Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Cherry Stracciatella Ice Cream

Cherries are my favorite fruit, and I can’t eat enough of them in the summer when they’re at their peak. My neighborhood fruit stand vendors know me so well that they automatically hand me a bag of cherries before I even ask.  So you can imagine how my taste buds went into a tizzy when I saw a recipe in the latest Bon Appetit for a cherry-bourbon vanilla ice cream.  I started doing mental variations on the recipe, imagining it with brandy instead of bourbon, or plumping the cherries in amaretto and topping it with toasted almonds. But last night I started dreaming about drizzling in melted chocolate at the end of the freezing time to make a Cherry Stracciatella ice cream.  And that version galvanized me into ice cream-making action this afternoon. 

You know you want this.  Think of it as a sophisticated riff on the popular B&J’s Cherry Garcia flavor.  However, it is so much more than Ben or Jerry could have ever dreamed.

The ice cream custard base is a straightforward vanilla one, an excellent backdrop for wherever your culinary imagination leads you. I like the roundness of flavor that vanilla bean specks add, but you can flavor your ice cream simply with pure vanilla extract if you don’t feel like splurging for the vanilla bean.

Pitting cherries can be tedious, but I’ve found a great shortcut with an empty wine bottle and a chopstick. Position the cherry on top of the bottle, then use the larger end of the chopstick to push the pit straight through the cherry into the bottle.  There’s very little mess this way, and also no need for a fancy gadget like a cherry pitter which, let’s face it, will probably sit unused in your kitchen drawer for most of the year.

Cooking the cherries down with a bit of sugar and bourbon softens them so that they retain a pleasing soft texture once they’re frozen into the ice cream. 

The real magic happens with the chocolate.  I’ve never been a fan of traditional chocolate chip ice cream, finding the chips too brittle and texturally distracting.  But by pouring melted bittersweet chocolate into the ice cream maker at the very end of the freezing time, the warm chocolate immediately splinters when it makes contact with the frozen custard base. The Italian word for “shredded” is stracciato, and the tiny chocolate shards make a distinct streaking pattern throughout the ice cream.  But the chocolate melts perfectly in your mouth the minute you taste it. 

And when you get a bite that has both the chocolate shards and a boozy cherry, you know you’ve hit the motherlode.  I’m tempted to invite all of you over to enjoy it with me right now.  It’s that good. 

Three Years Ago: Birthday Cake Week

Adapted slightly from a recipe in Bon Appetit, August 2013

The addition of melted chocolate is my own, but otherwise I've based this on the Bon Appetit recipe.  I've adjusted the proportions a bit, figuring that if you're going to go to the trouble of making homemade ice cream, you want the fruits of your labor to last a little while!

2 cups halved pitted cherries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon

2 cups whole milk
2 cups cream, divided
½ cup sugar, divided
Large pinch of salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ a vanilla bean (optional), split and seeds scraped out
6 egg yolks

A 3.5-ounce bar of bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces (at least 60% cocoa solids)

For the cherries:
Combine the cherries in a small heavy saucepan with 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 tablespoon water.  Cook over medium heat until the cherries are softened, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from the heat and stir in bourbon.  Let cool completely, then transfer to a small bowl and refrigerate.

For the custard:
Warm the milk, 1 cup cream, ¼ cup sugar, a generous pinch of salt and vanilla extract in a medium heavy saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add the bean itself, if using. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently until the sugar is dissolved.  When bubbles are just forming around the edges of the pan, remove from heat and cover, letting steep at room temperature for 30 minutes.  (If not using the vanilla bean, you can skip this waiting time.)

Pour the remaining cup of cream into a large mixing bowl and put a mesh strainer on top. Prepare an ice bath by filling a larger bowl halfway with ice and cold water.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, combine the remaining ¼ cup sugar with the egg yolks in a medium mixing bowl and whisk to combine thoroughly.  Add a ½-cup of the warm milk mixture to the egg yolks and whisk in.  (This step is crucial, as adding some of the warm liquid to the eggs will temper them so that they don’t scramble when added to the rest of the warm cream.) 

Carefully pour the tempered egg yolk mixture back into the rest of the warm milk.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the custard is thickened and coats the back of the spoon.  This will generally take between 3 and 5 minutes.  Do not overcook the custard.

Pour the custard through the mesh strainer and stir into the cream. Place the bowl in the ice bath and let the mixture cool, stirring occasionally.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill the custard thoroughly in the refrigerator, at least 4 hours or overnight.

Freeze the ice cream:
Freeze the custard in your ice cream maker according to the directions.  As the ice cream is churning, melt the bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler or in a small metal mixing bowl set in a skillet of simmering water.  (Alternately, you can melt the chocolate in the microwave in 15-second increments, stirring after every 15 seconds.)

When the ice cream is almost done, drizzle in the melted chocolate as the machine is still churning so that the chocolate splinters and is mixed in throughout the custard.  Transfer the ice cream to a large plastic container, stir in the reserved bourbon-cherry mixture, and let freeze for a few hours before serving.  Makes 1 very generous quart.

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