Pester Jason Wulf long enough, and he will admit to making one ice cream flavor that just plain failed.
"We wanted to make a chicken wing flavor, but it turns out Frank's Red Hot will curdle ice cream," said Wulf. "There are just some things you can't mix with dairy."
Short of that, almost all of his sweet experiments have succeeded, resulting in more than 40 flavors of Lake Effect Ice Cream that Wulf has conjured up with partner Erik Bernardi.
Wulf and Bernardi are two Lockport High School teachers and self-taught ice cream experts who have been selling their own creamy concoctions for two years. Take it from them: You can make ice cream, too.
As it happens, selling ice cream doesn't stop the Lake Effect guys from encouraging would-be ice cream makers.
"One of the biggest things we tell people is: Don't be afraid of it. Put whatever you want in it," said Wulf. "It's really hard to screw up ice cream."
During a recent morning in their rented Lockport kitchen, they whipped up a batch of their Cinnamon Toast flavor -- not yet released to the general public -- and shared tips on the "incredibly easy" process of making ice cream.
It took 20 minutes. Wulf and Bernardi warned that the batch of Cinnamon Toast, like other ice cream flavors, wouldn't be at its best until it "cured" overnight in the freezer. This reporter, however, can testify that if there had been more people with spoons in the kitchen, it would never have reached the freezer at all.
The Lake Effect guys have been friends since their days at Charles Upson Elementary in Lockport. They both got married and became teachers, and Bernardi ended up buying the house next to Wulf's. They would make ice cream from time to time and tried to outdo each other with swoonful flavors.
During their summers, Bernardi and Wulf worked at building decks, roofing and landscaping. Then they both had back surgery. Maybe ice cream was a better summer job, they decided.
Starting with the 2008 Lockport craft show, they took their treats to the street. "We said: 'We'll do fairs and festivals. Those only happen over the summer,' " said Wulf.
But people wanted more, and their summer job pushed into the fall. The men found themselves making ice cream until 2:30 a.m. some nights, then getting up a few hours later to face their students.
Today, they make about 250 gallons a month in 5-gallon batches, including flavors like Crystal Beach Loganberry, Frozen Hot Chocolate and Nickel City Heat, a cayenne-chocolate hybrid. Using a batch mix from Upstate Farms Cooperative as their base, they add painstakingly adjusted flavorings to get the desired effects.
"Anyone can make ice cream, and it'll taste good," said Bernardi. "It's harder to make it taste right. We did 10 batches of the Guinness [flavor] before we got it the way we wanted."
These days, Lake Effect is in freezers at 12 stores, including some Tops Markets, Budwey's and the Lexington Food Co-Op. Their Salty Caramel was named "Best Guilty Pleasure" by Buffalo Spree last month.
The only place currently scooping Lake Effect is Delish, on Elmwood Avenue. "Who wouldn't want to feature a locally produced product that's not only produced by two great young guys, but is the best product on the market?" Delish owner Deborah Clark asked.
Clark was thrilled that Lake Effect has agreed to make custom flavors for Delish, including "a banana toffee with our own homemade English toffee and fresh bananas. It's going to be awesome."
>Ice Cream 101
First, some basics. To do it yourself, you will need an ice cream maker, either a countertop dedicated machine, or a bowl that can go in the freezer before it's mounted on a standup mixer, like a Kitchen Aid. A spatula, whisk and some containers, and you're equipped to reach for dairy nirvana.
What to make? There are two main groups of ice cream recipes.
One uses eggs to enrich the milk-cream blend and is cooked before being frozen. The other, dubbed Philadelphia-style, skips the eggs and simply beats the sweetener into the dairy blend, although some recipes do suggest heating the mixture to help sugars dissolve.
The Lake Effect guys do Philly style, giving up a little richness and eggy flavor for ease of production. None of their customers has complained about missing eggs so far, said Wulf.
Cold is good. Keep the cream and milk cold before mixing a batch. Put the mix in the freezer to chill it before pouring it into the ice cream maker, whose parts should have spent 24 hours in the freezer, if designed to do so.
Flavor tips: Go nuts. Just make sure to stir in the peanuts or other chunky ingredients -- cookies or cookie dough, candy, fruit -- after removing it from the machine, while the ice cream is still soft. Then freeze overnight for the best flavor.
Liquid flavors should be concentrated, and avoid water when possible; syrups, jams, jellies and extracts all work better. Use Concord grape juice concentrate instead of straight grape juice, for instance.
>Cinnamon Toast Ice Cream
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups half and half
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 rounded teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 rounded teaspoon nutmeg
Pour cream and half and half into bowl. Add sugar and spices. Using an electric beater or whisk, stir briskly to dissolve sugar and distribute spices throughout mixture.
Put mixture in freezer for about 30 minutes, to chill but not freeze. Remove chilled bowl and beater from freezer, where you put it the day before. Set up ice cream maker.
Take chilled mix from freezer. Turn on ice cream maker. With beater spinning, pour mixture into ice cream maker. After about 10 minutes, mixture will look like oatmeal.
When mixture starts to climb up beater and mixture thickens, about 15 minutes, it's close. Stop when it's almost the thickness of soft-serve ice cream. Scrape into container, cover and freeze overnight to cure.
Yields about three pints.