baking, ice cream

time for some r&r

The parents are coming! The parents are coming!

Oh, hey there. I was just having a Paul Revere moment there as I recall a recent weekend when my parents came to town and ALSO B’s parents came to town and then it was parentsapalooza and my brain almost melted. I had to make sure my parents saw my new place and were sparkled and dazzled to the point of blindness. I also wanted B and his ‘rents to feel comfortable and cozy and copacetic. And lastly I wanted to make sure everyone’s tummies were happy so that perchance, all of these lovely people may want to come back again and have a cup of tea with me or something.

The dinner part was easy, but I had to end on a high note: nothing too fancy-pants due to time constraints and the inevitable food exhaustion, but not cake-from-a-box because that’s not how we play around here.  It came down to fruit and ice cream – simple, classic, universally beloved, easily deconstructed to taste, and all of it could be made ahead of time – we have a winner!

First: this rustic rhubarb and raspberry crostata from Bon Appetit fit the bill for the best use of fresh fruit on a limited time table. What I was worried was a way too wet and sticky dough turned into wheaty bready crust (without too much filling leaking through), kind of like a Nutrigrain cereal bar or a Fig Newton. The filling was firm and a jellied consistency. I’d never worked with rhubarb before but this recipe was easy as you just slice ’em up and they don’t have to cook down all of the way before you bake. I did double the sugar to make it less tart. The results are a free-form fruit jam pizza which can be served warm or room temp and brings fans of both sweet and tart around the same table.

Second: This dulce de leche ice cream from Gourmet was touted as the best ice cream ever tasted. Count me in! The recipe specifies La Salamandra brand dulce de leche (a delicious caramel from Latin America) but it was so expensive: was it really, really worth it? OK, real answer: I dunno BUT  not having to make an ice cream custard with the risk of scrambled eggs absolutely was. This recipe is ridiculously easy and a no-egg ice cream that is this rich, creamy, smooth and flavorful was worth any price. However, maybe next time I could try Mexican cajeta (goats milk caramel) that is easily available at the local Mexican grocer here for a different flavor (and 1/3 the price).

And how did it turn out? Well, forks were lifted, conversation paused, and plates were cleared. At the end of dessert, B and I turned to each other amidst our parents’ chatting and we exchanged an excited, delighted glance that only we knew the meaning of: we’ve got the leftovers.

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baking, ice cream

in the kitchen making sammiches

Some people are bicoastal and commute back and forth to enjoy the best of east and west coasts. I am bi-kitchen, in that I have a commuter kitchen. When I’m not in my shoebox kitchen(-ette) making a cluttered mess while spacedly staring out at the Transamerica pyramid, I’m at B’s lovingly renovated  (but oft-neglected) kitchen making a mess while spacedly staring out at the Calla lilies and rose bushes. This commuting requires some forethought, and I am frequently schlepping spices, pans, and gadgets back or forth. Sometimes, I duplicate inventory – two bottles of good vanilla, two mini-cupcake pans, two cans of panko breadcrumbs – and divide the bounty between my kitchens. Other times, I forget which kitchen holds my brownie pan, or cumin, or zester.  This is a tale of one of those days.

I decided to make ice cream again at B’s, but this time to master vanilla ice cream. I was prepared to be painstakingly precise and would not settle for anything less then perfection.  As I start to measure out the sugar, I realize I’m short on white sugar – OK, half white sugar and half brown sugar goes into the mix. Time to whip the egg yolks – oh, forgot the hand mixer back at my place.  No problem, I’ll use the whisk manually and build some biceps. While whipping up a frenzy, the handle of the whisk comes off. OK, time to clutch the whisk by the nubbin and build some hand muscles as well. Later, it’s time to chill the custard mixture over an ice bath. There is no ice. OK, let’s put some metal bowls in the freezer, and once they are chilled I place the custard in a bowl within a bowl. Then I stick the whole thing in the fridge and try to remember to stir it every 20 minutes to prevent a skin from forming. I promise myself to not even think about sticking the mixture into the ice cream maker until it is cold: not cool, not room temp, but cold.

Waiting for the hot mixture to get super-cold takes time. A lot of time – and I’m impatient. So I decide to make cookies and turn out some ice cream sandwiches. I use a chocolate sugar cookie recipe from a Williams-Sonoma cookbook Selina gifted me, but I cut the recipe in 1/3. When it’s time to line the baking sheets with silpat I realize that there is only one baking sheet, and I forgot the silpat. No problem, right? OK, line the single baking sheet with parchment paper and repeat the rest of the steps twice more – yielding 18 cookies total.  Now, I get the counter ready for rolling out the dough (hey, I remembered the rolling pin!) and….forgot the cookie cutter.  Now I’m a pro at improvising – I scavenge the pantry and grab a can of black beans. I use the cleaned emptied can to cut out circles of chocolate cookie dough.

I found this dough to be a sticky mess to work with, even chilled, and nice little circles don’t want to come off the plastic wrap unless they’re squished into an unappealing lopsided oval. I end up using a spatula to gently curl up edges of the circles and quickly get them on the pan – the warmer the dough gets the messier the ordeal.  After I get my one tray of cookies in the oven, I put the rest of the dough into the freezer to get cold again.  Out of the oven, the cookies are nicely round again, smooth and flat – perfect chocolate discs for wielding some ice cream damage. Time to cool them – of course there is no cooling rack, but the rack from the unused toaster oven will do nicely, thank you.

Meanwhile the ice cream custard in the fridge is nice and cold, and hey, no skin! Time to stick it in the ice-cream maker and it is a golden, creamy beauty to behold with tempting flecks of vanilla beans throughout. This looks like a success – I sneak a taste, oh yeah, that is decadent and perfectly smooth. Maybe it’s time to get a little crazy. As I scavenge the pantry, I spy a leftover baggie of milk chocolate toffee chips. Yeah, lets dump them in.

While the ice cream is chilling in the freezer, I cut out some squares of parchment paper, about 5×5 inches, and get out some quart-size freezer bags. Then it’s time to go watch movies and HGTV for 4 hours while the ice cream gets its frozen beauty sleep. Once ready, I smoosh a scoop of ice cream in between the undersides of two cookies and wrap it in a parchment square, bag it and freeze it flat. For more texture and sugary pop, I added mini chocolate chips to the sides. The ice cream and 1/3 of the cookie recipe made 9 big sandwiches – you definitely need two hands for these. The parchment wrapper keeps the ice cream from becoming a soggy mess in the bag if it should start to melt, and hold stray choco chips together.  Allow the sammies to freeze for at least another hour or so.

Finally – time to reward myself for being a kitchen Macgyver with an ice cream sammich. The vanilla bean, brown sugar and toffee ice cream is perfection – smooth, rich, buttery with the brown sugar, and crunchy with the toffee chips – like a vanilla butterscotch cloud. The chocolate sugar cookie is decidedly worth the fussy dough. Its crisp texture bookends the smooth ice cream nicely, and it yields a deeply chocolatey yet super sweet flavor. A week later, the ice cream sandwiches hold up wonderfully – the cookies are only a bit chewy but not in any way mushy. This is what kitchen Mcgyvering is all about – the long, improvised, ridiculous journey full of whisk-nubbins, black bean cans, and toaster oven racks – lead to a chocolatey pot of cold creamy gold.

Vanilla Bean, Brown Sugar, and Toffee Ice Cream

adapted from recipe in bon appétit Desserts, 2010, Barbara Fairchild

2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 cup whole milk

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

5 large egg yolks

1/3 cup white sugar

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup milk chocolate toffee chips

Combine cream and mild in heavy medium saucepan. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean. Bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Remove from heat.

Whisk egg yolks and sugars in large bowl until well blended. Gradually whisk in hot cream mixture; return mixture to same saucepan. Stir constantly over low heat until custard thickens and leaves path on back of spoon when finger is drawn across, about 12 minutes (do not boil). Strain custard into medium metal bowl. Set bowl of custard over large bowl of ice water and stir until mixture is cold.

Process custard in ice-cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Stir in milk chocolate toffee chips at the end. Transfer ice cream to airtight container and freeze until firm, about 4 hours.

makes 1 quart

ice cream

i should go cold

My kitchen is tiny.  I own one pan, one pot, and have one outlet that is nowhere near any counter space.  With this in mind, I own few appliances that are carefully tucked away taking up minimal precious storage space.  It goes without saying that these appliances, a mixer and a rice cooker, have to be multi-taskers to win their limited spots in this streamlined kitchen.  However, I covet. I covet blenders and grinders and whirring swirling shaking steaming flashy gadgetry, but reason always wins.  The only  uni-tasker that even reason cannot overpower has been an ice-cream maker. I adore ice cream….gelato….fro-yo….sorbet…my voice, filled with glee, is what you hear when one screams for ice cream.  And now, thanks to B and his spacious, beautiful, and very very empty kitchen, I got an ice-cream maker and the space to house it.  So, prepare yourself for a likely avalanche of ice cream posts…

My first experiment in ice-cream making had to be something special. Luckily, I found the perfect inspiration in my dessert bible, Barbara Fairchild’s Bon Appétit Desserts, a thoughtful gift from Anna and Pat.  Right from the start I knew I would try the brown butter ice cream recipe; brown butter with its sweet/salty caramel flavor with a hint of nuttiness is a perfect foil to all things savory (brussel sprouts, bitter greens) and sweet (butternut squash and prailines). In creamy ice cream form, it is truly rich and decadent in flavor.  To this luxurious base I added chopped pecan brittle, as I just prefer the sweetness and lightness of pecans to peanuts.  You can find any great recipe for brittle, but this recipe was super easy because everything can be made in a microwave and then spread out onto a silicone baking sheet liner.  The result was a lovely buttery, nutty crunch to the brown butter ice cream, like caramel bits in caramel cream.

I admit that my first ice cream endeavor was more time-consuming than I had imagined, and that the result, although delicious, wasn’t as smooth in texture as I’d like. I think I took a shortcut by pouring the room-temperature cooled custard straight into the frozen ice cream maker rather than chilling the base to a cooler temp.  The ice cream turned out a bit gritty although still very rich and flavorful.  Now that it has a home, I hope my shiny new uni-tasking splurge will be put to good use practicing, practicing, practicing…