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 live in Washington state, the arrival of local cherries can be a pretty exciting thing. We always get California cherries first and they’re sweet and glorious, but the just-picked cherries you can get at our farmers markets beginning in June is something to wait for. This spring and summer, Sam has been working the Sunday farmers market for me (I’ve needed to take a little break), and as I’ve mentioned before, one of the big bonuses of working markets is trading with other vendors at the end of the day. In the winter, this is a little less exciting as the produce is often limited to kale, cabbage and brussels sprouts but in the summer, it can feel overwhelming when thinking about who to trade with: berries? tomatoes? fresh herbs? This past week, it was all about the berries and cherries.
As I was flipping through one of my favorite ice cream “cookbooks” I came across a recipe for a Cherry Almond Ice cream that didn’t rely on extract, but instead had you heat and steep finely ground almonds into the milk to infuse it with flavor. While the process does have a few steps (prep the cherries, infuse the milk, and make the custard base) it was well worth it in the end … and you could do a few of these steps in advance to make life simpler.
Megan’s Notes: I made a few tweaks to the recipe that I’ll quickly mention: The original recipe calls to cook down the cherries in 2 1/4 cups to 1 1/4 cups water. I felt like my cherries were so sweet to begin with and this seemed like a lot of sugar (even though you don’t actually use the syrup in the ice cream recipe itself), so you’ll notice I did end up decreasing the amount of sugar. The only downside to this is that you’re not left with as thick a syrup at the end, so I cooked our syrup down for just a few minutes to thicken it once I’d removed the cherries (I made a few notes for what to do with your leftover syrup at the end of the recipe). Second, because I always buy whole milk, I used it for this recipe and I think 1% really would’ve been more fitting in this case: the fat ratio was HIGH in my version so the ice cream came out super thick and decadent — more like a frozen custard than a light, smooth ice cream. I actually loved the texture, but it’s worth noting that the type of milk you use will greatly impact the texture here (in the recipe below I indicated for you to use 1% as this is what I’ll do the next time around).
I hope your summer is off to a good start, that you’ve made some time in your schedule for ice cream, and that your backyard has far fewer weeds than ours.
Oh! And if you live in Seattle: I’ll be doing a talk and a book signing at the always-amazing Swanson’s Nursery this Saturday June 13th at 10 am. Come join us for a chat on Whole Grain Mornings, summery breakfasts, and how to incorporate more whole grains into your seasonal cooking this year. I hope to see some of you there!
The authors of the cookbook note that the type of strainer you use greatly impacts the texture of your ice cream: a regular fine-mesh wire strainer will yield a more rustic ice cream whereas a superfine-mesh strainer like a chinois will give you a very smooth, silky ice cream. Next time I make this, I wouldn’t be opposed to folding in a little chopped dark chocolate — never a bad idea.
Slightly adapted from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones
For the Cherries:
For the Base:
Poach the Cherries:
In a small non reactive saucepan, combine the sugar and the water and bring to a boil over medium heat. When it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, add the cherries, and cook until the cherries are soft and cooked through, about 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and let the cherries cool completely in the syrup. Once cool, drain the cherries (save the syrup for other uses*) and squeeze the pits out of the fruit. Chop the cherries into 1/4 inch pieces. Refrigerate until you’re ready to use.
Prepare the Nut-Infused Milk
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F. Spread almonds on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes. Let cool completely.
Combine the cooled nuts with the 3/4 sugar in a food processor. Pulse until very finely ground (about the consistency of sand). Don’t overprocess or the mixture will become oily.
Transfer the almond mixture to a heavy nonreactive pan and stir in the cream, milk and salt. Heat over medium-high heat until it just begins to bubble around the edges. Remove from heat and cover the pan. Let stand for about 20 minutes, or until a nice almond flavor has infused into the mixture (smell and taste to gauge!)
Make the Base:
In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the yolks just to break them up. Set aside. Place the pan with the cream mixture over medium-high heat. When the mixture comes to a bare simmer, reduce the heat to medium.
Carefully scoop out about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture and, whisking the eggs constantly, add 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 whisk and stirring constantly as you pour, add the egg-cream mixture to the cream mixture in the saucepan.
Cook carefully over medium heat, about 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, until it’s thickened enough to coat the back of a spatula and hold a clear path when you run your finger across it. Strain the vase through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean container. Set container into an ice water bath, and stir it occasionally until base is cool. Remove container from the ice water bath, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
Freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer instructions. While ice cream is churning, put the container you’ll use to store your ice cream into the freezer. Add the chopped cherries at the very end or fold in by hand. Enjoy very soft ice cream right away, or freeze for at least 4 hours for a firmer ice cream.
*Use leftover cherry syrup in cocktails, swirled into club soda, or drizzled over vanilla ice cream.
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.