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.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.