Wednesday, July 11, 2012

UnRecipe: I Scream for Ice Cream - You Should Too!

Tis the season for summery cold desserts! But let's be honest, we don't need cold weather to indulge in ice cream, at least I don't. Raise your hand if you've enjoyed a frosty scoop of mint chip in the dearth of winter. *Raising hand* Oh, admit it -- I'm not the only one! Anyways, I tried out some new flavor combinations and techniques with some familiar flavors, so I thought I'd share some of my tasty discoveries. So come on, I wanna hear you -- I scream, you scream, we all scream for ICE CREEEEEEAAAAM!!!!!!!!!

Balsamic strawberry, you are my new kryptonite - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Balsamic vinegar and strawberries isn't a new combination, nor is it new to combine them in ice cream -- fancy artisanal ice creameries have been mixing this up for a while now. And they should! Balsamic vinegar, while typically used on savory things, is an incredibly diverse flavor element. Its tartness enhances food, and its aged quality can add richness to a dish (I even add it to stir fry sauces!), but add some sweetness like sugar or honey to balsamic to balance out the acid, and it can be drizzled on ice cream or tossed with fresh berries. It balances a sweet and creamy dessert, making it feel a little more sophisticated to a palate used to either just sweet or savory things.  If you make your own ice cream, there's no reason you can't do the same flavor mashup with berries n' balsamic. Heck, you don't even need to make your own ice cream, this could be used as a topping or swirled into some softened vanilla ice cream. I've got no qualms against going halfway-homemade.

Mixing up a summery delight from scratch - Photos by Wasabi Prime
To put together a quick balsamic and berry mixture to either mix into ice cream or use as a topping, I take about a half cup of balsamic vinegar and reduce it in a pot on the stove on medium-low heat, gently removing excess moisture and intensifying the flavor until it's almost like a syrup. I'll add sugar to taste, maybe a tablespoon, but not too much because you want it to keep its savory bite. I had fresh strawberries, maybe two cups' worth once they were cut down into a rough chop, and they were thrown into the balsamic syrup. The fruit juice will loosen up the balsamic, but that's okay, you want it kind of jammy as a final product. Just cook the strawberries until they're soft, but not mush -- a little bite of berry is pleasant. Keep tasting to see if you want more sugar or not, it's really a matter of personal taste. Cool and chill the mixture before adding to your ice cream.

The secret of a good ice cream swirl - Photos by Wasabi Prime

The best tip I got when mixing fruit with homemade ice cream was from local lifestyle expert, Alexandra Hedin, and she said to not add it during the churning -- they key is layering your finished ice cream with the berry mixture, and just don't mess with it. Aside from the fruit freezing and getting the paddle stuck, you won't get that lovely swirl unless you add dollops of the berry mixture over the already-churned ice cream, with just a light swirl with a spoon before continuing this layering process.  It might look like a crazy mess when it's in the serving container, chilling in the frezer, but the scooping of the finished ice cream is what will give that perfect marbled look.

My renewed love of strawberry ice cream goes hand-in-hand with an appreciation for coffee ice cream. I always compare other coffee ice creams against my gold standards, which are Lappert's Kona coffee or Roselani's coffee ice cream. They're both Hawaii-based ice cream companies, I'm pretty sure they don't ship outside of the islands, with the exception of a small Lapperts at the California Hotel in Las Vegas, but one of the reasons I consider their coffee ice creams so good is they keep it simple. They don't fall into the frappucino-whipped-caramel sauced-sprinkle of chocolate mess that is most so-called coffee beverages and ice creams. The lily isn't just gilded when it comes to a lot of mainstream coffee ice creams, it's freakin' bedazzled and clothed in a purple crushed velvet track suit with gold stitching. That's some fussy ice cream, yo. How about just enjoying the coffee flavor, with the sweetness of milk?

I like my basic vanilla ice cream recipe as a starter -- you can peek at it on this older post.  And while the milk, sugar and vanilla is simmering, I throw in about a quarter cup of fresh-ground coffee. It steeps and releases its pure java flavor. I let it all simmer until it's got the perfect blend of coffee and vanilla, add the eggs, and then strain the mix through a fine metal sieve. It will get all the large chunks of beans out, but a little will remain, and that's fine. When it's time to churn the chilled mixture, I'll add in some super finely chopped bittersweet chocolate -- run it through the food processor to get it really small and grainy. It's more as a textural element, since the chill keeps the chocolate's flavor from really permeating the ice cream. I like the little crunchy bits of chocolate as I eat the ice cream, it makes me feel like I'm having a chocolate covered espresso bean. I could leave the ground coffee in, but I think they might be too bitter, and the chocolate just adds a nice surprise of sweetness with the coffee.

I hope these little ice creamery tips are helpful as you wade through the summer heat. Ice cream maker or not, there are some nice ways to jazz up a simple bowl of vanilla ice cream!

The joy of ice cream, down to the last bite - Photos by Wasabi Prime

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