It's My Churn!
September 13, 2005

I lied to you my sweet eaters. I told you my next flavor was going to be coconut and, well, it just didn't happen. But if you care to pull up a napkin, I happen to have a very tasty excuse.

Right in the middle of my ice cream experimentation, I got the most tempting email from a reader. Taunja told me about a recipe from the Moosewood Restaurant New Classics cookbook called Muhallabia ice cream. To quote from Taunja's email:

Ok, the pudding is actually called Muhallabia Massawa after the Red Sea port city of Massawa. Apparently it is commonly served for dessert during Ramadan there. The Moosewood cooks thought 'hmmm, this would make good ice cream' so they came up with this recipe:

1 1/2 C. whole milk
1/4-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 C. sugar
4 egg yolks
1 C. heavy cream
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

It sounded so entrancingly mysterious and delicious that I had to make it right away. The only changes I made were: one, I continued to follow Alton Brown's standard 9-8-3-2-1 recipe (I wanted to keep a constant throughout all my ice cream experiments); and two, I had started using Straus Family Creamery half-and-half and heavy cream instead of the standard grocery store dairy products. I really jam on the old fashioned glass bottles. I even have a secret stash that I'm hiding from my husband. He wants me to turn them in to get the bottle deposit back but I'm quietly refusing. They're so cute -- I can pretend I'm Laura Ingalls Wilder! They also make great vases! Wait, did Laura Ingalls Wilder get her milk from a bottle or a tin pail back then? I can't rightly remember.

In fact, Straus is the secret ingredient in all my ice creams now. Down in San Diego, I was thrilled, if a little homesick, to find the familiar bottles of Straus Family dairy that we sell at the cheese shop. I knew the half-and-half to be lusciously smooth and velvety when added to my daily brown paper cup of steaming Blue Bottle coffee, so I could only imagine fantastic imaginings of what it would what happen when it was transformed into ice cream.

But back to Taunja's recipe suggestion. The people at The Evil Dr. Mathra's work went nuts for the Muhallabia ice cream. They all tried to guess what was in it, but no one managed to hit on cardamom. The cinnamon, well, that was an easy bet. People then guessed nutmeg because it's a natural pair with the cinnamon. However, cardamom is more of a citrus-y spice. It's added to Danish dough for flavor and also because it prevents the yeasty dough from rising too much. Bringing the two spices together in the medium of frozen cream and half-and-half resulted in a festive ice cream with a warming fall flavor that would be at home next to a hefty slice of apple, pecan, or pumpkin pie. Yes, ice cream can be warming. In way. Sort of. Just go with me on it.

I love coffee ice cream. I research, survey, taste test, and judge coffee ice cream. And when I say "judge," I mean that I line up individual bowls, wrap a towel around my eyes, and tell my cats (the courtroom) that THEY CAN'T HANDLE THE CAFFEINE! Now? I make coffee ice cream. Moving on from that Ramadanly treat, I embarked on creating a Serious Espresso Ice Cream. Not only did this flavor give everyone at my husband's office some serious jitters, but I probably clogged a lot of arteries as well. See, I had run short of my stock of half-and-half and decided to make this ice cream out of, wait for it, 100% Straus heavy cream. Can you dig it? Well, they did with spoons and they loved it. In fact, this batch was so dense, it was more gelato than ice cream. The grain was very compact and didn't have much air in it.

I made an interesting observation with my Serious Espresso Ice Cream (I'd call it SEIC but it sounds like some bright yellow undersea exploration vehicle) that made me question my decision to use Straus products. After almost every initial and subsequent tasting of a new flavor, my husband and I noticed little bits of something left behind on the spoon. They weren't bits of solids from the flavorings and they definitely weren't ice crystals, they were more like...fat bubbles? I know it sounds gross but they didn't melt and I can't figure out what else it could have been. Another reason why I had pinned this down as fat bubbles is because of what often happens to Straus products. It's something I don't really know how to get around.

The first time I used Straus for ice cream, I noticed that after a few days in my fridge -- maybe they were even like this in Whole Foods -- the cream and half-and-half had solidified just as if they were frozen. I set them on the counter, hoping they would liquify at room temperature, but after several hours, all they had done was separate into a top layer of yellowish oily stuff and a bottom layer of chunky creamy stuff. Because I put a lot of faith in my nose, I know that they products hadn't spoiled or otherwise gone bad. I figured vigorously shaking the bottles or whisking their contents in a gently simmering pan was my best bet to emulsify the dairy products. It appeared to work with a minimal golden sheen of butter fat floating on the surface but then, after churning and freezing, I got the bubbly spoon again. Next, I tried water-bathing the bottles (bottles halfway submerged in gently heated water) and it may have worked marginally better, but the only time I saw a complete lack of bubbly spoon was when I used 100% heavy cream in the Serious Espresso Ice Cream.

It's still a pickle.

I wanted to end the summer by conquering my issues with strawberry ice cream. A lot of you wrote in with very helpful suggestions, so I cudgeled the brain hard and started anew. Again, I macerated the summery strawberries in lemon juice and sugar, just as before. However, this time, I plunked everything in a pan over low heat. I carefully cooked the strawberries, sugar, and juices, until the fruit broke down a bit. Then I got a flash of insight. I decided to add a spoonful of Smuckers seedless strawberry jam. Something in my head told me -- totally unbacked up by scientific research on my part -- that the thickening pectin in the jam might somehow protect the fresh strawberries from getting too crunchy-frozen. It was a calculated risk. Next, I took my beloved hand-blender and partially puréed the mess of strawberries, liquid, and jam just enough to still leave a sufficient amount of sizable strawberry bits.

I made the custard base as per 9-8-3-2-1 usual and let everything come to room temperature before the chilling process. Right before churning, I added the mess of chilled strawberries to the chilled custard and stirred until all was fully combined and fully pink. It was a lovely pink. It was the pink of imminent success. I churned for 30 minutes and froze. Ah, what delights! What raptures! What wonderful...strawberriness we tasted! It was well-received by Mathra's co-workers who proclaimed it a major improvement over my first strawberry attempt. With that and my triumph of the crust, I could leave San Diego satisfied.

Now, my next flavor really will be coconut! Unless I feel the motivated by San Francisco's foggy chilliness to embrace the autumnal pumpkin. No! It shall be coconut! One last grasp at tropical summer before we hunker down in jeans, chunkified sweaters, and long, dark bottles of clovey Aventinus!

In other news...

...I wrote about Martha Stewart's new talk show Martha and about sinfully succulent Phil's B.B.Q. over at Bay Area Bites

...and the good and dedicated posters at Television Without Pity have raised over $30,000 in Katrina relief efforts! That's a lot of snark for their buck.

...I'm wedging in some shifts at Ye Olde Stanke Cheeseshop between developing writing gigs. Lord, how I missed that stinky place and my stinky fellow cheesemongers. Plus, so many new cheeses to learn about!

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