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Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Chronicles of Creams

An Infinity of Creams.

This week, while toiling away at my utterly meaningless job, which I do to support my utterly meaningless life, I came across a post on SeriousEats concerning the featured fruit topping of the month at the Upper East Side Shake Shake: roasted pineapple.

First, let me digress and ponder the seasonal fruit toppings at Shake Shake.  They are fabulous.  This proclamation comes from a man who tends to steer away from fruit in his dessert (obvious exceptions involving pie).  However, the matter at hand: this past fall I sampled the poached fig topping at Shake Shake, which, when added to a simple vanilla custard, was sublime.  Upon hearing that the Upper East Side Shake Shake was now offering roasted pineapple, I realized greatness was possibly at hand.

The writer at Serious Eats recommended adding the aforementioned pineapple to the Coffee Bean Brownie Concrete, and who am I to throw aside such a recommendation?

Saturday, January 21, 2012.  The City of New York receives its first real pounding of snow of the season.  Mind you, it wasn't an epic pounding, but there was a nice amount of snow.  I set out from West End Avenue and headed east, crossing Central Park in the mystical white snow, with another mystical white substance in my mind: vanilla custard from Shake Shake with the previously described components.

I arrive at my destination and order the Concrete.  I take a first bite and immediately taste the tart pineapple complemented by the smooth whipped cream.  I am a happy man.  The roasted pineapple was easily the star of this Concrete, and sadly there was not enough of it.  The brownies were good but I found they were too large - I would have preferred smaller chunks more evenly distributed.  Still, not a bad treat at all.

Next time, I will probably get just vanilla custard and roasted pineapple.  Or perhaps I will add some shortbread cookies for textural contrast.  Or perhaps I will get one with vanilla custard, pineapple, hot fudge sauce and chocolate toffee.  Or perhaps no pineapple at all - perhaps chocolate custard and whipped cream and nothing else.  Or the flavor of the day, plus peanut butter sauce and marshmallow sauce.  Or perhaps...

Indeed, all of this got me thinking about the possibilities that exist when it comes to the Creams at Shake Shack.  To know which concrete is the best, would we not need to try all possible combinations of custards and toppings?  Only then could we really know; only then could we have Shake Shack Cream Enlightenment.  Realizing I was in a bit over my head, I decided to pay a visit to my old college math instructor, Professor Von Shmackelpop. Old Professor Shmackelpop lives in a tiny, rent-controlled apartment in Brighton Beach.  He left City College years ago to devote himself full-time to the mathematical study of the Problem of Creams, and many say he has lost his mind.

When I knocked on his door and he finally let me in, I entered a lair filled with books and papers and mathematical equations scribbled on the walls.  Indeed, other than his desk and chair, the only other piece of decoration or furniture was a picture of a mound of whipped cream, mounted on the wall directly across from the Professor's desk so he could always take a gander.

At first, Von Shmackelpop, dressed in his customary tweed suit, was reluctant to initiate me into the mysteries of the Cream. I persisted, and he finally took me on as a student.  Roughly a few minutes later, I understood how I might compute the Shake Shack Cream Possibilites...

If we account only for the locations in Manhattan, there are a total of 16 unique toppings spread throughout the locations (each location has 11 toppings, and there is a lot of overlap, although all locations have at least one unique toppings, hence the 16 total).  Also, in any given month, there are 7 flavors - one for each day - in addition to the always stalwart vanilla and chocolate.

So, there are 16 toppings available, and you can choose all 11, down to choosing 0.  Using the formula n!/r!*(n-r)!) where n=total options and r=number of options chosen, we eventually arrive at a number we multiply by 9(the custard possibilities), and we arrive at the total number of Concrete Possibilites in Manhattan in a given month: 567,180.

Indeed, it's a staggering number.  Even if these possibilites were frozen in time, it would take a long, healthy lifetime to try them all.  Yet, all is in flux, we cannot step into the same river twice.  The flavors of custard are always changing, sometimes there is a special topping only available for a short while, etc., etc. etc., ETC.!

My only hope is that given the infinity of universes which modern physics tell us may exist, throughout these universes I am trying different combinations.  But yet, we may imagine that in some of these universes, there are different custard flavors and toppings, compounding the possibilities to degrees a human mind cannot even comprehend!

I begin to appreciate the Problem of Creams, and I understand why it has driven Professor Von Shmackelpop mad.  Yet perhaps his approach is wrong.  Perhaps we should not take a mathematical approach, as real as the math may be.  Perhaps we should take a more mystical approach.  Perhaps we need to develop methods of meditation which will allow us to access previous lives or our lives in other universes, so in a unified way we may experience the infinity of Shake Shake Concretes and hence be set free.

To be continued...