Milkshakes have always seemed to me the height of decadence: a dessert cunningly masquerading as a refreshing drink, and that’s even without the ice-cream that most of the world seems to regard as an essential ingredient. Strawberries, with their famous affinity with all things creamy, are the perfect summery subject – sweet enough to please, sharp enough not to be cloying, and perhaps the ultimate treat when it’s too hot to cook.
For me, the word milkshake still suggests frothy flavoured milk, a bit like the early versions served in 19th-century soda fountains across the pond; when I was growing up, the only ones that were so thick they made a mockery of the straw provided came from McDonald’s (an effect darkly, if inaccurately, attributed to chicken fat, rather than soft-serve ice-cream). Yet it seems I’m in the minority: correspondents express puzzlement that you could even make a milkshake without it. So what’s the truth?
There are two types of strawberry flavour: the slightly acidic perfume of the fresh fruit, and the sweeter, almost jammy profile of the artificial kind, more reminiscent of a Body Shop bubblebath than anything found in nature (a strawberry bootlace that tasted of fruit would have been regarded as a serious letdown). Most of the recipes I try do contain some fruit, with the exception of the McDonald’s-style thick shake included in Todd Wilbur’s collection of Top Secret Recipes, which utilises Nesquik powder. It’s delicious, in a nostalgic sort of a way, but lacks the complexity and edge of shakes made with fresh berries.
That said, the fruit itself, once diluted and chilled by cold dairy, also loses some of its oomph – recipes such as Sara Buenfeld’s for BBC Good Food that contain nothing but fruit taste muted to us. One solution is to toss the fruit with sugar before use, not only to help draw out its juices, but also to boost its natural sweetness, as Faith Durand puts it in her recipe for The Kitchn: “Smoothies are well and good, but when I want a milkshake, it needs to be a milkshake, OK? It’s an occasional indulgence, and therefore it needs to indulge.”
You could supplement this with a strawberry syrup, as I do to recreate the New York egg cream served at Commerce Sweet Shop, but it’s even easier, and simpler, to add a spoonful of good strawberry jam and a squeeze of lemon juice, as Adam Ried does in Thoroughly Modern Milkshakes, for a shake that really sings of strawberries.
Durand and the Kenwood blender website both freeze the fruit before use, which helps to thicken the shake. If you’d like a drinkable, rather than slurpable consistency, or don’t have time to do so, skip this step. Ried also adds strawberry sorbet, which gives his milkshake an intense fruitiness that I like, but that proves too much for most of my testers, who give up after a few sips. To echo Durand, if you’re going to indulge in one of these, you may as well finish it.
The Kenwood recipe is the only one to contain just milk – which, consistency wise, works fine for me, though some testers describe it as “watery”, a quality I’m more inclined to put down to the fruit. The egg cream also contains condensed milk, and all the rest include ice-cream of some sort, either vanilla or strawberry. It’s surprisingly hard to track down plain old strawberry ice-cream these days – it seems to have been usurped by more modish combinations – and I suspect there’s a real risk that some brands might err towards the artificial strawberry flavour side of things, so I’m going to stick with vanilla, a flavour that pairs well with the fruit without overpowering it.
Autumn Giles uses mascarpone instead of milk in her recipe for Serious Eats, which gives her milkshake a richness that, like Ried’s, means it might be better served in a shot glass as a dessert. That said, I don’t think you need to use low-fat milk as Wilbur does: in for a penny in for a pound, and whole milk is infinitely tastier. (Because I realise I’m in a puritanical minority in wanting a shake thin enough to drink, rather than chew, I’ve given you the option of adding less liquid, if you prefer. Or, if you’d really like something refreshing, forget all the above and make an egg cream with soda water instead – though fizzy milk proves a divisive concept among my guinea pigs, one of whom refuses even to try it, despite being 35 years old.)
With Ried’s lemon juice already in the bag, and Durand’s vanilla extract rendered unnecessary by the ice-cream, the only other additional flavouring I try is the latter’s malted milk powder, which, she says, “adds just a bit of extra depth and a hint of malty flavour without turning the shake into a true malt” (Stateside, malted milkshakes are traditionally kind of a big deal). As I’m ever so slightly obsessed with the toasty, nutty taste of malt, I don’t need telling twice, but if you’re not so keen, just leave it out. Durand says plain milk powder will add a similar richness with a more neutral flavour, but truly I think the milk and ice-cream are creamy enough on their own.
Perfect strawberrry milkshake
Prep 5 min
Freeze 1 hr (or 15 min steep)
Cook 10 min
75g strawberries, plus one extra to garnish (optional)
1 tsp white or golden sugar
2 tsp strawberry jam
1 tsp lemon juice
75-100ml milk, preferably whole
75g vanilla ice-cream, slightly softened
1 heaped tsp malted milk powder (eg, Horlicks)
Hull and roughly chop the strawberries, then put them in a freezerproof container, scatter over the sugar and freeze for at least an hour (alternatively, leave at room temperature to macerate for at least 15 minutes, to draw out the juices).
Put the fruit and syrupy juices in a blender, add the jam and lemon juice, and whizz to a smooth puree.
Add 75ml milk, the ice-cream and the malted milk powder, if using, and blend again, until the mixture is liquid and frothy; add more milk to loosen, if desired.
Pour into a glass and serve at once, garnished with an extra strawberry, if you’re looking to impress.