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.
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.