I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn’t surprising to anyone. I’d done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited.
Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it’s bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being … but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It’s been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn’t need much convincing.
This decadent sorbet recipe is from Shauna Sever’s new book, Real Sweet. I’ve never met Shauna in person, but we’ve known each other online for awhile now. She has a warm, approachable voice and a really contagious enthusiasm for everything she writes about — whether it’s how to make homemade confectioners sugar or how to brown butter. And this book really strikes a chord with me because we use natural sugars most all of the time at home these days. I rarely bake with white sugar anymore, much preferring coconut sugar, maple syrup, honey, dates, or a number of natural cane sugars instead. So! A whole baking book devoted to experimenting with the ways in which natural sugars can add layers of deep, complex flavors to everyday sweets? Yes, please.
I think I’ve mentioned the vegan ice creams I’ve developed for The Kitchn before? There was my very favorite, incredibly addicting Vegan Coconut Almond Chip and then, of course, that Strawberry Swirl. For these recipes (and others I make at home), I generally use full-fat coconut milk for the base, but Shauna’s sorbet recipe intrigued me because she uses plain almond milk instead. She warms it with a dark blend of bittersweet chocolate and cocoa powder, thickens it with a touch of cornstarch, sweetens it with natural sugars and folds in toasty, salted almonds at the very end.
In her recipe, Shauna calls for muscovado sugar which has a really nice dark, damp sweetness (a natural cousin to dark brown sugar, really). We happened to be out, so I used coconut sugar instead, which has a similar dark sweetness that I thought would compliment the cocoa flavors in this recipe beautifully. The result is a flavor-packed sorbet that’s decadent without feeling heavy or overly indulgent, and maybe just as delicious on a warm, blossomy afternoon in Seattle as it would be on the streets of Bologna. Just maybe …
Megan’s Notes: If you want to make this recipe truly vegan, look for a vegan chocolate and opt for the agave nectar; this wasn’t critical for me, so I used a good 60% bittersweet chocolate and ended up using the agave, but you could certainly use honey instead. Like many homemade ice creams and sorbets, you really need to let this soften for a good 15 minutes before serving or it’ll be quite hard. I didn’t this sorbet to get icy, but if you don’t let it soften, it’s not going to be as smooth and creamy as it deserves to be.
If you’d prefer to use a different toasted nut here, hazelnuts would be wonderful as would peanuts. I also found myself thinking about little flecks of white chocolate folded in with the almonds at the end, and next time around I’m going to make that happen. I did not include prep/total time for this recipe as ice cream machines all work at different speeds; do note, though, that the base must chill for at least four hours.
Slightly adapted from: Real Sweet
In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the almond milk with the cornstarch. Whisk to dissolve.
In a large (4-quart) saucepan, whisk together the remaining 2 cups of almond milk, sugar, cocoa powder, agave nectar, and salt. Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring mixture to a low boil. Boil for 1 minute. Whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Continue whisking 1 minute more, until thickened. Remove the pan from the heat and add chopped chocolate and vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth.
Set a fine-mesh sieve over a medium heatproof bowl. Pour the sorbet base through the sieve. Cover the bowl and refrigerate until completely chilled, at least 4 hours. Whisk vigorously to smooth out any lumps. Pour into an ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Toast the almonds: place a dry, medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the almonds and toast until pale golden and fragrant, about 6-7 minutes. Sprinkle with fine sea salt. Cool completely.
When the sorbet is finished churning, fold in the cooled almonds. Pack into an airtight container and freeze until firm. Let soften for about 15 minutes before serving.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
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.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.