Thick Enough to Stand up a Straw


By Tracie McMillan • Sept. 26, 2006

These are difficult times for the milkshake. The coffee craze has brought a series of sophisticated imitators — most of them ending in “cino” — to the table, and whether you’re avoiding fats or carbs this mid-century treat is an offender on both counts.

All of which suggests that if you’re going for a shake, you want it to be worth the trouble. That means adhering to the three pillars of shake-making: quality ice cream, thick consistency, and creamy texture.

Purists tend to weigh in on the side of thick, creamy ice creams — which result in a smoother, heavier shake. “Premium ice cream has very little air in it,” says Bruce Weinstein, author of “The Ultimate Ice Cream Book.” Weinstein suggests that you check the ingredients list for thickeners like modified food starch or guar gum, and avoid the ice creams that have them. A good rule of thumb: Ice cream sold in pints, not half-gallons, is typically higher quality.

Still, quality doesn’t necessarily have to mean heavy, cautions Duncan Gott, owner of Taylor’s Automatic Refresher, of Saint Helena, Calif., which has won praise nationwide for its upmarket take on lunch-counter fare.  “If you start with a light ice cream, you’ll have a light and fluffy shake,” says Gott. “That’s good too.” (And pay attention to local variations in lingo; if you’re making a milkshake in New England, you’ll need only to flavor and whip some milk; if you’re adding ice cream, you’ll be making a “frappe.”)

The flavor of ice cream typically should reflect the shake flavor, so use strawberry ice cream for strawberry shakes, chocolate for chocolate, coffee for coffee — and supplement flavors with a corresponding syrup. If a double dose of chocolate is too much, have no fear: The “black and white” (vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup) is a time-honored tradition nationwide, and is the typical chocolate shake throughout the Midwest.

The straw test

Once you’ve selected the base, you’ll need it to be soft enough that you can scoop it out without effort — a pint will get there in about 10-15 minutes on your counter. Proportion will determine how thick the shake turns out, so be careful here. “You’re going for a thickness that you can stand a straw in and not have it fall over to the side,” says Stan Frankenthaler, executive chef of Baskin-Robbins. (If you’re stuck with ice cream of an airy nature, you can try to thicken the shake by substituting half-and-half or even whole cream for the milk.)

The ultimate guideline is typically American: Do what you like.

Syrup is a little more tricky. Ice cream connoisseurs will sometimes bypass the added flavoring for fear of corrupting the ice cream — Taylor’s never uses syrups, for example — while others will play with an array of add-ins. (Part of that comes from the drink’s humble beginnings as a health tonic in the 1880s, when eggs, malt powder and even whiskey were added for their supposed healthful effects.) Today, it’s more about broadening flavor options; Weinstein, for example, is a fan of using canned pie filling to create unusual shake flavors such as apple pie.

The ultimate guideline is typically American: Do what you like. “The sky’s the limit,” says Frankenthaler.

But to make a milkshake that brings all the boys (and girls) to the yard, you’ve got to achieve just the right blend, one that melds flavors evenly and keeps things thick without forcing you to grab a spoon. Striking that balance is generally easiest with the silver-cup drink mixers made specifically for shakes, since they run slower and aerate more evenly than regular blenders. But if you’re dealing with a traditional blender, just pulse a few times to get things moving and then set it on low.

Once you’ve mixed it to your desired thickness, you’ve only to pour it in a glass and add the finishing touches. Whipped cream, syrup, crumbled cookies or fruit are all acceptable, but for a truly American shake, there’s only one way to go. “Whipped cream and a maraschino cherry,” says Weinstein. “What else?”


Recipe: Chocolate Milkshake


• 3 large scoops premium chocolate ice cream, softened at room temperature for 10-15 minutes

• 1/2 – 1 cup cold whole milk, depending on consistency preferences

• 2-4 T. chocolate syrup, to taste

• Whipped cream (optional)

• Maraschino cherry (optional)

• Straw


1. Place ingredients in blender, starting with ice cream, then 1/2 cup milk and finishing with 2 tbsp. syrup. (Note: Adding syrup last helps insure that it won’t sink to the bottom of the blender without being mixed in.)

2. Pulse a few times, enough to get the ice cream and milk to start mixing.

3. Turn blender to lowest setting, and mix until smooth.

4. Check consistency and flavor. If the shake is too thick to sip through a straw, replace lid and add milk, 1 tbsp. at a time, through the hole in the lid until you reach desired consistency. If the flavor is too subtle, replace lid and add gradually add syrup to taste.

5. Once desired consistency and flavor is reached, pour into glass.

6. Garnish with whipped cream and cherry, if so desired, and add straw.


Serving Size

Serves 1


Recipe: Strawberry Malted

Source: “The Ultimate Ice Cream Book”


• 12 large strawberries, partially frozen (can be fresh and thrown into freezer for a bit, or you can take frozen ones out of the freezer along with your ice cream)

• 2 scoops strawberry ice cream

• 3 heaping tablespoons malted milk powder

• 1 cup milk

• 2 tbsp strawberry topping or preserves

• Straw


1) Place all ingredients in a blender. Pulse the blender on and off until mixture blends easily.

2) Blend on high for 30 seconds or until smooth.

3) Serve.


Serving Size

Serves 1

Follow Tracie

Follow Tracie on Facebook
Follow Tracie on X (Twitter)
Follow Tracie on Instagram
Get Tracie's Newsletter