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.
This past week we've had quite a heat wave in Seattle. I've been getting into the bakery early in the mornings so as to avoid the afternoon heat + hot oven combination, and it turns out the upstairs of our new house is quite a little hot box. I bought some aggressive blinds and a new fan and am hoping both will help cool things down a bit. The wool blanket is in the linen closet for the season, and Sam's been making iced tea like it's his job. Summer has arrived! A few nights ago, the thought of actually doing much real cooking seemed a bit overwhelming, so I figured it was time to dig out the ice cream maker and get to work. I'd wanted to do something with the beautiful strawberries we have in the markets right now, but it seems every time I get a little pint it's gone before I have the chance. They are just so incredibly sweet, and it seems a shame to do anything other than eat them right out of the container, preferably while sitting on the Moroccan picnic blanket you brought back from honeymoon on the lawn in your new backyard trying not to stress out about the incredible, insurmountable number of weeds. So. Many. Weeds. But cherries: somehow the bag of cherries made it safely through the weekend, so I set about to find a great cherry ice cream recipe.
When you have an eight month old baby, making social plans can be hard. Especially in the evenings. When I was pregnant, I read Bringing up Bebe and one of the big premises of the book is how the French feel strongly that babies and children can fit into your lives and that you shouldn't have to change and alter everything to accommodate them. I remember reading the book and thinking: YES! Life will be just as it was, except we'll have a small baby in tow. Obviously a few things would likely be different, but I didn't want to change our routines, change the way we cooked or approached time off together, or see our friends any less. Well of course I'm the fool. Or at the very least, I'm not as French as I thought I was. Today, we very much schedule things around Oliver's nap schedule and bedtime, but thankfully we have a lot of other friends with kids who get it. Friends who make homemade cookies, own ice cream businesses, and have really great taste in music. Friends who host the kind of occasion that warrants homemade hot fudge sauce and eating dessert first.
We're back! After a restful few days in Lake George, I ended up flying home while Sam spent a little time with his family in New Jersey and a few days in New York City by himself before taking the train all the way back to Seattle (a solid four day journey). If you know Sam, this isn't surprising; he loves trains. When he's gone, I quickly revert back to my single gal days of eating veggie quesadillas for dinner (over and over) and staying up working later than I'd like. We would talk on the phone often as Sam would narrate his very full days in New York City and the stops and layovers he had while on the train. After a few days of me lamenting the fact that I wasn't there to experience it all with him, he encouraged me to ditch the quesadillas and do something special for dinner. See a movie. Go to the museum for just an hour. In short: I needed to get better at dating myself.
I received The Sprouted Kitchen Bowl + Spoon cookbook in the mail not long before we moved to our new house, and I remember lying in bed and bookmarking pages I was excited to try but also feeling overwhelmed with where to start: the truth is that this summer has been a relatively low-inspiration / low energy time in the kitchen for me. I'd been chalking it up to pregnancy but when I think back and if I'm honest with myself, my cooking style tends to be very easy and produce-driven during these warmer months. I rarely break out complicated recipes, instead relying on fresh tomatoes and corn or zucchini and homemade pesto to guide me. But last night I cracked open Sara's book and pulled out a few peaches I've had sitting on the counter, fearing their season may be nearing its end. This morning as I was making coffee, I sliced up the peaches, toasted the pecans and churned away -- having a bite (or maybe two) before getting it into the freezer to firm up.