Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Vanilla Ice Cream and Pistachio Ice Cream

Baking is how I show that I am a thoughtful and considerate person. Other bakers always realize the time and care that goes into a lovely and delicious baked treat. Non-bakers are precisely that because they realize the time and care that is required for such a creation. So when I was told I didn't need to make my dad a birthday cake to celebrate his #66, I was a bit disappointed. There isn't much my dad needs or wants by way of presents, and it always feels like a special gift when I can present a dessert that I've planned and worked on for hours or more.

What happened is actually a wonderful story, and of all possible reasons to preempt my cake for my dad, I'm glad this was why. But more on that in a minute. My plan had been a second rift on the peach cake. I loved the version made with peach sauce, but like I described in the post, it was a dense cake. I wanted to see if I could make something just as fruity but more pillowy. I happen to adore chiffon cake, and thought that could be a good place to start.

Chiffon cakes are made with oil (instead of butter) and lots of eggs beaten with lots and lots of air to make them rise tall. They have a very light and spongy mouthfeel that can be great with summer fruit toppings. I have made some wonderful citrus (orange, lemon, and lime) chiffon cakes. They are baked in a tube pan and generally not frosted, so in some ways can be less fussy than a layer cake. Their shape makes them a perfect platform for a drizzle of glaze and a mini-bouquet of fresh flowers or fruit bursting from the center. Or, in celebration of my cream-loving father's birthday, perhaps a scoop of homemade ice cream???

A comparison of many different flavors of recipes shows the proportion of ingredients unchanging... each with a substantial volume of liquid. To me, this seemed exactly how I could replace peach sauce into the batter to get the fruit flavor and sweetness without negatively affecting the texture.

So, I had my peach sauce bubbling on the stove when I got a phone call from my mom. "If you haven't already started dad's cake..."
"I haven't done anything that can't be preserved."
"We'll still want the homemade ice cream..."
She went on to tell me that a Japanese friend of hers had just taken the United States naturalization exam and become a citizen. The friend was so excited and wanted to share her joy. She brought my mom a loaf shaped cake decorated with an American flag.

The cake was actually quite good, but it tasted especially delicious since it represented how individuals can make a home and a life in the United States. Or, maybe it was my ice cream that tasted so delicious?

Vanilla Ice Cream
from Gourmet magazine
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk (I use 2 tablespoons of cream and top up to 1 cup with skim milk)
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 eggs (room temperature if possible)
2 teaspoons vanilla (I prefer clear Mexican vanilla extract)
1 scant tablespoon high-quality vodka

Heat until simmering cream, milk, sugar, and salt. In separate bowl, whisk together eggs. Slowly stir in 1/4 cup of hot cream mixture. Gradually whisk in remaining cream mixture and test temperature. If not 160 degrees, return to saucepan and heat - whisking constantly - until temperature reaches 160 degrees.
Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Chill mixture overnight. Stir in vodka. Freeze in ice cream maker. Serve right away for a soft-serve like consistency, or transfer to a container and freeze 1-2 hours or up to 1 week.

Pistachio ice cream
My first exposure to pistachio ice cream was in fourth grade when we made it in science class. The teacher is beloved for causing her students to virtually burst with excitment over science, but making ice cream in class didn't hurt her reputation. Sadly, I can't be sure what the science lesson was that day, but I'm pretty sure it had to do with the freezing temperature of salt water. In any case, I don't know how long it would have been otherwise before I would have heard of pistachio ice cream on my own, because my favorite was - and still is - vanilla. (see above)

Fast forward 23 years and it's more than probable that some pistachio gelato passed my lips in Italy. Given the number of stops we made for ice cream and that each stop generally included at least three and sometimes up to five different flavors, it's almost a statistical certainty that pistachio was a selection at one point. Again, sadly, I don't quite recall the details.

But when a friend recently mentioned that her favorite flavor of ice cream is pistachio, I jumped on the opportunity to make her some fresh. The key is to steep ground nuts in the cream mixture and then strain before churning for an intense flavor but ultra-smooth texture. I didn't want to mix in chopped nuts, so I just sprinkled them on top for serving.

Pistachio Ice Cream
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk (I use 2 tablespoons of cream and top up to 1 cup with skim milk)
1 1/3 cups pistachios
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 eggs (room temperature if possible)
1/2 teaspoons almond extract
1 scant tablespoon high-quality vodka

Grind nuts in food processor until they are a coarse meal. Heat to a simmer 1 cup cream and one cup milk with sugar and salt. Stir in ground nuts, cover, and allow to steep about an hour.
Pour mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove nut particles, add remaining one cup cream, then heat again to a simmer. Whisk eggs in a separate bowl and slowly whisk hot cream mixture into beaten eggs (doing this slowly prevents the eggs from cooking and forming curds.) Return the entire mixture to the saucepan and heat to 160 degrees, whisking constantly. Strain again into a clean bowl, stir in almond extract, and refrigerate at least 8 hours. Stir in vodka before churning. Serve topped with chopped pistachios.

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