The Best Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream – roasting is the secret.

Last weekend my folks presented me with a container of fresh strawberries they picked up at an Amish Farmer’s Market. They were ruby red and absolutely gorgeous, in a not-from-the-supermarket way. Their shapes were slightly distorted, their sizes uneven, and yet, they smelled like pure strawberry, in a way Bonne Bell Lip Smackers can only wish for. The beauty of growing your own fruits and vegetables or buying local is that they have a certain ugly beauty, which is not an oxymoron at all. The Japanese call this gorgeous imperfection “Wabi-sabi” and it is what makes a piece of pottery (or fruit) special and clearly not mass produced.

My husband’s favorite ice cream is strawberry. In fact, it can be a point of frustration between us when we go to Convention Grill for dinner. We always split a malt, and it always has to be strawberry. Their malts, even a 1/2 order are fit for a family of 4, so I can never finish one on my own and prefer to share, but does it ALWAYS have to be strawberry? Yep, married for 20 years in August and that is what the man likes, so be it. When I saw the container of strawberries from the farmer’s market I knew instantly that I would use them in ice cream. The color was outrageous and they just begged to be dipped in cream, but not until I roasted them in a touch of balsamic to add even more character. I roasted them to concentrate the sugars and to get rid of the excess water content before mixing them in the vanilla custard ice cream base. This produced a more intense strawberry flavor and a much smoother, less icy consistency. I like to leave some chunks in my fruit ice cream to add texture and drive the favor home, but not if those chunks are hard as a rock. Roasting the fruit first created the perfect flavor and texture. I even made a malted milk shake for my husband with it, which was CRAZY good! (more…)

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Ice Cream 101 – One Simple Custard Base, Several Flavors! (Roasted Banana and more…)

Last week I did a post on the tricks to creating Sorbet and it got me thinking about ice cream. I always tend to make a big batch and then mash other ingredients into it. This way I can tailor the flavor to the dessert I am serving it with or the mood I am in. You have to, start with a really great ice cream base, which for me means lusciously smooth, with a dense and silky texture. The flavor should be rich, but not too buttery (greasy) and I always start my “French custard” ice cream base with vanilla, there really isn’t a flavor that it doesn’t compliment.

When the first frozen dessert was created by the ancient Chinese, it was just a mixture of fruity syrups and snow, basically a sorbet. Not until the 18th century in England did you find the first ice cream made with milk, cream and eggs, no snow. Today homemade ice cream is still made this simple way. The secret to getting the perfect texture and flavor is not only the ingredients, but the technique of creating a custard and then freezing it.  You want to cook the cream, yolks, sugar and vanilla until the eggs thicken slightly, known as creme anglaise (English cream), and then chill the mixture overnight in the refrigerator, about 6 to 12 hours. This last step is a bit of a mystery, but it works to create the best mouth feel. I have heard the overnight chill described as “maturing,” “ripening,” or “aging.” You get the picture, it gets better with age.  I find when I do this extra step my ice cream is smooth and less ice crystals form. The way big manufacturers get past this step is to add gums, starches, or gelatin. I’d rather not, so I just wait.

Once you have the base, you can freeze it as vanilla ice cream or add other flavors. For this recipe I am adding roasted bananas, which I just used in a banana bread post  I wrote for the Cooking Channel. Roasting the fruit not only concentrates the sugars, but it also expels some of the water in the bananas, which can cause the ice cream to be icy. I don’t stop there, I also mash in toasted maple-pecans, brandied cherries and chocolate ganache into the roasted banana ice cream, for a total of 4 flavors.  What can I say, I like variety! (more…)

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