22 April 2007
A Homecoming, With Ice Cream
Blame my mother. As a child, I was chronically underweight- I liked vegetables, I pushed away meat. When the doctor asked what foods I liked, my mother said ice cream, and he instructed her to give me ice cream every day. So my mother, the only person I can think of who seriously dislikes ice cream, dutifully walked me to the local creamery every afternoon. Little did she know what she was starting, a life-time love affair with concoctions cold and creamy.
Every culture and region seems to have a love and appreciation of ice cream, and I’ve had the pleasure and experience of sampling many of them. There was Capogiro in Philadelphia, Blue Bell in Texas, Jeni’s in Columbus, almond cookie under the Brooklyn Bridge and olive oil flavor in Washington Square Park. Daily summer visits to the Novelty on Monhegan Island. A Heath Bar Blizzard from the DQ carefully balanced on the handlebars of my bike in the melting summer heat. A trip to Paris isn’t complete without a visit to Berthillon and Dammien and on a 10-day trip to Tuscany, I once dragged my poor mother to a different gelateria almost every afternoon. I don’t normally like chocolate, but my mind was changed by a transformative scoop in Barcelona. In Damascus, the ice cream is kneaded by gloved hands at Bekdache, in Turkey the dondurma is thickened by sahleb, powdered orchid root.
Ice cream has become part of my persona, if I’m in a bad mood P. knows an afternoon scoop will brighten it (a technique he’s been known to use shamelessly). Naturally, I’ve also tried my hand at making my own. When I was young, we made ice cream every year at the fourth of July, churned in an old-fashioned bucket with rock salt; my mother always made the churning part sound really exciting, which worked just long enough for each child’s arm to get sore. Somehow we all managed to get duped into this every year. The ice cream was fantastic but it melted quickly and didn’t keep well in the freezer, good for only one day a year. Since then, I got a proper ice cream maker, but despite trying many recipes, I was never able to churn out a version I was happy with. My homemade ice cream often froze too hard or didn’t keep well, and never quite seemed worth the effort. I figured I couldn’t match the quality of commercial ice cream machines or the stabilizers in purchased pints, and left the machine’s bowl to languish in a back corner of the freezer.
Until last week, when I made one of the best ice creams I have ever tasted, hands down. What with all my tasting history that is no small claim, but I hope you’ll believe me, and then excuse me while I do a little dance of joy. Could something so delicious come from my own kitchen? I can’t take much credit because all I did was follow a recipe by David Lebovitz who described it so convincingly, I knew I had to make it. It’s a salted butter caramel, one of my all time favorite flavors, a deep rich caramel tinged with hints of sea salt. We’re already on our second batch in less than a week (we had company, ok?), and I still can’t keep myself from sipping the custard with a spoon.
A few things I’ve learned: make sure to chill your custard thoroughly before churning it, overnight is best. Since ice cream doesn’t do well in the freezer for a long time, I find it’s best to make it in small batches. With this particular recipe, I divided the custard in half and churned half of it after it’s initial refrigeration. Two days later, when we had finished that batch, I churned the remaining custard which I had stored in the fridge. This has the double advantage that you only have to make the custard once, and churning small batches reduces the freezing time, so it’s ready in only 15 minutes. You don’t need any fancy machines, I used an inexpensive Cuisinart ice cream maker and was completely pleased with the results.
David has a new book about ice cream, and I have to say, it’s a really great cookbook, very thorough in technique, with both classic and contemporary flavors, and lots of hilarious anecdotes. I’m already itching to try the Prune-Armagnac and the Fresh Fig ice creams. You can find recipes online for his Roasted Banana and Coffee Ice Creams, as well as his classic vanilla. But first, make this ice cream, it’s one of the best I’ve ever had, trust me on this one, I should know.
Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream
Please, please, please use a good quality salt, such as sea salt or fleur de sel. This ice cream takes a small amount of extra effort, but is worth every bit of it, one-hundred fold. The crunchy praline bits add a nice contrast in texture and only take an extra ten minutes to prepare. Yield 2 pints. Adapted from David Lebovitz.
For the praline (mix-in):
1/2 cup (100 gr) sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, such as fleur de sel
For the ice cream custard:
2 cups (500 ml) whole milk
1 1/2 cups (300 gr) sugar
4 tablespoons (60 gr) salted butter
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream
4 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. To make the praline: spread the 1/2 cup of sugar in an even layer in a medium-sized, heavy duty saucepan. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and brush it sparingly with unflavored oil, or use silpat.
2. Heat the sugar over moderate heat without stirring until the edges begin to melt. Use a heatproof utensil to gently stir the liquefied sugar from the bottom and edges towards the center, stirring, until all the sugar is dissolved. (there may be some lumps, which will melt later) Continue to cook, stirring infrequently, until the caramel turns deep brown and starts smoking. It won't take long.
3. Without hesitation, sprinkle in the 1/2 teaspoon salt without stirring, then quickly pour the caramel onto the prepared baking sheet and lift up the baking sheet immediately, tilting it to encourage the caramel to form as thin a layer as possible. Set aside to harden and cool. Reserve saucepan, don’t wash it.
4. To make the ice cream: make an ice bath by filling a large bowl or tub about a third full with ice cubes and adding a cup or so of water so they're floating. Nest a smaller metal bowl (at least 2 quarts) over the ice, pour 1 cup of the milk into the inner bowl, and rest a mesh strainer on top of it.
5. Spread 1 1/2 cups sugar in the same saucepan in an even layer. Cook over moderate heat, until the sugar melts completely and is a deep caramel-brown, using the same method described in Step 2.
6. Once the sugar is melted and caramelized, remove from heat and stir in the butter and salt until butter is melted, then gradually whisk in the cream, stirring as you go. The caramel may harden and seize, but return it to the heat and continue to stir over low heat until any hard caramel is melted (this may take a while). Stir in the remaining 1 cup of the milk.
7. Whisk the yolks in a small bowl and gradually pour some of the warm caramel mixture over the yolks, stirring constantly. Scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan and cook the custard, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon (160-170 F). If the mixture threatens to curdle, immediately remove from heat and beat rapidly.
8. Pour the custard through the strainer into the milk set over the ice bath, add the vanilla, then stir frequently until the mixture is cooled down. Refrigerate at least 6 hours or until thoroughly chilled.
9. Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.
10. While the ice cream is churning, crumble the hardened caramel praline into very little bits, about the size of very large confetti. Add the caramel bits to the ice cream at the end of churning, just before turning off the mixer.
11. Pack the ice cream into containers and chill in the freezer until firm.
Variations: Add a tablespoon of rum to the custard. Substitute chocolate chunks or cocoa nibs for the praline mix in. Add a bit of espresso or some crushed coffee beans for Coffee-Caramel ice cream. It would also be good served with some sauteed apples or over apple pie.