Prune and Sherry Ice Cream
What's ice cream doing in a blog that deals with fake fabrics, murders, and opinions on all manner of wacky things, you ask?
Every blog, no matter how serious, must come up from time to time to catch a breath of the air out there. For me that includes ice-cream making, which I considered seriously a few years ago when I was eating excellent ice cream but rebelling at the price. I can do it about as well as these guys, I muttered, frequently - and pointlessly, as I had no way of proving my puffery.
Then one of my darling daughters gave me an Ice Cream Maker - I capitalize the words to indicate the seriousness of the tool I was given. Anyone can stick liquids of various sorts in the freezer and hope they come out somewhat scoopable. But an actual Ice Cream Maker requires one to approach more seriously the entire art of the frozen delight. Consider this (my preference, that is, you may have your own): Like jam, ice cream must be
|Ze doktor speaks!|
Possessed of a pleasing texture, and
Capturing the essence of the subject at hand.
I live in Canada where almost all commercially made ice cream is way too sweet (and it is worse south of the border!). Canadians are well-known to favour gooey, sticky, sweet ice creams/desserts, which is why, when one looks for fruit ice creams, one is almost always disappointed, just as North American jams are simply too full of high-fructose corn syrup and not enough of the fruit.
When we were making jams and jellies we held the proportions, wherever possible, as close to 50%-50% as we could. When biting into a glob of berry jam one wants to be able to taste the berry as well as its sweetness. In the same way one wants the ice cream to be sitting right at the intersection of sweet and tart. One wants to feel blissfull and almost ready to weep at the same time - the way one does when one has something utterly sour in one's mouth but it is exactly what is needed to cut through the heat and the sugar.
Well, enough of that.
To resume: ice cream must be sweet, and tart, and have a smooth, silky texture. It must taste as it is meant to, not sugary. It is not to have a granular texture, that's simply bad preparation.
And thus I began experimenting with the ice cream maker which worked like a charm and which has only the one drawback: it has no lid one can slap onto it - thus doubling as a proper ice cream container.
First ice cream: apricot. Not everyone in my family likes apricot - certainly not as much as I do. Decades ago we were able to get half-pound packages of fabulously huge Australian glaceed apricots, about six to a package, that were all of the above: sweet, tart, with great texture - and no leathery bits of skin that some processors neglect to remove. But we haven't seen them in a few years. Last time they appeared as a Christmas gift we were utterly shocked to find they cost over fifty dollars for a pound and a half from the only place that had them, which shall remain nameless, but may be recognizable if you think of their overpriced cookware and their chi-chi snob appeal. Exorbitant! The giver of the gift understood that we were concerned for the health of her pocketbook; we have since ignored their mention in holiday catalogues and gift suggestion lists. So one turns to the smaller Turkish apricot, ubiquitous in dried form, or - in a moment of desperation - to four-dollar-a pound French glaceed apricots, smaller, perhaps, but oooooooooooh soooooooooo wonderful.
Problem was, they did not yield the silken texture we were looking for. Back to the Turkish apricots. Very slow long cooking over gentle heat was the way to go; the skins slipped off nearly intact, the innards disintegrated almost entirely, and the resulting Philadelphia-style ice cream - apricot puree, sugar, cream - was bliss.
At the time we took home a couple of packages of apricots there was a special - three packages of dried fruit for ten dollars. There sat the lone(ly) cellophane bag of pruneaux d'Agen, shivering in anticipation of being neglected. We eyed the prunes; the prunes - I swear - eyed us, and before we knew it I had upended my glass of Pedro Ximenez sherry (rich, dark, pruney, raisiny, with an underlying tang and just a hint of a kick) into a glass bottle with the prunes.
Time passed slowly, measured by the twist of the wrist, the turning of the bottle upside down to ensure that the rich dark wine reached every part of the rich, dark prune. We whiled away the hours by recollecting the French name fracas when someone wanted to name their daughter Plum instead of Prune, which eventually led to the archaic French name laws being overturned, or possibly swept away for a bit, to be revisited later.
Over time the prunes and the sherry began to exchange characteristics and when, one day, the sherry no longer looked liquid but rather more like jelly, we knew its time had come.
You cannot rush this sort of process. If you wish to have prune and sherry, or prune and port, ice cream you should begin by macerating the prunes at least three or four months ahead of time. Think that's silly? By the time the prunes were ready their texture was meltingly soft. None of the occasional stringy texture that runs alongside the pit, no leathery skin. They required but a little whirl in the blender - one does not want them to be a mousse; that would be entirely characterless and detrimental to the finished product. One wants bits of prune to punctuate the smooth ice cream.
This is a custard-based recipe - custard has always been an irritant in our house. It will refuse to set properly, it may even have curdle, once, but frequently the result is blah and bland. But this was a new recipe - and the eggs were new. Not fresh
-new, but different
, from a different farm, Omega-3 eggs. They looked better, separated better, and mad an absolutely superb custard, which - believe it or not - did not form the nemesis of such squeamish cooks as I, a skin. Custard/pudding skin is one of the most horrible things one may encounter, short of an alien concocted in Hollywood. Let's leave it at that, explanations unnecessary and possibly liable to make one gag. The custard was absolutely perfect, skinless, cooled down entirely when in went the prune/sherry puree. From there into the Ice Cream Maker. Twenty-five minutes later, bliss. Of course with an amount of alcohol in the mix (even after all these months) the ice cream will not freeze rock solid but one doesn't want it to do so. The next day when the Official Taster lifted the lid she oooooohed and aaaaaaaaahed at the surface of the ice cream: smooth, not grainy, rich, somewhat yielding, prune-flecked. And the taste?
It is not an exaggeration to say that there are foods that can make one feel that one has approached the Divine, or that the Divine has decided to show us glimpses of the joy that awaits in Paradise -
The ice cream was perfection. It is also so rich that one cannot possibly eat the entire amount in one go, or two. One generous scoop - courtesy of a 1930s aluminum-handled ice cream scooper - is all one can manage. And that's as it ought to be. One shouldn't have to eat half a tub of ice cream before feeling that one has had a serving. Even at that, the half-tub is mostly air, gums, fillers, extenders, fakery meant to make one feel that one has had a serving of dessert when in fact one has been diddled. Again. Even the expensive ice cream manufacturers are relying on some of these fakers; one feels it in the weight of the container. Our prune and sherry ice cream is so heavy it requires both hands. The - admittedly smaller - tubs of commercially prepared ice cream, while still heavier than the dreck
that it is most people's misfortune to eat, are heavier than the "popular brands" but, weighed against home-made, they are short. They also have stronger machines that beat more air into the mix; one of their manufacturers told me, straight-faced, that this extra air was required to make the ice cream more scoopable.
Hm. Isn't it just as easy to take it out a minute earlier?
If it is the last thing you ever do, make your own ice cream. Just once. You will instantly grasp that
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your Pantry," to paraphrase William Shakspere (as correct as Shakespeare, btw). So why not taste them!???
Labels: Prune and Sherry Ice Cream