First there was steak. Then there was ice cream.
I never used to cook. I mean, I heated things. I cooked noodles and poured canned sauce over them. I slapped deli meat between bread. I zapped things in the microwave. I forced down salad mixes when I felt that green things were absolutely necessary. Mostly, I just ate out. Cooking was something I never knew how to do and I assumed I would never be able to do well.
And then I got a Weber charcoal grill. There were two items that changed everything about the way that I relate to food, and the first was that grill. The grill was exciting because grilling was easy. I had seen my dad grill as a kid. You bought some meat, you slapped it on there, and cooked it until it was done. Nothing to it. I could handle that. And I discovered that yes, that was correct, you could make simple, edible food that tasted just fine with little effort on a grill. But then I got curious. How did a person make one of those steaks? You know, the kind where you used your veggies and bread to sop up every last bit of meat juice on your plate, unwilling to let a bit of it go. I wanted to make that. So I started reading how people did that. Cut to three years later and I was waking up at 5 am on Thanksgiving morning and covering my dining room table in plastic wrap so I could assemble a turducken from scratch. Sometimes things escalate quickly.
The second item that changed everything came almost a year after the grill. I had spent that first summer grilling up a storm, but grilling during the winter in Chicago exceeded even my enthusiasm. I spent the winter doing other kinds of cooking, but when winter started winding down, I became excited by the prospect of grilling again. I had ideas about the kinds of things I wanted to attempt and thought maybe some new toys for my kitchen would aid me in that endeavor. While wandering the kitchen supply section of a department store, I saw an ice cream maker.
I had no idea how a person went about making ice cream. The box said it was easy. Figuring out the steak thing had been easy once I put my mind to it. Surely, I could figure out ice cream. So I bought a countertop ice cream maker, went home and started reading. I quickly found a ricotta chocolate chip ice cream recipe, which required that you add a simple syrup to a ricotta and cream mix and then stir in the chocolate at the end. I tried it. I was so excited by the whirling new machine that I forgot to add the simple syrup. But one of the reasons why cooking burrowed quickly into my heart is that I never found failures dispiriting. They induced the occasional tantrum but, in the long run, kitchen failure always made me want to try again. So the kitchen quickly became the place where I was the happiest. Because failure didn’t bother me there. Failure was a sign that whatever I was attempting was asking more of me. And I found that more often than not, I could rise to meet the challenge.
And so the ice cream making began. Every time I would grill, a new ice cream would appear on the menu. Sure, classics like Vanilla Bean made regular appearances, but there was also Butter Pecan, Cinnamon Whiskey, Lemon Ginger, and Chocolate Rosemary. If you want to learn how to make ice cream, the best advice I can give you is to buy David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop and make everything in it at least once. That is how I learned.
And what I learned is that the ice cream that I like is a custard-based ice cream that follows a core recipe. One cup milk, two cups cream, ¾ cup sugar, and five egg yolks. You set aside one cup of cream and mix the rest in a pot with a pinch of salt. You heat it up and then add whatever your base ingredient will be — herbs, seeds, nuts. After the steeping is done, you remove the flavoring agent and reheat the base. You use it to temper the yolks, add the yolks to the mix and make your custard. Once the custard is done, strain it into the bowl with the cup of cream that you set aside. Chill in the fridge, usually overnight. Then mix in the ice cream maker. There are other small variations and variables, but basically that is what you need every time. Once you learn to master the core process, you can make anything.
The recipe below is a combination of two of my favorite recipes – a hazelnut chocolate gelato from Mr. Lebovitz and a milk chocolate rosemary ice cream. Sometimes, you add two things you love together and the end result is too much. Like when I tried to put goat cheese ice cream between two chocolate chip cookies. It was overkill. But this recipe is a lovely marriage of flavors. It is a big warm blanket of an ice cream bowl. I served it was rosemary madeleines. We will get to the madeleines later.
1 ½ cups hazelnuts, toasted and finely chopped*
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream, separated
¾ cup sugar (150 g)
½ teaspoon coarse salt
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped and pod reserved
2 sprigs rosemary
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa**
5 egg yolks***
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
Pre-heat oven to 350 degree and toast hazelnuts on baking sheet, stirring once or twice. As soon as nuts are out of the oven, remove skins using a clean towel. Put hazelnuts in food processor and grind to a fine chop (but not a powder).
Combine milk, 1 cup of cream, sugar and salt in saucepan. Warm, stirring constantly until sugar has melted. Then remove from heat, add hazelnuts, vanilla bean seeds and pod, and two sprigs of rosemary, cover and let steep for one hour. (While steeping, chill medium sized mixing bowl in freezer.)
Just before the hour is up, prep your egg yolks. Whisk egg yolks together until mixture is smooth. Then pour second cup of cold cream into chilled bowl and set strainer above it. Set aside.
Once hour is up, set another strainer above empty bowl and strain milk mixture, pressing all liquid from hazelnuts. Discard hazelnuts and vanilla bean pod but rinse and reserve rosemary. Return milk mixture to pan. Whisk cocoa into milk mixture until all lumps are gone. Return mixture to heat. Temper yolks with ½ cup of warm milk mixture. Add heated yolks to pan and whisk constantly until mixture doubles in volume. Remove from heat. Stir in chopped chocolate until smooth. Mixture will be thick. Pour the second cup of cream into a bowl and place a strainer over it. Strain the chocolate mixture into the cream and stir. (If you want to speed the chilling, you can stir over an ice bath.)
Place reserved sprigs of rosemary on surface of mixture. Do not submerge! You will never get them out again without a lot of mess. Put mixture in fridge until chilled. (About two hours, but I usually just do it overnight and churn in the morning.) When chilled, carefully remove the rosemary sprigs and discard. Then freeze mixture in ice cream maker. Depending on how well chilled your mix was and how cold the freezer bowl was, the mixing should take about 20 minutes in a counter top ice cream maker.
Churn to desired consistency and place in the freezer. Or eat all of it immediately. That’s another option.
* Whenever you toast nuts, the amount of toasting time depends on a couple of factors – what vessel you are toasting them in (baking sheet versus pie dish versus cast iron skillet changes cooking time drastically) and how many you are toasting (crowding in a pan is never good but sometimes you only have one clean pan option and it is only this big so it is what it is), but my rule for toasting nuts is to set the oven timer for three or four minutes again and again, shaking the pan each time, until the nuts are where I want them to be. Also, removing the skins from hazelnuts is messy and annoying business. I am convinced that is the primary reason that they are not used as frequently as nuts like pecans. They are just messier. After they come out of the oven, as soon as you can stand to hold one in your hand, use a clean kitchen towel with some texture to it and work in handfuls to remove the skins. Scrub hard. It doesn’t matter if they break into pieces. You’re chopping them up anyways.
** I bake enough to justify the purchase of a massive bag of really good cocoa, and the Extra Brut cocoa from Cacao Barry Cocoa Powder is my personal favorite for quality at a reasonable cost. However, because of the extra dark richness of this cocoa, I usually swap in semi-sweet chocolate for the bittersweet to balance it out.
*** I am never as successful at making use of leftover egg whites as I wish were. Probably because the number one thing that people tell you to do with them is to make something with a meringue, and I’ve just never been a great lover of meringue. If I use the egg whites, it is in one of two ways. Either I will make an egg white omelet with lots of sauteed leafy greens and some lemon soaked shallots or I will make candied nuts. Smitten Kitchen (one of the best food blogs in existence) has an outstanding Sugar-and-Spice Candied Nuts recipe here that makes a regular appearance in my kitchen, but I also use the basic concept to make other nuts. Remind me to give you the recipe for the candied almonds with wasabi, cardamom and orange zest sometime.