Made by Marcus experiments with flavour to master science of ice cream

As a scientist, Marcus Purtzki is all about the formulas and the process behind turning dairy and egg yolks into a sweet summer treat.

'It's a bit of a different experience — something people haven't had before'

Marcus Purtzki's understanding of the science behind ice cream is bolstered by his background in food science, which includes a thesis focused entirely on dairy. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

If there is a science to ice cream, Marcus Purtzki has mastered it.

After earning his bachelor's degree in food science and nutrition at UBC, Marcus worked in restaurants in Vancouver and New York before deciding to focus on pastry — and macarons in particular.

When his wife Melanya, a pediatrician, decided to do her residency at the U of C, they moved to Calgary in 2012.

Marcus started a small macaron business and did his baking in Cochrane, which meant driving back and forth from the city to bake and deliver his delicate handmade macarons to clients like Janice Beaton Fine Cheese.

Marcus Purtzki's coffee macarons with caramel bourbon buttercream. (Made by Marcus/Facebook)

He eventually got a job at FARM (now closed), where he he made their terrines, jams, jellies and other preserves, and set up his macaron production in the basement.

An unexpected spin-off

But there was a side effect. Because French-style macarons — those colourful, delicate meringue sandwiches — are made with large quantities of egg whites, Marcus found himself with large quantities of leftover yolks.

He decided to turn them into ice cream.

The ice cream-making process is outlined on the wall to read as you wait. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

They bought a small gelato machine and made pints to sell in JBFC and FARM. Marcus' rich, dense, small-batch ice cream quickly became more popular than his macarons.

"People just wanted the ice cream," he said.

"Stores like Community Natural Foods didn't want macarons, but they wanted ice cream. Blush Lane took both, but sold far more ice cream. There was a little luck involved in terms of timing. We were filling a niche with retailers."

New shop opens

They began investing in larger equipment, bigger freezers and more staff,  but were still producing about 100L of ice cream a day in a 170 square foot space, and so they moved across the street.

A few weeks ago, they opened their first bricks and mortar location across 17th Ave. from the space that was once FARM, in the strip of stores that begins with Nellie's on the corner.

With a stylish interior, interesting menu, Monogram coffee and seats outside and in, he's hoping the space will draw an evening dessert crowd — people who want to gather, but not necessarily over dinner or a cocktail.

The new space held its grand opening on July 16. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

"Bringing in the Monogram coffee concept makes the place more adult focused," he said, "and our flavours (think raspberry beet, passionfruit basil and lemon curd with wild blueberries) are geared toward the adult crowd as well."

You'll see the Made by Marcus bike at markets and events around town (including this weekend at Folk Fest), offering their ice cream bars in more kid-friendly flavours like cookie dough and birthday cake. 

What's in store

In-store they have rocky road and cookies and cream (although flavours are constantly changing), and they'll do a kid-size scoop for $3.

There are pints in jars to go (bring the jar back for a $1 store credit), soft serve sundaes topped with torched marshmallows, and handmade browned butter waffle cones that are sometimes still warm when they hand them across the counter.

A small display case offers baked goods like scones, pecan pies and deep golden canelés — all designed to pair with either ice cream or coffee (or both).

Popular and unique flavours include raspberry beet, passionfruit basil and lemon curd with wild blueberries. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

The science behind the flavour

As a scientist, Marcus is all about the formulas and the process.

"We like flavours like Earl Grey and cardamom that you steep and extract the flavour from," Marcus says. "It's not just a matter of making a white base and throwing some flavouring in. It's really easy to make maple ice cream by just throwing in some maple extract, but for us it's about what kind of maple sugar we use, what grades of maple syrup.

"I use maple as an example because it's difficult to work with — the flavour tends to disappear. So even though it's popular, maybe that's not a kind we make." 

They're experimenting with new flavours like Tonka bean — a dark, flat, dried legume that's finely grated (like nutmeg) and has an intense aroma of almonds and vanilla.

"It's a bit of a different experience — something people haven't had before, or it takes a familiar taste to a new level."

The space aims to draw an evening dessert crowd of those looking to gather, but not necessarily over dinner or a cocktail. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

A 3-day process

His background in food science — and a thesis focused on dairy — helps Marcus understand how different sugars and proteins work to affect the texture and flavour of the finished product. 

"Food science helps you see the system as a whole, how flavours and ingredients and textures work, how the packaging works," he said.

"It's the experiments, the tinkering. We went through phases where we thought we knew how to make ice cream, and then we were like no, let's scrap that and do it this way."

The ice cream formula is blended, then mixes all night long to properly homogenize the mixture before it's aged and churned. (The process is outlined on the wall to read as you wait.)

"I find in the culinary world, not many people know how, or are willing to map things out and experiment, to do a titration (a laboratory method of analysis used to determine the concentration of a solution) to perfect a formula," Marcus said.

"The math is too complicated for the average person. For us it's more about the process. We're not going to take any shortcuts. It takes three days to make ice cream. We're not going to slow that process down. We're always trying to evolve, to get better."


Julie Van Rosendaal

Calgary Eyeopener's food guide

Julie Van Rosendaal talks about food trends, recipes and cooking tips on the Calgary Eyeopener every Tuesday at 8:20 a.m. MT. The best-selling cookbook author is a contributing food editor for the Globe and Mail, and writes for other publications across Canada.