I cook, I don't bake.
Cooking, to me, is free of baking's constraints: the careful measuring, the planning ahead, the 'measure twice and cut once' attitude.
When I cook, I can heat up a pan, toss in a little of this, some of that, decide at the last minute that it really needs a handful of the other thing, and I can do all this with an expectation that it will all come out tasting.. well, at least decent. This philosophy lends itself best to tomato sauces, soups, and chili, but I've managed to apply it to ice cream too.
The point here is that baking requires a knowledge of chemistry, and cooking does not.
Some context: I tasted some great lemon frozen yogurt a few weeks ago (it was at the Fancy Food Show
, which was an awesome and all-around mind blowing experience that I really need to write about, but it was so incredible I'm not sure where to start). It was, not surprisingly, from Jeni
*, and since I had three limes sitting in my fridge (you know, the ones I didn't use for the Thai Lime Chile sorbet
- which turned out pretty well, after I refroze the canister and churned it again), I figured I'd just replace the lemons in the recipe with my limes.
Jeni's frozen yogurt recipe is pretty much her ice cream base, with the addition of some strained (i.e., greek) yogurt. So I did the milk+sugar+corn syrup mixture in the pot, and added the peel of my three limes (per the instructions, the peel is easier to strain out later than using a grater to zest it). I also put together a lime syrup of sugar and fresh squeezed juice.
And here's where we get to the whole chemistry thing. The recipe calls for bringing the milk mixture to a boil for four minutes, which I've done many times, including for my Lemon Mint ice cream.** But this time.. it separated. Pretty badly, too.
See how it parted? It's not supposed to do that.
Those white specks on the lime peel? Yeah, I think those are milk curds.
So what happened? No idea. My first guess was that limes have more acid than lemons, which caused the milk to curdle. But then I found a lime frozen yogurt recipe in Jeni's book, which calls for doing exactly what I did.
When I added the yogurt (unstrained.. I didn't have any cheesecloth in the house), it (mostly) hid the milk curds.
You can barely tell how badly it separated.
And in a blind taste test, my tasters said that it was kind of grainy but they didn't spit out it or anything. (What's that? Tasters? Of course I have tasters! What kind of amateur, mom-and-pop operation do you think I'm running here, anyway. Geez.)
And worst comes to worst, I'll eat it myself. I just hope I don't need to learn chemistry to continue my path towards world domination through ice cream. That sounds too much like work.
* Don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of David Lebovitz's recipes, and I'm sure if he decided to start selling his ice cream, it would be incredible. But his recipe uses egg yolks, and I think Jeni's technique is a little faster and easier (read: it appeals to my laziness). Plus, I don't end up with a handful of left-over egg whites.
**I just realized I haven't written about the Lemon Mint or the Bacon Peanut Brittle ice creams I made. (Katie tells me I'm getting a big head, but I really think those came out well.) Man, I need to get on the ball. My bad.
Thai Chili Lime sorbet. It speaks to the five flavors of thai food, all bundled up in delicious, melt-in-your-mouth sorbet. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it. I thought so too. Even better, the recipe was easy, and the only thing I needed to go get was a jalapeno (recipes that make me go buy a handful of new ingredients that will inevitably sit unused in the back of my fridge/end of my spice rack/dark corners of the cabinet always turn me off).
Things started out easily enough:
Make a simple syrup, and steep the chopped jalapeno for an hour.
I've been making a lot of simple syrup for use in iced tea, mojitos and old fashioneds, so this was no problem. I even pretended to be a real food blogger by taking a couple of pictures.
Look at everything, all set out and ready. I thought about measuring out the corn syrup and everything else in advance, but decided that was excessive.
What's that? The limes? You heard a rumor I used lime juice instead of the fresh limes, huh? Well, I'm not saying. But if I did use lime juice, I'm sure it was that over-priced organic not-from-concentrate juice I got at the organic market sunday night, because my usual market didn't have any lime juice. Plus, in this hypothetical situation, I can save the fresh lime for making you a mojito or something, so stop complaining.
Here's an action shot of the jalapeno steeping in the simple syrup.
Step 2 of 3- how easy can it get.
Drain the syrup, and combine with corn syrup, salt, coconut milk, and the juice of three limes.
Looking back, here is where things first got a little ugly. To start with, the coconut milk I had on-hand was 'light'. I'm not totally sure where it came from.. it may even be several years old, from when my younger brother moved out of DC and gave me the contents of his kitchen. We don't use a lot of coconut milk, and when we do, I typically pick up a regular, full-fat can. But one of the reasons I chose this recipe was I knew I had a couple cans in the house. I didn't know in advance they were 'light', but once I found it, it was too late to fix it (read: I was too lazy to go to the store).
Chill the mixture, and then churn per manufacturer's instructions.
Every ice cream recipe I've ever seen includes some variation of this line. Basically, you want the mixture to be nice and cold so it doesn't raise the temperature of the ice cream canister (the thing that actually freezes the ice cream) too much. So I let it sit in the fridge overnight, and then I poured it into the machine and turned it on.
10 minutes.. 15 min, 30 min.. nothing.
I finally admitted failure. What went wrong? I'm not sure. Hopefully it was just the ice cream canister wasn't cold enough. We used a lot of ice this weekend making cocktails, so maybe the frequent opening and closing of the freezer door let out too much cold air. At least, that's what I'm telling myself. I put the canister back in the freezer, and I'll give it a couple days. On the other hand, if it was something in the recipe (like my light coconut milk), then we could have a problem.
Now look.. I'm the first to argue that ice cream is awesome
. But I admit, it can be a demanding mistress. The canister has to be in the freezer 12+ hours before you want to use it; you need to have milk, eggs, and sugar in the house; you end up with lots of extra egg whites; you end up wildly overeating, since you tend to have a couple of quarts of homemade ice cream in the house.. oh, that's just me? Whatever.
So this recipe from theKitchn for Magic One-Ingredient Banana Ice Cream
caught my attention. Not only does it only have one ingredients, but it doesn't even need an ice cream maker. This morning, I found myself with some extra time, a banana in the freezer, and a camera. The result? My first photo essay.
The recipe calls for using fresh banana and then freezing it for an hour or two. I don't have any patience, so that would be an issue for me, but luckily I keep a couple bananas in the freezer*. Not because of any latent OCD or foresight- I just buy too many bananas, and when I can't eat them all in time, I put them in the freezer (peel them first!).
*Yeah, that looks more like a couple of mackerel filets from the sale bin at Giant than bananas.. maybe they've been in the freezer too long. But they'll still taste good.
Again, the recipe calls for cutting the banana into coins before freezing them, but thanks to that massive cleaver, I cut them up frozen. Don't worry- the hardest part of the recipe is now behind us.
Using either a blender or food processor, blend the banana. Hey Cuisinart, how's that for product placement? Call me!
At first, it'll just look like finely chopped banana.
Then.. it'll still look like chopped banana. No really.. this will take a little while. I did it in 10-15 second bursts, and it didn't seem to do much.
Finally, after about a minute, you can start to see some blending.
Don't stop, you're almost there. Until..
Hey! That looks a little like ice cream.
At this point, you can put it in the freezer for a couple of hours, and, much like freshly churned ice cream, it will harden and become scoopable. Needless to say, I ate it immediately.
My thoughts: If you don't have an ice cream maker, or don't feel like making ice cream, this is a reasonable fall back. It's quick, easy, and cheap.. that's pretty much my trifecta in the kitchen.
But make no mistake.. I wouldn't call this real
ice cream. If you want banana ice cream, check out this great Roasted Banana Ice Cream
recipe from David Lebovitz. Now THAT is banana ice cream. But.. that will also take several hours from start to finish (most of it is either roasting the bananas or letting it chill before churning). Update:
When I was getting the links for this post, I found this related article, with five variations on the recipe: Magic One Ingredient Ice Cream 5 Ways: Peanut Butter, Nutella, and more
And to be honest? It's 11 at night, and I'm not going to go make ice cream. But I have another banana in the freezer, and some nutella and peanut butter in the cabinet... odds are pretty good I'm going to make this in a few minutes. A jayvee version of ice cream in five minutes
. That's a pretty nice trick.
Later today I'm going to an ice cream making class at Historic 6th and I
I'm really curious what it's going to be like. I've never been to an ice cream class before. I feel like there are a lot more costs associated with making ice cream than say, making Thai food (I took a Thai cooking class with Arlington county years ago).
It's capped at 30 people, and at $15 a head, that's not a lot of money to work with. You figure maybe $50 for the teacher (assuming a 2 hr class), and the synagogue is putting it on, so there's no (or minimal) rental fee. Plus, ice cream can be kind of expensive, when you're working with high-end ingredients, like organic cream and fancy chocolates (note: I don't).
How will they handle the multiple ice cream machines they'll need? Or will they rent a professional machine for the day? (That would be awesome, but those are pricey). What kind of crowd is going to be there? Am I about to wander into a big, underground ice cream making community? The first rule of ice cream club is there is no ice cream club
? No, of course not... as far as you know.
Plus, there's so much variation in how to make ice cream. French or Philadelphia style? Jeni's
approach, where you replace eggs with chemistry? Will she know who David Lebovitz
is? Will this turn into a Jets vs. Sharks brawl?
And of course the big question.. how much ice cream will I get to eat?
I'll report back.
I wandered in a few minutes before 2 pm, and was greeted by a big room with several round tables, with four or five people at each. Each seat had a packet of paper, with some ice cream making tips and two recipes: Coffee Straciatella and Vanilla Bean with Salted Caramel and Chocolate Covered Potato Chips.
The crowd was mostly girls in their late twenties, and many of them seemed to know each other. Pretty much what you would get, I think, at any local gathering of similarly-aged jews on the east coast. So many of them went to the same summer camps when they were younger, it could have been their ten year reunion.
In front of the room were two tables, each with an ice cream maker, a couple of electric burners, and assorted pots and spatulas.
Good news/bad news time. Good news: both flavors sounded really good, and I was excited to try the salted caramel and chocolate-covered potato chips mix-ins. Bad news: two ice cream machines (at about a quart each) / 30 people = not enough ice cream for me. Hopefully they anticipated this, and pre-made a whole batch.
The class itself was run by Naomi Sugar (her real name.. she did not, she pointed out, change her name for her blog. "That would be weird."), of 365 Scoops
. She gave a good walk-through of how to make an egg-based custard, with some helpful if basic tips on how to make ice cream. I tried to picture myself in her place giving the class, and while I'm probably technically proficient, I couldn't have matched her energy, so good job by her.
My second favorite part of the day? Her salted caramel sauce went wrong, resulting in a crystallized mess. No, of course I'm not happy that something went wrong. Far from it.. especially since it meant I didn't get to eat any. Rather, I was happy to see that I'm not the only one who screws up their caramel sauce, and I felt a little better that it happens to the pros too.
My favorite part, of course, was eating the ice cream at the end. Turns out they made several batches earlier this morning, and she served three flavors. Coffee straciatella, Triple chocolate with peanut butter cup brownies (served a la mode), and Key lime pie with caramel-covered graham crackers. All were good, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't think some of my ice cream is actually a little better (to be fair, this was made in bulk, in someone else's kitchen.. probably not her best example).
That said, I'm very impressed by her ambition. Not only does she have a real blog, not only does she sell her ice cream, but she MADE caramel-covered graham crackers and chocolate-covered potato chips. Those are both great examples of the kind of thing that makes me skip right over a recipe. I'm MUCH too lazy to make that sort of thing. But what really makes me feel inferior? She has real ice cream containers, with her name on them and everything! Definitely a step up from Giant-brand cottage cheese containers.
Anyway, after stuffing my face with several little cups (what.. there were 25 jewish girls in that room. I knew most of them would feel too hampered by social pressure to go back for seconds, so I ate theirs), I called it a day. I figured I needed to save room for dinner, and besides, they were just about out of ice cream.
So there you have it. My day at ice cream school.
My birthday was a few weeks ago (and yeah, I'm still waiting for your card).
My in-laws stepped up big though, and got me a new ice cream book. It's written by the guys from Humphrey Slocumbe
, in San Francisco. Whenever I admit to the possibility of moving to the West Coast, it's places like this that draw me. For some reason, there seem to be a lot more little hole-in-the-wall ice cream places in California than here in DC.
With friends coming to visit, I figured this was a good excuse to make something a little more involved than my usual cholate hazelnut (as incredible as it is). Flipping through the book, I found a recipe for a bourbon caramel sauce, that only needed a couple ingredients and sounded really easy. Plus, it was a bourbon caramel sauce. That's all upside.
Here's the recipe:
- Put some sugar and water in a pot
- Turn up the heat, and leave it alone. When it starts to caramelize, add the bourbon.
I spend enough time on food blogs to know that people think making caramel is hard. National Spelling Bee hard (I'm looking at you 'guetapens'
). But this recipe looked so easy, I figured they must be talking about some other kind of caramel. And if there was a lot of room for error, surely they would have mentioned something in the recipe, right?
Well.. they weren't, and they didn't. My first two tries turned into a pot full of crystallized sugar. I would have taken pictures, but it was too disheartening. Thanks to a Good Eats
clip, Katie's urging, and my innate stubbornness, I rallied for a third attempt, and victory was mine.
may be too strong a word.
I was looking at a half-inch thick block of boubon-caramel rock candy, smeared out on my silpat baking sheet. At that point, I called a truce with chemistry, covered the candy with some plastic wrap, and went to bed.
After a couple days to recover, it was time to see whether I could salvage anything from the mess I'd made. The first question was, how do I break it up into small enough pieces so people eating the ice cream don't crack a tooth? Katie's answer: a hammer.
You would think by now I would know better than to doubt her. The hammer worked perfectly (just ignore the little shards of candy all over the kitchen floor), and I mixed the candy into the ice cream. I was a little hesitant, because some of the pieces were big enough to choke a horse, but I knew if worst came to worst, it just meant more for me.
But.. by some weird fluke of chemistry, the little chunks of bourbon-caramel goodness kind of melted, resulting in this incredible caramel flavored ice cream (the bourbon gets a little lost), with soft little nuggets of bourbon-caramel candy inside.
And that little puddle at the bottom of the container? That's bourbon-caramel sauce! Maybe if you're lucky I'll save you a bite.