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.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
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.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
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.