Banana Buttermilk Gelato

The other day, I was telling my friend Claire about my new gelato machine. My beautiful new gelato machine which was at that very moment being shipped to my doorstep so that I could make buckets of real, no fooling, Italian-style ice cream. She asked what I would be making for my first gelato and I said, “Oh, I don’t know, maybe a straciatella, something simple to start with, nothing fancy.” Okay, so first of all, listen to what a food snob I am! Straciatella is chocolate chip. Good grief. And second, I am going to make a simple gelato for my first batch? Really? It’s like I’ve never even met me.

So, back to this gelato machine. Now, I already have a countertop ice cream maker with a bowl that goes in the freezer. It has been my tried and true compatriot for many years now. I love that thing and it is not going anywhere. But in researching the difference between ice cream and gelato (small window into my spare time), I discovered that one of the key factors is how it is churned. You need less air getting into mixture. My countertop ice cream maker would never get it right. I would need a completely different machine. Damnit.

I hemmed and hawed. I researched. I thought, yeah, one day. And then I bit the bullet. The DeLonghi GM6000 Gelato Machine now sits on my counter. Oh my.

The machine came with a recipe book. I figured this was the best way to get the proportions right for my first go-round. It is a smaller bowl than my ice cream maker so my normal preparations would be too large for this batch. I flipped through the booklet and saw Banana Gelato. I happened to have six blackened bananas sitting on my countertop. Oh, I should put some of those in the freezer. Just a moment….okay, we’re back.

Now, the recipe instructed me to combine half the sugar, banana pulp and lemon juice in a blender and then mix in the cream, milk, vanilla and remaining sugar. Very simple. Too simple. I mean, why would you just blend the sugar and banana when you could cook them on the stove top first until they were all caramelized and gorgeous? And why would you only use white sugar when you could do half white and half brown? And I have buttermilk that only has a few more days of value. Some decisions just make themselves.

And the result…is pretty damn good. It was a little icy, which I think was because I did not let my mixture chill enough before putting it into the machine. Lesson learned. But I am going to have some fun with this machine. I can tell already.

Banana Buttermilk Gelato

Two ripe bananas
1/3 cup light brown sugar*
Juice of one lemon**
1/3 white sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk, well shaken***
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste****

Peel and slice two ripe bananas. (I remove half the peel and use the other half as my mini-cutting board to slice the banana. Especially with ripe bananas that are a bit mushy.)

Put the bananas in a small saucepan with the brown sugar and cook over medium heat for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until sugar melts and has a few minutes to bubble and caramelize. Pour mixture into a blender and add lemon juice. Blend until smooth.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, milk, white sugar and vanilla bean paste until smooth. Pour in the banana mixture and stir to combine. Taste it. Make your decisions about levels of sugar and lemon and adjust mixture accordingly.

Chill your mixture, either by refrigerating for an hour or two or stirring over an ice bath for fifteen minutes.

Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker (or brand new gelato machine!) and churn according to manufacturer instructions. (Try not to hover over the machine staring the entire time. Or do. I felt reasonably okay about doing so.)

The only way to determine if your gelato has achieved proper consistency is to taste it. (No, really, there is noooooo other option. You must.) When it is finished, pour it into a container and stick in the freezer.

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* Did you know how easy it is to make brown sugar if you have white sugar on hand? Light brown sugar is one cup of white sugar plus one tablespoon of molasses. Dark brown sugar is one cup white sugar plus two tablespoons of molasses. You can mix it together by hand or in an electric mixer (so much easier). Unfortunately, I know of no way to help you if you need white sugar and only have brown sugar. In that circumstance, I think you need to find a store.

** Ugh, I absolutely hate that recipes are always saying “Juice of one lemon” as if every lemon were the same size and contained the same amount of juice. Be specific! So, uber kitchen nerd that I am, I like to measure the juice of each lemon that I am using so I know what I am using for next time. (And by “like to” I mean I just decided today to start doing that from now on.) I have a little shot glass that is actually a tiny measuring cup and measures liquid teaspoons and tablespoons. It is adorable and super useful and I have no idea where I got it. But I can tell you that the lemon that I used today had 2 1/2 tablespoons worth of juice in it.

*** If you want to make this and don’t have any buttermilk on hand, did you know you can make your own buttermilk in about fifteen minutes? Combine one cup of milk with one tablespoon lemon juice and let stand for 10 – 15 minutes until it curdles slightly. (The longer you let it stand, the thicker it will be, though I have never gotten it to achieve the thickness of store bought buttermilk.)

**** I have spoken of my great love for vanilla bean paste, which is especially fabulous in ice cream, but yes, you can use vanilla extract here.

Final thought: I hate myself for not adding some salt here. The gelato recipe booklet did not say anything about salt, but how, HOW could I have not thought to add any? Next time, I am adding at least a pinch of salt. Maybe even a 1/4 teaspoon. Also, maybe some dark chocolate chips. Oh, so many possibilities.

Browned Butter Pecan Ice Cream

I do not think I ever ate Butter Pecan Ice Cream as a child. If I did, I have no memory of it, but I suspect that I did not. I had a pretty narrow palate as a child. Which is the nice way to say that I was a fanatically picky eater. The narrow palate (aka childish fear of new foodstuffs) stayed with me well into adulthood. It wasn’t until I started cooking that my palate expanded. New food scared me a lot less when I had control over it. Now, I’ll try just about anything, especially if I get to make it myself.

So my first memory of eating Butter Pecan Ice Cream was the first time that I made some. I remember being impressed at what a sneaky spoonful it was. The full flavor doesn’t hit you right away. It comes in waves. First the cream, then the butter, then the sugar, and finally the pecans. The first time that I made it, I served it was peaches painted with butter and cooked on the grill and a shot of bourbon on the side. It still ranks among the best desserts I have ever made.

But I am not here to rest on my laurels. (Side note: When it was originally coined, that phrase was complimentary. Someone rested on their laurels when they had earned the right to do so and good for them. It was somewhere around the 19th century that it took on a disapproving edge. I really want to bring back the old meaning. I want people to call and ask me what I’m doing on Friday night and I will say, “Nothing, I’m gonna stay in and rest on laurels.” Okay, side note over. Thanks for sticking with me there.) No resting on laurels! I thought of two simple ways to take this ice cream up a notch. First, brown the butter. Second, candy the pecans.

Okay, I did not get what the big deal was with browned butter at first. Largely because I kept making a rookie mistake and burning it. Burnt butter is no good, no good at all, why would you eat that? But then I learned a simple trick. The butter burns easily because it starts browning after it foams up, making it difficult to see how brown the butter has actually gotten. So, as soon as you think maybe the butter has browned enough, remove the pan from the heat and pour the butter off into a non-reactive dish. If it wasn’t quite there yet, you can pour it back in the pan and cook it a little more, but immediately removing it from not just the heat source but the hot pan will keep it from burning. And properly browned butter, where the milk solids have separated and turned amber, is a thing of genius.

So, browning the butter seemed like a no-brainer as far as kicking this ice cream into high gear. It was the candied pecans I was worried about. Would that be overkill? There is a fine line with desserts. It doesn’t take much to make it too sweet, too rich. Do I really need to take this step? I wasn’t convinced, even though this particular method for candying nuts, based on a recipe from Smitten Kitchen, always yielded such amazing things. I decided to try. Since the nuts didn’t go in until the very end, I could make the nuts and the ice cream base and taste the two together before I combined them. If it was a total failure or cloyingly sweet, I could just leave the candied nuts for other things and add some plain roasted pecans to the ice cream. So that is what I did. As soon as the ice cream finished churning, I took a spoonful and dropped a few candied nut pieces on top and took a bite. And immediately dumped the rest of the nuts into the ice cream because holy smokes this is seriously good.

Browned Butter Pecan Ice Cream
(Adapted from Tasting Table)

6 egg yolks
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
¾ cup candied pecans, chopped (see recipe below)

In a small sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it begins to foam. Once it begins to foam, stir constantly,scraping any solid bits from the bottom of the pan. Once the solids brown and turn an amber color, remove the pan from the heat and pour the butter into a non-reactive bowl. (I use a pyrex measuring cup here.) Set aside to cool.

Whisk together egg yolks and set aside.

Combine 1 cup heavy cream, milk, sugar, salt, and vanilla in a medium sauce pan. Heat over medium heat until sugar melts but do not let it boil. Using a metal small measuring cup or ladle, add the warm mixture to the egg yolks, whisking constantly, until you have added about half the milk mixture to the eggs. Then pour that back into the saucepan and cook, whisking constantly.* Cook the custard until it thickens. (If you have a good thermometer, cook until it registers 170 degrees. If not, you want to cook it until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon. Dip the spoon and then run a finger across the back. If a clear line appears, it is done. Take pan off heat and set aside.

Pour remaining cup of cream into a bowl set over an ice bath. Set a mesh trainer over the bowl and pour the custard in. Stir the mixture over the ice bath until it cools. Then put it in the refrigerator to finish chilling. (I usually give it at least a few hours. The longer it chills, the better the texture.)

Once the ice cream has finished chilling, churn it in the your ice cream maker for 20 to 30 minutes, until it reaches the desired texture. Then pour it into storage container and stir in chopped pecans. Freeze at least three hours before serving.

* If you have a silicon whisk, this is the place to use it. A silicon whisk won’t damage the saucepan. If you don’t have a silicon whisk, then you can use a wooden spoon.

Candied Pecans
(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

1/3 cup dark-brown sugar
2/3 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 lb. pecan halves
1 egg white**
1 tablespoon warm water

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees and line a 9×9 square cake pan*** with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk together the sugars, salt, paprika and cinnamon.

In a separate bowl, mix the egg white and water together with a fork until it foams slightly and stiffens.

Place the pecans in a large bowl. Add egg white mixture and stir to coat the pecans. Add the sugar mixture and stir to coat.

Spread the nuts out in the cake pan and roast for 30 minutes, stirring at 15 minutes and again as soon as they come out of the oven. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes and then dump into a bowl and break apart clumps.****

** Reserve the egg yolk for use in the ice cream base.

*** The original recipe for these nuts appeared on Smitten Kitchen and she encouraged that you spread the nuts out onto a baking sheet and avoid crowding. I completely disagree on this point. Crowd these nuts onto a smaller sheet! You need to stir them more often when roasting them but the result is a better spice coating on the finished nuts.

**** This recipe creates many many more nuts than you need for the ice cream, but the nuts are amazing. Eat them on their own or sprinkle them on your oatmeal.

Chocolate Hazelnut Rosemary Ice Cream

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.

Ingredients

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.

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* 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.