Archive for the ‘Ice Cream’ Category

Boston Pops

Boston Pops

Boston Pops

I like to loaf. Makes sense. I write (as often as possible) a blog about baking.

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this: indeed, the kind of loafing I’m talking about involves making a body-sized dent in my sofa, the white-noise hum of my air conditioner lulling me into a sweet, drooling afternoon nap. Ahhhh, summer.

I’d like to report that I will be spending the Fourth of July Holiday swinging in a hammock on the verandah of the amazing Hamptons beachfront hedge fund mansion of my friends Bill and Judy Cantwell. I’d LIKE to report that. Alas, Bill and Judy are mere figments of my imagination…and unfortunately, so is their amazing Hamptons beachfront hedge fund mansion. Ditto the hammock and verandah. (Don’t I have a rich, detailed inner life?)

Don’t be sad for me. Last year I actually did spend the Fourth of July at the beach front home of a couple of friends. Actually, water front would be more accurate: they live in Boston, right on the “hah-buh.” It was spectacular. We watched “Old Ironsides”—the famous revolutionary war frigate U.S.S. Constitution—sail by us and fire her cannons. Having grown up in Boston, I have to say that I was moved.

Many cities have their traditional Fourth of July celebrations. Here in the Big Apple we have the Macy’s Fireworks show in New York Harbor. Last year in Boston we discussed walking over the Charles River to watch the Boston Pops Orchestra play their annual outdoor concert. It turned out to be a lucky break that we stayed home as the concert was evacuated due to the threat of severe thunderstorms. (Mother Nature stole the spotlight. Again. What a ham.) This year I’ll be plopped on the aforementioned sofa, the orchestra will be on TV, and I’ll be screening “Yankee Doodle Dandy” starring Jimmy Cagney. Believe me, I’m already happy just thinking of this.

Part of planning for any really good staycation is, of course, the meals. So far the menu includes crab cakes. Let’s talk crab cakes for a moment, shall we? My recipe is (pardon the pun) a mashup of many recipes, with the most notable steal being the multi-colored diced peppers from Ina Garten. You can keep your panko breadcrumbs, by the way. A few years ago pure serendipity caused me to make my crab cakes with matzo meal, and the change has been permanent. Yes, matzo meal can be dense and gluey, but you end up getting the same binding qualities by using less. (Sadly, I still err on the side of cheaper crab meat—claw, not back fin. Hey, crab meat doesn’t grow on trees.)

Also on the menu will be the “Quintessential Chocolate Chip Cookies” Martha Rose Shulman wrote about recently in the New York Times. I have my own very proud recipe, but this one make a very good, straightforward cookie.

The thought of making Peppermint Stick Ice Cream is tempting…but I’m kind of stuck on fruit pops. I waited through a long, cold winter to road test the Zoku Popsicle maker some friends gave me as a gift, and it’s a lot of fun to use.

There are a couple of tricks to keep in mind. My Zoku makes one pop at a time, so I won’t be opening up shop any time soon. But that limitation kind of ratchets down the expectations. Instead of it being a big project, it becomes more of a little treat. Also, eliminate any fantasies of sugar-free pops. Since sugar freezes solid a lower temperature it is that ingredient that keeps the frozen pops just soft enough to slip out of the mold without too much of a fight. Leave out the sugar (as I did in one of my attempts at pop making) and your pops won’t budge. My red, white, and blue “Boston Pops” seen in the photo employed a simple lemonade recipe: fresh lemon juice, superfine sugar, and water. A drop of food coloring in the Zoku mold allowed me to indulge in the patriotic theme even though the pops were all the same tangy lemon flavor.

And yes, the red ones turned my tongue red: the sure sign of a well made Popsicle.

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Questions or comments? Drop me an email Michael@butterfloureggs.com

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The Italian Team

Semifreddo

Amaretti Semifreddo with roasted apricots

I’ve been making a lot of ice cream this summer. When I post a story in this venue about ice cream I tend to get a little paranoid about it. There are a couple of reasons: 1. There is no shortage of excellent ice cream available to buy, already made, at your local supermarket. 2. People still tend to think of ice cream as an ultimate indulgence, the 70’s drug binge of desserts. I half expect to receive an email calling me a horrid little man, and asking how I dare suggest such an indulgence—and besides, don’t I know that most people do not own an ice cream freezer? To which I would reply, “Little? Thank you!”

It seems no one can stop at just one or two scoops. I cannot fix people’s will power—or lack thereof—but I do have remedy for people’s lack of an ice cream freezer.

Whenever I have a question about food I look to the Italians. French food is magnifique, but even at its most casual has an arms-length formality. Italian food is a party even at its most formal. In the dessert realm I have always given the edge to the French, but as I get older I gain more and more respect for the Italian way with dolces—especially if I can introduce chocolate into the equation.

This is, admittedly, chalked up mainly to perception on my part. In my mind’s eye Rome is always sun-splashed and hot, but it’s always sweater and beret weather in Paris. Hmmm: where is my beret?

So, taking my ignorant cultural bias with a grain of salt, I think if I were to ask an Italian what to make if I wanted a frozen dessert but didn’t have an ice cream freezer, the answer would be: semifreddo.

Semifreddo translates as “half-frozen” which is exactly what it is. If, like me, you are a fan of letting your ice cream sit for a while until it hits the “gooshy” stage, then semifreddo is your man—uh—dessert. Don’t worry, it doesn’t hit the half frozen stage through you setting timers or reading thermometers. The ingredients do all the work for you.

The bad news: you will need an electric appliance—a hand-held mixer being the preferred mode of beatery here—although the heartier among us can (and do) make do with a whisk. This appliance is needed to whip some heavy cream and then whip a couple of eggs. I’m too lazy to do this the old fashioned way. The eggs are whipped until they are pale yellow, thick, and creamy. The cream is whipped to stiff peak stage. The two items are lightly folded together, plopped into a mold (in this case a loaf pan), then stashed in the freezer where the foamed eggs lighten the whipped cream and keep it from freezing solid.

There’s beauty in this concoction, and it is a beauty that is a reflection of your own taste, for the basic recipe becomes a blank slate upon which you can heap the bounty of your own imagination.

As this was my first go at semifreddo, I may have played it a bit safe, using a couple of obvious choices. I loosely crumbled about a half a package of little amaretti cookies and used those as a middle layer. During their stay in the freezer they were moistened slightly by their surroundings, but retained enough of their crunch to make them a prize. I oven-roasted a few fresh apricots and served those as a lumpy sauce, the oven magnifying their pungency, a nice counterpart to the vanilla buttery-ness of the semifreddo. Does this still count as “fruit for dessert”?

My next attempt may be a bit more fanciful. If I have the time I’ll make a simple praline from sugar and pistachios and crumble that as a middle layer. The salty pistachios and the sugar will lend a crunchy spikiness to the mellow frozen fluff. I think this may go well with a thimble of Vin Santo. Drink it? Pour it over the semifreddo?

You choose.

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Click here for the Semifreddo recipe.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

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“Tweeting far niente”

Hi y’all!

Strawberry Ricotta Ice Cream

Strawberry Ricotta Ice Cream

Southerners have a way of speaking that is infinitely more colorful than us folks up north. I’m not talking about the ubiquitous use of “y’all” which I gather has as many rules as a French pronoun. A Serbian woman who speaks five languages and taught French language classes in Alabama explained the proper use of “y’all” to me.

What I’m talking about are expressions like, “he ran as fast as a bobcat with a burr under his tail.” I once worked with a guy who had a seemingly bottomless hat full of those. Unfortunately the one that stuck to me was, “You can’t swing a dead cat without hittin’(Your Noun Here)!” Example: “You can’t swing a dead cat without hittin’ a Starbucks!”

I shudder to think of the number of times I have had to fight the temptation to use those words. I believe the trick is to not think about the words too intently. It’s like cockney rhyming slang. The intent trumps the words. It makes the English language a more colorful place to live (so to speak.)

Well, lately I can’t swing a dead cat without hitting Ricotta Ice Cream. Actually, not the ice cream itself, but recipes, stories on TV, and magazine covers. I was, at first skeptical—a healthy skepticism, I might add, based on real-life experience.

Greek yogurt has taken off like a dog after a shiny hubcap. (I made that one up. How’d y’all think I did?) During the past few years Greek yogurt has grown from a niche product to a dairy aisle staple. My preferred brand, Fage, no longer imports the stuff, they now make it here, and have done for quite some time.

This summer Ben and Jerry’s has gotten into the act by introducing a range of frozen Greek yogurt. I tried a couple of them and found them like eatin’ a mouth full wet cheese. The latter was not me making another attempt at the Southern idiom. That’s what it tasted like to me: an odd, mildly sour cheesiness. Frozen Kefir? Same.

So, perhaps you can see why I might be a bit hesitant about Ricotta, which, to damn it further, is often called Ricotta cheese.

Yet, like any responsible adult I must step back a moment and survey the playing field. Cheese isn’t necessarily a bad thing in desserts, is it? There’s Cheesecake, yes? I’ve been eating ricotta-filled Cannoli all my life. So in spite of my skepticism, I decided to jump into the ricotta pool. Or at least make some Ricotta ice cream.

At first I was tempted to make a frozen version of the classic chocolate chip-studded Cannoli filling. But then I happened to find some beautiful strawberries and thought they might pair well with the ricotta (like cheesecake with strawberry topping.) (They also make the photograph above much prettier than if I’d used chocolate chips.) There’s also the issue of temperature: I find the freezer tends to blunt the flavor of chocolate chips, and also makes them too hard for my fragile little teeth. (I could start a blog called “Adventures in Adult Orthodontia – or— My Life on Gas” but will resist the urge. For now.)

So the pretty red strawberries were elected.

Throwing fresh fruit into ice cream can be as tricky as going ‘round your elbow to get to your thumb. (Mark Twain would have loved that one.) If you cook the fruit you run the risk of losing its bright color, and it can also become unrecognizable. The plus side to cooking the fruit is that by adding enough sugar you can ensure that it doesn’t freeze to the “hard rock” stage. (The more sugar you add, the less something will freeze.)

My compromise was to macerate the sliced berries in a healthy amount of vanilla sugar. If you let them sit long enough like this you can soften the berries, preserve the bright color, and hopefully have them absorb enough sugar so that they won’t freeze rock hard.

I also thought it might be interesting to experiment with part-skim ricotta. I can never tell the difference between regular and part-skim in other cooking, so why not try that trick here? While I was at it I figured I’d go for broke and substitute half and half for heavy cream too. (I know. Aren’t I dangerous?)

The result was perhaps not as silky smooth as cooked custard ice cream, but it had a very nice light quality. The ricotta taste was definitely there, but the generous shot of vanilla in the recipe seemed to be magnified by it, and there was a tangy yogurt character without the odd cheese smell.

This makes a nice, quick alternative to the slow custard ice cream, and is lower in fat due to the part-skim yogurt and half and half. Yippee!

And it’ll keep you cooler than an Eskimo in an air conditioned igloo.

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Click here for my Ricotta Ice Cream recipe.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Y’all Tweet now, ya hear!

Ceremonial Duties

Home-made Sugar Cones

waiting for Ben and Jerry

So far my only real celebration of summer’s arrival has been to listen to Nat King Cole sing about those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. That always puts me in the mood for a good Clam Roll.

I absolutely love summer.

Okay, that’s a total lie. Let’s just say that I’ve gotten old enough to make my peace with summer. Nat King Cole, a few reliable old movies that I watch every summer, and the hypnotic hum of the air conditioner are what get me through. When those wear off a dab of ice cream does the trick. And just as they used to say about Brylcreem, “A little dab’ll do ya.”

A little dab of ice cream? Who stops there?

I know lots of folks who cannot get enough ice cream. I’m a more recreational user. But in the hot weather there’s something mighty appealing about the ceremony that surrounds ice cream.

When I was a kid my mother used to take me to Jules Salon for Men to have my hair cut. Jules, an expat Frenchman, ran a very modern (at the time) establishment for executives, but it was still very much a barbershop. So, there was little Mikey sitting on the bench, legs crossed, waiting, reading Paris-Match. I couldn’t understand a word in the magazine, but I like to think I learned a thing or two about Peugeot, Catherine Deneuve, and Georges Pompidou anyway.

As I write this I keep thinking about how barbershops have disappeared, but then the sting of truth washes over me: it’s not barbershops that have disappeared, it’s my hair, and therefore my need for barbershops.

ANYWAY…

After my haircut a trip of mere steps would find us in the chilled quiet of Bailey’s, an outpost of the beloved but sadly departed Boston confectionary. I find it hard to believe that places like this have seemingly evaporated. They were temples devoted to the worship of chill. Everything fed this nurturing cool, from the thick marble tables, to the twisted metal seat backs, and the steel, ruffle-rimmed metal ice cream dishes. Not a paper cup in sight.

On a hot summer day, our post-haircut treat was a drippy, hot fudge sundae with Mocha Lace ice cream, marshmallow sauce (instead of whipped cream), and salted walnuts on top. This was eaten with a loooooong metal spoon. We would chase that with tiny glasses of icy cold water that dripped from an enormous marble lavabo before trotting by the candy counter for a glimpse of the dusty, jewel-toned Turkish Delight.

Yes, each sundae likely wiped out that year’s harvest of sugar cane from a small Caribbean island. But this wasn’t an everyday indulgence, merely an occasional treat. My behavior—good or bad—was irrelevant, for nothing would keep my Mother from her appointed date with Mocha Lace. I suspect her choice of Jules Salon for Men had as much to do with its proximity to Bailey’s as it did with Jules’ talent with my little scalp.

The Ice Cream ceremony takes many forms. It could be the frightening jingle of the Mister Softee truck, or the technique you’ve honed to dampen the slam of the freezer door after you’ve snuck yet another spoonful of Phish Food…or Chubby Hubby…or both.

The common sugar cone is part of my ceremony. I love them just as much as the ice cream; yet, I prefer my ice cream in a dish, with the sugar cone perched on top like a pointy hat. With each spoonful of ice cream I get a bit of crunch from the cone, yet I don’t have to worry about ice cream melting out of the bottom and rolling down my wrist. Peculiar? Sue me.

Until recently I had never tried baking my own ice cream cones. The hardest thing about this was finding the right utensil. I absolutely refused to spend the forty or fifty dollars on yet another electric appliance. This had less to do with spending money and more to do with lack of kitchen storage. I knew I needed a pizzelle iron. Who knew unless you’re willing to dig deep, that the pizzelle world has gone all electric? (Yes, I was horrified by this too, so rest easy.)

Finally I consulted Fante’s, the great Philadelphia-based kitchen supply store. After my search for an old fashioned stove top pizzelle iron had run aground in Manhattan, they offered a happily modest selection, along with great advice, recipes, and a bit of history thrown in.

(Did you know that pizzelle irons used to be given as wedding gifts etched with the new bride’s initials and the wedding date? Totally charming. Maybe I’ll have mine etched with an outline of Mikey the Pig, this site’s mascot currently oinking at the top of this page. Anyone know a trustworthy pizzelle etcher?)

I’ll admit that I did have some trepidation before my inaugural run with my old-school iron. Would the cookies stick? Would they burn? I figured who cares? The iron isn’t electric so if the worst happened I could just soak it in the sink and scrub it with some steel wool. Hey, the thing only cost about sixteen dollars. I was willing to take a chance.

I worried for nothing. After following Fante’s instructions to season the iron, each ice cream cone slid out of the iron without a fight before being rolled and left to harden (which happens fast.)

For my bonus round I substituted gluten-free flour for the all-purpose kind called for in the recipe. There was really very little difference; if anything the gluten-free cones had a slightly more fragile crumble point. (If you try the gluten free kind make sure your baking powder is also gluten free.)

And yes, that’s the scoop on making ice cream cones.

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Here’s my sugar cone adaptation of Fante’s Pizzelle recipe.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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How ‘bout some jimmies on that Tweet?

Frozen Assets

Peppermint Stick Ice Cream

Martian landscape...or frozen delight?

You’ll be relieved to hear that my winter hat, gloves, and a couple of scarves are still sitting out in a handy place.

Yes, I keep reminding myself that winter—or what passed for winter this year—is over. It is shorts and flip-flop season now. Part of the reluctance of putting my woolen saviors away is that I want to launder or dry clean them first. Part of my reluctance is rooted in disbelief that the calendar today says, “June.” Really? Wait. Where did the first five months go? I can find my hat and gloves, but March sped by so fast that my hat and gloves seem to be the only evidence that March actually happened.

I face the beginning of every summer with the same grim resolve: “I will sweat now. Perspiration will be my constant companion.”

Oh my. That is grim. I need some ice cream. That’ll cheer me up.

In spite of what sounds like a dread of warm weather, one tiny corner of my brain has been waiting impatiently for summer. That’s because that corner of my brain has been focused intently on a tightly wrapped bowl of crushed candy canes that I stashed in my freezer last December. They have been waiting there—a frozen asset—since they were used as decoration on a batch of Christmas cookies. A friend had requested a repeat performance of cookies dipped in white chocolate and sprinkled with the crushed candy canes.

Or course during November and December candy canes are as much a part of the holiday season landscape as Señor Claus. To decorate the cookies I bought a package of candy canes and blitzed them in the food processor. The hardest part was getting the cellophane off of each individual cane (Noted to self at the time: don’t buy individually wrapped candy canes.)

One box of candy canes makes quite a bit more crushed candy than you could imagine, leaving quite a bit left over after I finished the cookies. The fleeting thought of discarding the rest was quickly overtaken by the fleeting inspiration to make Peppermint Stick Ice Cream “next summer”. At the time “next summer” seemed like a ship on a very distant horizon, yet here it is urgently ringing my doorbell.

The good news is that if candy canes abound during December, on June 1st my freezer seems to have an exclusive distribution deal. Suddenly the bowl of crushed candy which has been in the way all these months seems like buried treasure.

Even better, I can pat myself on the back: I’ll be telling people that I knew the Facebook stock would tank, so instead  I invested in peppermint futures and they have paid off handsomely. Buy and hold? Indeed.

There is purity to my childhood memories of Peppermint Stick ice cream that is hard to match. I am assuming my memories are of Howard Johnson’s version with its little premeditated pops of peppermint candy. I was tickled to see Mad Men pay tribute to HoJo’s this season, including a poster spied over Jon Hamm’s shoulder advertising Wednesday Fish Fry, a frequent landing pad for us when the summer heat made our kitchen unbearable. The Mad Men script highlighted HoJo’s orange sherbet, an item that wasn’t on my childhood radar. But they got the pointy shape of the scoop just right.

When I was a kid I must have literally stuck my eye into the ice cream because my memories are not of a cone, a scoop, or a dish, but of a frozen, creamy, Martian-pink landscape dotted with tiny candies. It would, on occasion, rain—hail—chocolate jimmies. Yes, this POV memory is a bit disturbing, but doesn’t everyone have a food memory like this? No? Uhhh, you mean this isn’t normal?

Well, it is this sort of trippy, psychedelic sense memory that makes me think in December of making ice cream in June, and I felt a huge responsibility to my memories to get it right, to make perfect Peppermint Stick ice cream. This is not brain surgery, although after re-reading my memory above it occurs to me that a brain surgeon would likely have a field day examining mine.

Clearly this was not the time for short cuts or easy recipes; I wanted to do this right. I had never taken the time to make an honest to goodness cooked ice cream base, so this was my maiden voyage. If you can plan your ice cream making a day or two in advance this is clearly the way to go.

Cooking custard sounds like a lot of trouble, but the truth is that if you can heat a can of soup, you can make Crème Anglaise, a/k/a ice cream base. The only real tricks (I think) are patience and a candy thermometer.

Well, think about it: the recipe uses four egg yolks…anytime you throw egg yolks over some heat you do run the risk of scrambled eggs. So, the patience is because you should use a lower heat than you may be used to and will have to stand and stir for several minutes. The candy thermometer will ensure that you do not cook the custard over 180 degrees which will scramble the eggs. Other than that it’s pretty simple. For best results you’ll need to cook the custard the day before you want to make the ice cream so that it can be chilled thoroughly before freezing.

The crushed candy canes (you can substitute the little round starlight peppermint candies) don’t get added to the ice cream until the final minute or two in the ice cream machine. If you have crushed them into a powdery crumble enough of the candy will dissolve into the ice cream tinting it a blushing pink that reminds me of my grandmother’s cheeks after she applied an item she quaintly called “rouge”.

I fought the further temptation—this time—to add a ribbon of melted chocolate as the ice cream machine whirled round and round. The Italians use this technique to add chocolate to Stracciatella gelato. When the melted chocolate hits the frozen cream it hardens and then crackles into the ice cream.

The combination of chocolate and peppermint will surely be visited before the summer ends.

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Click here for my Peppermint Stick Ice Cream recipe

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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“Frozen Tweetberry, please”

My Commencement Speech (or) Pardon my cliché

Ice Cream Waffles

Ice Cream Waffles

To me, commencement speeches always seem like eulogies turned inside out. Hopefully you laughed or chuckled at that line—even if it was only on the inside. Laughter is something that seldom happens when hearing a eulogy, unless it’s for Chuckles the Clown (this is referring, of course, to the classic Mary Tyler Moore episode.)

But if eulogies are delivered at the end of a life, then it follows that you could kinda, sorta say that about commencement speeches too. That’s the end of a life and the beginning of another.

I once heard a commencement speaker compare the return of textbooks by graduating seniors to the turning in of rifles at the end of a war. Wow. I didn’t like school either, but I never felt like I was crouched in a fox hole. Well, maybe at prom, but that, as they say,”… is a whole other Oprah.”

All these years later I often think, “What did I learn in school?” The stuff I really remember was practical, “how to” stuff, like splicing video tape—something they do with a computer now and a skill that I seldom use in the kitchen.

I like to think I learned everything valuable I know in the years after school. The most valuable thing I’ve learned is that baking a cake is a microcosm of life’s experiences all crammed into a little tin pan and an hour or two.

Baking requires hunger, anticipation, planning, organization, a little chemistry, the ability to let go, and the ability to deal with failure and keep going.

Many people view baking as an exercise in rigidity—follow the recipe or all heck will break loose. I beg to differ. I think of baking as an exercise in technique and its continual refinement. This is kind of like ballet or singing. Performers accomplished in either of those disciplines continue studying and taking classes even long after they have achieved success—and for some even after they have retired. It is this continual striving to get better that I think of every time I plug in my Kitchen Aid and start baking. You’re never done; school continues. It’s the shape of the classroom that changes. (I had to throw in the latter. Every commencement speech has lines like that.)

Hopefully as you travel down life’s hallway (I promise I’ll stop) the knowledge you accrue along your journey will give you the resilience to handle whatever surprises may be placed in your way. Sometimes this means you need to—yes, you’ve heard this before—think outside the box.

Learn to embrace the unexpected. We have an anchor woman here in New York named Sue Simmons. Late in her career she has become notable for the things she says when she forgets the microphone is on. This includes an “f-bomb” or two. She’s being “eased” into retirement next month. Part of the reason is that folks worry about what might come out of her mouth. I think this is a mistake. I say, keep her on and take away her script. Let her wing it, then sit back and hope for another “f-bomb” or better. I think ratings would go up and the news would be much more fun.

Any baker—or even better—anyone who ever toasted a slice of bread knows what I’m talking about. Ever burned a piece of toast? Did you scrape off the burnt part then serve the toast anyway? You were thinking outside the box. If you’d thrown away the toast you wouldn’t be embracing the unexpected, you’d be trying for perfect toast. The pursuit of perfection can waste a lot of bread. (Okay, you have to admit that one was cute.)

Thinking outside the box doesn’t always mean things have to be hard. In fact this can make things easier.

Take the little Belgian waffles in the photo above. These were made to satisfy a craving. Real Belgian waffles (Liege or Brussels style) require yeast dough, and a few hours wait while the dough rises. But this was a craving, which meant I needed them NOW.

So I used a simple waffle recipe, and sprinkled some vanilla sugar and Belgian pearl sugar onto my waffle iron just before adding the batter. The result was a reasonable facsimile of the true Belgian waffle.

If you throw enough ice cream at them no one will ever know the difference. And that, graduates, is all you need to know about dessert and life.

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“Baccalaureate Tweetalot”

Mr. Wizard?

Biscoff & Coffee Ice Cream

Biscoff & Coffee Ice Cream

Lately every time I share a meal with my brother he makes me roll my eyes. He is intrigued by the recently released Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet. Me? Not so much.

If you don’t know who Nathan Myhrvold is, you may find his biography daunting. I sure do. Here’s the “head of a pin” version: started college at 14, PhD in theoretical and mathematical physics by age 23, formerly Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft, oh, and by the way, a master French chef who has finished first and second in the world championship of barbecue.

Ummmm. I can bake cookies and tie my shoes—although not at the same time. Oh, and I have to double-tie my shoes, because they tend to come untied if I don’t. My lack of intrigue with Myhrvold’s book is, I think, a classic case of projecting my own self-perceived short comings onto it. That and it is 2438 pages with a list price of $625—although savvy shoppers can snag it on Amazon for $477.93. You’ll have to wait though, as it is sold out.

The book itself deals heavily with the science of cooking. I never think of myself as someone who is interested in the science of cooking. Yet, as I think back on some of the things I‘ve written in this space I realize that my self-image seems to have been heavily self-censored. Anyone have a copy of that magazine quiz, “Are you a Geek”? I think it was in Popular Science. I need to be re-tested.

In the meantime your low-rent Mr. Wizard has brought you another food science lesson. Happily it ends with a dish of ice cream.

One thing I know about myself: you do not want to go grocery shopping with me. I am not a “quick run into the market to pick up a couple of things” kind of guy. The guy with the cart who is cruising up and down every aisle with extended stops in the imported food aisle? Smile and wave as you pass me.

Anyway, on one of those extended cruises I came across Junket rennet tablets.  I think they caught my eye because I remembered my Mom feeding me Junket rennet custard as a kid. I’ve never been much of a milk drinker, and it was a way to get milk into me. (I’ve never even liked milk on my breakfast cereal.)

Rennet is an enzyme that is harvested from the stomach lining of cows, and it coagulates milk. Many cheese makers use rennet to separate milk into curds and whey. The curds are then treated in many different ways to make all the different kinds of cheese we love. The whey is used for many products from protein powder supplements to animal feed.

Truth is, these tablets have been sitting on my shelf for months. I bought them without really thinking of how I would use them. Reading through the attached pamphlet though, my eye was immediately drawn to a recipe for ice cream. Who knew? Rennet ice cream! Yes, I know: you’re just as amazed as me!

It makes sense. Ice cream needs an ingredient that will emulsify the mixture in order to prevent ice crystals from forming as it freezes. Many cooks use eggs. Commercial ice cream often has other ingredients to do this, including gelatin. But the coagulation caused by the rennet can be done without heat. No cooking means less time needed to chill the mixture, which means the ice cream will be in your dish that much faster.

Low-rent Mr. Wizard would like to remind you of one of his guiding principles: always read and re-read a new recipe before using it. I did not, so as they say on Twitter, #FAIL. This is science, so if the recipe says Whole Milk, do not use 2% Milk.

I think my other mistake was being a bit too diligent in following the cooking instructions. The recipe says to warm the milk and cream to lukewarm at 110˚F. I very carefully did so, but I think my thermometer may have been misplaced in the sauce pan. I’m guessing I may have overheated the milk because not only did the rennet not coagulate the milk and cream, the resulting mixture would not freeze, even when I stuck it in the regular freezer for a few hours.

Starting from scratch, I deduced that the reason the mixture is warmed is to dissolve the sugar in the milk and cream. What if I skipped the heating stage altogether?

On my second attempt, I decided to dissolve the sugar mechanically. I combined everything except the cream in the blender. After the sugar dissolved, the cream was added and mixed very briefly to avoid whipping it. This attempt was perfect and creamy. It is not as silky as custard-based ice cream. The flip side to that is that is not too rich or heavy either.

In the meantime, on another of those meandering trips up and down the grocery aisle I found Biscoff cookies. I was first introduced to these toasty, brown sugary, Belgian cookies when I was served one for breakfast on an airplane trip. (Yes. One cookie the size of two fingers. For breakfast. Well done, airlines! I remember thinking, “I hope they didn’t go to too much trouble.”) Printed on the side of the cookie wrapper are the words, “Europe’s Favorite Cookie With Coffee.” What could be better than coffee ice cream with Biscoff cookies crumbled in?

Uh oh. I think that was one of the questions on the “Are you a Geek?” test.

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Click here for my recipe for “Biscoff & Coffee Ice Cream

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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The Chill Diaries

Peach Crisp Ice Cream Sandwiches

Peach Crisp Ice Cream Sandwiches

You’ve probably seen this in old movies: someone climbs a ladder to a high shelf in a library. Pulling a book from the shelf, they blow off the dust, creating a cloud that momentarily obscures the screen.

I thought of that image the other day when I pulled the bowl of my ice cream maker from the back of my freezer. It has been there, untouched, ignored, since last summer. Instead of blowing dust off, I had to knock chunks of frost and ice off. All that was missing was some long lost ancient hiker embalmed in the ice after taking a wrong turn at Shangri-La.

Why has my ice cream maker sat untouched since last summer? Is there some kind of law against making ice cream during the fall and winter? Only in my head, and it is somehow related to the reason I watch Jimmy Cagney in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” only on the Fourth of July: because that’s when you are supposed to watch it.

I ought to know better. Boston (my home town) has always been a die-hard ice cream town. The season or the weather means nothing to Boston’s ice cream appetite. Beantown is an inaccurate nickname; it should be Icecreamtown.

In last week’s blog I mentioned—merely in passing—ice cream sandwiches. Unfortunately the idea stuck in my head and could not be dislodged. Some early season peaches at the market also helped motivate me a bit. They were not quite ripe. In fact, they were as hard as an MLB-regulation baseball. Still, the romance of Fresh Peach Ice Cream for Memorial Day beckoned.

Here’s the plain truth: I think ice cream is much harder to make than anyone will admit. When I was a kid and someone would pull out one of the old hand-cranked ice cream makers, we were so grateful to have a tiny dish of vanilla ice cream placed in our hands still sore from cranking that we barely gave the consistency or flavor a second thought. Vanilla? Wheee!

How many kids over the years have been duped into that cruel manual labor by the promise of a dish of ice cream? Add more ice! Add more salt! Keep cranking! It was right up there with raking leaves.

The modern “freezer-bowl” ice cream makers are easier on the arm, that’s for sure. But be warned: while the spotlight may be off manual labor, it is burning brightly on ingredients, flavors, and technique. I have a bit to learn. Good ice cream doesn’t happen overnight. Wait a minute. Yes it does. That’s one of the things I learned.

The ice cream I was always served from the hand crank freezer was very basic: milk, cream and sugar: basically frozen whipped cream. Not a bad thing, but really good ice cream is made from cooked custard. Hot custard placed in an ice cream freezer becomes…cool custard, but not ice cream. This I learned the hard way.

I found a recipe in my beloved old copy of The New York Times Cookbook (circa 1961) for Fresh Peach Ice Cream. “Perfect!” I thought and got to work. The recipe gives instructions for cooking custard, followed by the one word instruction: “Cool.” After doing a bit of homework (and making ice cream that never froze) I discovered that the instruction should have read, “Chill.” Even better: “Chill for four hours.”

Ice cream experts can correct me if I am wrong, but this is because of the way ice cream freezes: gently, and with constant movement that prevents ice crystals from forming. If the mixture starts off too warm, the ice cream freezer can’t do its work. So I will now and forever think, “Chill” when making ice cream. As the peaches were slightly less than ripe I diced them, as opposed to crushing them as directed in the recipe.

Usually, the cookie portion of ice cream sandwiches is a basic chocolate wafer. But my mind kept drifting to Peach Crisp, hot from the oven, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. What was called for here was a cookie that would bring the sugary crunch of the crisp to the party. This is where I got a little inventive.

As a base I used an old oatmeal cookie recipe I made up a few years ago. My Mom reminded me that ginger and peaches go well together, so I added a bit of chopped crystallized ginger. The big adjustment I made here was to freeze the dough in the shape of a brick, and then slice and bake the dough in rectangles. A generous sprinkle of demerara sugar just before baking added crunch and sparkle.

Following this concept, I also froze the ice cream in a brick. That way I could cut it into pieces that fit the cookies. No scoops here, as assembling was as simple as, um, making a sandwich.These ice cream sandwiches are a bit rich, but what a luxurious and sweet way to celebrate summer. And I just need to remember to “Chill.”

Good advice for making ice cream, and surviving a hot summer.

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Click here for my recipe for “Peach Crisp Ice Cream Sandwiches

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

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