on custards

I started to make strawberry ice cream last night. Tonight i need to put it in the ice cream maker and let it do its thing. But i’m not holding my breath that it will turn out. Why?

I love making ice cream, and i’d like to think i’m pretty good at it. in all honesty, making ice cream is not all that hard. The only hard part is making sure that the custard doesn't split on you while you’re at the stove.

But yesterday, the custard would not get custardy. It just wouldn't thicken the way it’s supposed to. I brought it to a point, after a super long time standing at the stove, where i knew it just wouldn’t thicken up anymore, so i pulled it off the stove and mixed in the strawberry puree. All that is now in the fridge waiting for me to chuck it into the Krups.

I’m actually kind of annoyed because i spent all my free time yesterday scouring the web and again at home looking through cookbooks for a certain strawberry ice cream recipe that i swear i saw someplace last week. It had all the usual components of heavy cream (or half & half) and egg yolks, but in addition to the bunches of strawberries, it had 2 tablespoons of crème de cassis. I know i can’t possibly have dreamed that up. I saw it someplace, but where? I checked all the food magazines in the house, the ones stacked up haphazardly in the downstairs bathroom too; i checked the web like mad. And nothing came up. i just wanted to re-read the recipe and see how different it was (if any) from the one i used yesterday. I’m sure i could have just chucked in the cassis with the strawberry puree, but seeing as i’m not 100% sure this batch will turn out, i didn’t want to waste any cassis. I only have about a ¼ cup’s worth of the cassis that Mothra brought me back from Bourgogne, and i’m trying to save it for something good.

My take on ice cream is this: i don’t eat it very often, so when i do it has to be the Real Deal: full fat, egg yolks, sugar. Ice cream is a treat, and i want to ensure i get the best quality if i’m only going to eat it once in a blue moon. Actually, i feel this way about all desserts.

When i was very small, my dad would take us three kids to the Thrifty Drugstore in San Rafael, CA because they had cheap ice cream that came in all the favorite kiddie flavors. I don’t even know if Thrifty is still around, but they used this weirdly shaped ice cream scoop that dolled out cylindrical disk scoops. You could get up to three of those disks on your cone, but i think the most i ever got was two. I always got Rocky Road and strawberry. And it always melted faster than i ate it. i would sit there on the curb outside next to my brother (he was a 3-scooper) and we would try to beat the melting by eating as fast as we could, but always ended up with ice cream all over the pavement.

If this strawberry ice cream recipe works out, i’ll post it tomorrow. I won’t bother with posting a recipe that doesn’t work.

But – because i’m not evil and i won’t leave you hanging - i’ll post instead my recipe for crème brulée, the recipe i’ve been using for years which has never ever failed me. The ingredients list and basic technique are ridiculously similar to ice cream making.

2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 ½ tablespoons vanilla extract (or if you want, 1 vanilla bean, split open and seeds extracted with the tip of your knife)
5 egg yolks
sugar (for dusting on top of finished product)

Preheat oven to 325°F and put four ramekins (i use these, although i think mine might be a little bigger) in a larger baking pan, like the size of a lasagna pan.

In a large saucepan, mix the cream, sugar and vanilla. Bring mixture to a simmer, while stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once it gets to a simmer, cover the pan, reduce heat to low, and leave it alone for 10 minutes. Strain into a bowl.

Whisk the yolks in another bowl until well blended. Gradually whisk in the hot cream mixture. Return mixture to first bowl and fill the ramekins. Put the larger pan into the oven and then add enough hot water to come up about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. It’s much easier to add the water to the pan once it’s in the oven, but be careful not to splash any water into the ramekins.

Bake until the crème brulées are almost set in the center when gently shaken, about 25 to 30 minutes (this is really dependent on what kind of oven you have – it could go longer. Just keep checking). Remove ramekins from the water and let sit on the counter until you can actually hold them without burning yourself, then put them in the refrigerator to chill completely; overnight is best.

Right before you’re ready to serve, sprinkle a couple of teaspoons of sugar on top of each custard and either use your fancy blowtorch to scorch the top or put them under the broiler. If you’re going the broiler route, keep an eye on them – DO NOT WALK AWAY! This is not the time to go potty or start chatting away on the phone. The broiler can do some serious damage to your custards, so keep an eye on them and rotate them so that they will brown evenly on the top.

Once the sugar on top is caramelized, these won’t keep for long (the caramel will eventually become moist and rather gross). Without the caramel on top, the custards will keep for a few days in the fridge, but i wouldn’t keep them for more than 3 days as they could develop some funky ass flavors from having sat next to your jar of pickles or tub of garlic spread. Trust me on this, i speak from experience.

If you want to make a big tub of this rather than individual ramekins, lets say for a crowd at Thanksgiving, double the recipe and instead of dividing it up, pour it into a Pyrex or Corningware-type container (which fits into your lasagna pan), and follow the directions about filling the pan with water, yadda yadda; but cook it at least 15 to 20 minutes longer (it might even take longer than that).

One of my favorite sounds in the world is the sound the spoon makes when cracking into the top of the custard.

Go. Eat. Be happy.

above image of strawberries from stock.xchng


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