Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Strawberry Basil Ice Cream

When I first started food blogging, my main motivation was to share recipes that I often made at home so that my sister, who was away at college, could make them for herself without having to constantly call me. It's a lot more difficult to explain things on the phone. Blogging seemed like the perfect solution and it was; she made my rice & beans recipe all the time while she was at school. But because I was mostly sharing things I already knew how to make, I assumed that blogging would only last me a year or two at most and then I'd run out of things to share.

Fortunately, food blogging has taught me a lot more about food than I expected to learn and I've become a person who enjoys experimenting and I have a lot of fun making up my own recipes. I'm sure you've seen it a lot here; usually I'll start a post with something along the lines of, "I didn't know what to make so I just threw some stuff together and this is what happened!" Ooh, but let me just say that not all of these experiments are success stories; it's just that I only share the good ones here.

Today's recipe is a successful experiment. I was feeling a little bored and got that itch where I felt like I should be doing something with my hands instead of sitting like a blob on the couch. I went into the kitchen and snooped around. My sis and I had just gone grocery shopping in the morning and there was a pound of strawberries sitting in the refrigerator and they were calling out to me. I considered eating them but I knew that wouldn't sate my boredom. I realized we had a carton of heavy cream in the fridge too so I knew ice cream was the logical choice. I got all of the ingredients I thought I'd need and while I was digging through the crisper drawer to see if we had any lemons, I found a bunch of basil that was on its last legs. Since basil and strawberry are a lovely match - ever have a strawberry basil mojito? - I knew I had to use that basil up. Speaking of strawberry mojitos, I should probably share one of those here, right?
Ingredients [yields 2 to 3 pints]:
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
4 egg yolks
¾ cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 pint strawberries
bunch of basil (3 or 4 "stalks" or ½ cup leaves)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

*You could substitute the heavy cream and whole milk with 3 cups of half & half or use all milk or all cream if you want to change the fat content in either direction.

If you're looking for a good ol' classic strawberry ice cream you can omit the basil. I'm sure basil's feelings won't be hurt and neither will mine.
Start by adding the heavy cream and milk to a saucepan. Grab your basil; if you've only got the leaves you'll need about 1/2 a cup but if you've got the leaves on the stalk, you can just toss in 3 or 4 stalks. Gather up the basil in your fist and give it a few good squeezes to bruise the leaves and the stem which will release the essential oils and then toss the basil right into the cream and milk mixture. Since we're not chopping the basil up to stir into the ice cream (because it would turn black and look v. unappealing) we want to draw out the basil flavor without cutting it and bruising the basil is the way to do it. Your hand will smell amazing afterwards so it's a double win.

Pop the saucepan onto the stovetop and heat over a v. low flame until scalding. The low heat is important because it will coax more flavor out of the basil. It's kind of like making tea; the longer you let it steep, the more concentrated the flavor gets.
In a mixing bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, and salt and give it a good whisk until it's a lovely pale yellow. The pallor reflects how much air has been incorporated into the yolks. A deeper yellow obviously indicates less air and a beige color indicates lots of air. You're looking for a sunny pastel yellow for this ice cream base.
Grab your hot cream and add just a ladle-full to the yolk mixture and whisk quickly to carefully temper the eggs without curdling them. Keep whisking and adding the milk until it's all combined.
Pour the ice cream base back in the saucepan and heat over a low flame until it's thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. It's important to keep stirring and babysitting the custard at this point because if it heats too quickly or unevenly, the yolks may curdle which will basically mess up the ice cream. Even if you strain out the curdled bits, you'll taste that sort of sulfuric eggy yolky taste every time you take a bite of the ice cream. So, make sure to babysit the pot and stir it continuously.

Once the custard has thickened, pour it through a strainer to catch the basil. Set the custard set aside to cool.
Take about half of the berries and dice them into small pieces. Consider the fact that this is a frozen treat so you want to make sure the strawberry pieces are small enough that you won't chip a tooth if you try and bite into it once you're enjoying your ice cream. However, you don't want the pieces to be so miniscule that you can't tell that it's actually a fresh strawberry ice cream, you know what I'm saying?
The other half of the strawberries will get a quick cooking and a smash. Toss them into a saucepan and heat until they're warmed through and you hear them sizzling a bit. Then, take a potato masher and give them a good squishing until you've got something that resembles a strawberry jam. The goal here is to have a bit of mashed strawberries that can be mixed into the custard so that the custard will be all lovely and pink and taste like berries.

Add the strawberries - both the diced and the mashed - to the still-warm custard and stir through. The residual heat from the custard will soften up the fresh diced berries a little and the berries will start to flavor the base. Leave this to cool at room temperature for a while and then pop it in the fridge to chill for at least 4 hours or until it's good and cold.

Tip: you don't ever want to put any hot items into your fridge as it will drastically warm up the temperature inside and mess with your produce and eggs and anything else you need to keep chilled.
Once your custard has chilled - in my case I left the ice cream base in the fridge overnight, which I think you can tell by the quality and lighting of the photo diary I'm sharing - you can stir in the vanilla extract. The first time you swirl the spoon around, the custard should immediately go pink! It's a beautiful thing to watch happen. How much do you love that pale ballet pink color? I am smitten.
Add your ice cream base to your ice cream maker and make according to your manufacturer's instructions. Since the strawberries add a bit of volume to the ice cream base, depending on the size of your ice cream maker you might have to do this in two batches.
Scoop your ice cream into airtight containers and pop in the freezer to harden for 2 hours.
I feel like this is a slightly sophisticated take on strawberry ice cream, you know, because of the fresh herbs that went into flavoring the base, and it would be fun to serve as a dessert at a dinner party. Maybe you could quiz the adults on what they think that added floral flavor is and find out who has got the best palate. The prize? Another scoop of ice cream.
This ice cream is lovely and not overly sweet. The strawberry base is delicious and there's a good amount of fresh and floral flavor from the basil. The basil isn't by any means overpowering but you can definitely taste it. And now that the warm weather is here and hot weather is quickly approaching, I think those of us with ice cream makers will be breaking that thing out more and more often so why not start with this little goody?

Serve with a berry and basil garnish and impress the hell out of everyone. They'll all think that it's berry good. I'm sorry, I had to.
Here's the recipe page:

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