. Annie’s determined to not be scared by loud noises, poltergeist activity, or ghostly heads rising up through her baking table. She confronts Cora Lee and they make a wager. If Annie can make a cake that brings tears to Cora Lee’s eye, a cake “like one I might have baked, but that no one ever made for me,” Cora Lee will stop haunting the bake shop.

Annie tries everything. Moon cake, white cake, tiramisu, fruit cake, cheesecake, carrot cake. Nothing works. Finally, after some research at the local library, Annie makes a… birthday cake. The ghost is so touched that Annie remembered her birthday, she sheds a tear and loses the wager. But Annie, knowing a world-class baker when she sees one, invites the ghost to become her business partner. The two bakers make fabulous baked goods together. And every year, they make birthday cakes for one another.

You’ll need:

  • 2 small boxes (mine were 4.5″ x 4.5″ x 6″ and 4″ x 4″ x 4″)
  • Construction paper (we offered pink, brown, white, and yellow)
  • 1 corrugated cardboard base (or paper plate)
  • 1 toilet paper tube
  • A square of white poster board (approximately 2″ x 2″)
  • A box cutter
  • A selection of patterned paper
  • Cake decorating supplies (more on this below!)
  • 3 squares of a white plastic garbage bag (approximately 13″ x 13″)
  • 1 piece of white pipe cleaner (approximately 5″ long)
  • A black permanent marker
  • Scraps of colored mirror board for candle flames (or use construction paper)
  • Scissors, tape, and glue stick for construction
  • Hot glue

You can use 1 box and create a single layer cake, or you can use 2 boxes and go for a double layer cake. I used white craft boxes, but tissue boxes work too. You might, however, want to cover the tissue boxes with white, brown, or yellow, construction paper before you begin.

Cover the tops of the boxes with construction paper “icing.” Cut bumps into a strip of construction paper, and wrap the strip around the box to create a scallop of icing along the cake’s edge.

cake step 1Next, use a toilet paper tube to trace a circle onto a square of white poster board. Cut the circle from the poster board and use a box cutter to cut a small slit in the circle’s center:

ghost circleSet the circle aside for a moment. Wrap the toilet paper tube with patterned paper and hot glue it to the top of the small box. Then hot glue the small box on top of the large box. Finally, hot glue the large box to a corrugated cardboard base. If your box is small enough, you can use a paper plate for the base. If your cake is too big, try flipping the paper plate upside down to gain a tad more room. For our bases, we used 10″ cake circles:

cake step 2It’s time to decorate! We used construction paper, patterned tape, tissue paper squares, craft ties, self-adhesive foam shapes, dot stickers, and rickrack ribbon. I take no credit for the masterpiece you see below. This is the work of Miriam Jankiewicz, a rare books staffer who was helping me out that day. I love the tissue flowers with the delicate little craft tie curls!

decorated cakeThe cake is complete, now for the ghost! Place 2 squares of white plastic trash bag flat on top of one another. Crumble a third square and place it in the center of the flat squares.

ghost flame step 1Bunch the flat squares around the crumble and twist to create the ghost’s head and neck. Wrap one end of a short pipe cleaner around the ghost’s neck and twist tightly. Bend the rest of the pipe cleaner straight up. The twist and the straight part of the pipe cleaner should both be located behind your ghost’s head.

ghost flame step 2Thread the free end of the pipe cleaner through the slit in the poster board circle. The circle will rest on top of your ghost’s head like a hat.

ghost flame step 3Use a permanent black marker to draw eyes and a mouth on your ghost. Tape scraps of red and orange mirror board (or construction paper) to the front of the pipe cleaner. These are the flames of your candle. The front of your ghost should now look like this:

finished ghost flameThe final step is to tape the back of the ghost’s head to the pipe cleaner. This will keep it nice and steady when you yank it from the cake.

ghost flame step 4To operate your ghost cake, stuff the ghost into the toilet paper tube candle. Wedge the poster board circle into the top of the tube (you might have to trim it a little to get it just right). Present your cake to an unsuspecting individual, then grab the candle flame and pull the ghost out. Shouting “Boo!” is optional, but entirely appropriate.

cake ghostLooking for a few more spooky ideas? Take a look at our haunted dollhouse, glowing skeleton marionette, creepy carrots, shadow puppets, bat mini-exhibit, mummy in a pyramid, and Spooky Old Tree. And don’t miss this plump and perfectly simple toilet paper jack-o’-lantern!