The past few weekends have been busy ones, filled with house guests, window-box planting, and quite a few writing projects. Sam and I both love our house so much, and having people over always heightens that — sharing the breakfast nook in the mornings and seeing the living room fill up with more than just the two of us. I love an excuse for a mid-afternoon stroll through Fremont, and a reason to fill up on chocolate samples at Theo. Of course, house guests must eat, so there’s always Vietnamese food at Green Leaf and later at Tamarind Tree, beautiful salads at Sitka and Spruce, pizzas at Delancey, drinks at Ocho. Then on Monday, after a trip to the airport, there’s a comparative quiet and a noticeable lack of Theo chocolate, tofu spring rolls, and Dark and Stormy’s. Enter this weekend: just the two of us, garden planning and patio-sitting at our neighborhood bar. The sun was out, the breeze was warm, and sometimes beer just sounds good at 3 p.m. It was on these walks that I realized, yes, spring may have arrived in Seattle.
The first week I moved here I made a few trips to the dump to get rid of cardboard boxes. I went in flip-flops. My second visit the nice man working the booth asked what the hell I was thinking. He had a point: March was damp here. It was not flip-flops at-the-dump weather (although the more I think about it, is it ever flip-flops-at-the-dump-weather?). I learned to layer quickly, ran more inside the gym, and drank a lot of tea. But now, coats aren’t draped on the dining room chairs and I’ve actually been cracking my office window to get some fresh air.
People are out on their bikes, daffodils are growing like weeds, and if you pay attention you can smell barbeque in certain neighborhoods just as the light turns in the evening. It’s always this time of year when I start day-dreaming about trips I want to take, books I want to read, warm-weather cocktails, and — of course — ice cream. The ice cream machine is one of those appliances that, when we were unpacking, got pushed to the very back of the cupboards. I’m happy to say this has been remedied, there are two glorious new ice cream cookbooks on the horizon, and I plan on churning away this spring and summer.
First thing’s first: it’s time to order Bi-Rite Creamery’s new cookbook Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones (out April 17, 2012). I’ve seen it, I’ve read it, this recipe is from the book, and I think you’re going to like it. There is also the soon-to-be-released Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book (April 25, 2012), which I haven’t had the pleasure of getting my hands on yet, but I’m sure it is chock full of owner Jake Godby’s humor and irreverence. If you haven’t eaten ice cream in San Francisco, Bi-Rite is classically wonderful (think glorious strawberry, smooth salted caramel, and honey lavender). Humphry Slocombe is a little wackier (although still wonderful) with more renegade flavors like FlufferNutter, Butter Beer, or Pom Coconut Ale. When it comes to choosing, I’m a Bi-Rite gal through and through. If you’re familiar with good East Coast ice creameries like Herrell’s: Bi-Rite is the Bay Area’s version. It’s the kind of ice cream that skirts trends or fads: it’s just really, really good — one of the reasons the line often wraps its way around the block, even on chilly evenings.
The Bi-Rite Creamery cookbook is everything you’d expect: concisely written, beautifully photographed, and yes: the salted caramel ice cream recipe is in there along with unexpected inclusions like cookies, brownies and cakes. I decided pretty quickly that the Malted Vanilla Ice Cream needed to happen, and I’ve been looking for an opportunity to make homemade Magic Shell (you know that crackly chocolate that they use to dip soft-serve cones in? Yes, that). If you’re a fan of that crunchy chocolate shell, you’re in luck: it’s really no more effort than melting your favorite chocolate into hot coconut oil. Then you pour it slowly into the ice cream machine when it’s done churning and it hardens on the spot into little crags and shards of dark chocolate. Like beer at 3 p.m. on a sunny Saturday, this kind of thing makes me smile.
If you don’t have malted milk powder at home, it’s easy to find at the market; I buy Carnation brand and love having it in the pantry — it’s wonderful to add to milkshakes or baked goods (try 1/4 cup in your next batch of chocolate-chip cookies). As for this recipe, it’s an egg-based, custardy ice cream, so the mixture should be pretty darn thick when you pour it into your machine. It’ll tide you over until you get to San Francisco, for sure. Until then, I hope you have daffodils in your neighborhood, occasional warm breezes, more light in the evening, and a generous bowl of ice cream.
As written, the Bi-Rite gals add peanut brittle and milk chocolate chunks to this ice cream base. That has to be stellar — but there’s something to be said about the simple chocolate crackle strewn throughout; certainly add any mix-ins that you think sound delicious. Crushed cookies or toasted almonds would be wonderful. I tweaked the amount of malted milk powder here, too, feeling ultimately that 1/2 cup was a little heavy-handed.
Slightly adapted from: Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones
In a medium heat-proof bowl, whisk the yolks just to break them up, then whisk in the malted milk powder. Set aside.
In a heavy non-reactive pan saucepan, stir together the cream, milk, sugar, and salt and put the pan over medium heat. When the mixture approaches a bare simmer, reduce the heat to low. Carefully scoop out about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture and, whisking the eggs constantly, add the cream to the bowl with the egg yolks. Repeat, adding another 1/2 cup of the hot cream to the bowl with the yolks. Using a heatproof rubber spatula, stir the cream in the saucepan as you slowly pour the egg-and-cream mixture from the bowl into the pan.
Cook the mixture carefully over medium heat until it’s thickened and coats the back of a spatula. Strain the base through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean container. Set the container in an ice-water bath and stir occasionally to release the heat. Wait until it’s cool. Remove the container from the ice-water-bath, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate the base for at least 2 hours- overnight.
Once the base is chilled, remove from the refrigerator and add the vanilla. Give it a quick stir to combine. Free in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Meanwhile, make the magic shell, or chocolate crackle: In a small saucepan, heat the coconut oil on medium-low heat until it’s just melted and in liquid form. Add the chocolate pieces and stir until they’ve melted into the oil. Remove from heat. Pour in a small bowl until you’re ready to add it to your ice cream base. Once ice cream is finished churning, slowly pour in the chocolate crackle; although it’s in viscous liquid form, it will freeze up into little solid bits when it hits the cold ice cream.
* Recipe note: When I first started making chocolate crackle and when I initially posted this recipe, I used much more coconut oil. Since then, I’ve learned you really only need a few tablespoons and that the chocolate actually firms up on its own really well, too. So since the original post, I’ve decreased the amount of coconut oil called for in the chocolate crackle.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.