Friday, April 20, 2012

Whole Foods Friday: Chocolate ice cream and caramel sauce

I love making ice cream. I can create crazy flavors, if I want to, or I can stick to basics. For me, a basic flavor is chocolate. This ice cream isn't just chocolate, though - it's CHOCOLATE. It shouts from the rooftops.

Not only is the flavor deep, the ice cream itself is thick and rich. The base is a custard and depending on how much you let it thicken, you could serve it as-is. There's nothing at all wrong with chocolate custard. But churn it into ice cream, and you bring it to another level.

The one pitfall you might run into with this recipe is that if the custard sets up too firmly, your ice cream maker might have issues churning it. But that's easy to fix. If the custard doesn't thin out enough when you whisk it, you can add a little extra heavy cream to get it to the right consistency.

Dark Chocolate Ice Cream

3/4 cup cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
4 egg yolks
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 tablespoon vanilla

Combine the sugar, salt and cocoa in a saucepan. Whisk them together to get rid of any lumps in the cocoa. Add the milk and cream, whisk to combine, and turn the heat to medium. Cook, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Continue cooking, stirring as needed until the mixture comes to a simmer.

Meanwhile, whisk the yolks to break them up, and chop the chocolate into small pieces. A serrated knife does a great job with chocolate.

When the milk mixture reaches a simmer, turn the heat off and ladle some of the hot milk into the yolks, slowly, mixing continuously, until you've added about a cup of milk and the yolks are warmed.

Pour the warmed yolks back into the pot slowly, whisking continuously, Turn the heat back on, up to medium, and cook, stirring with a spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens - you'll feel the mixture thicken as the spoon drags through it.

If you run your finger across the back of the spoon, you should see a clear line where you wiped the spoon.

Turn the heat off, add the chocolate, and stir until it is completely combined. Add the vanilla and stir it in.

Strain the mixture through a fine strainer (to remove any lumpy egg bits) to a storage container and refrigerate until it is fully chilled.

When you're ready to churn the mixture, whisk it - this should loosen it up a bit. If it seems too thick to churn in your machine, add some heavy cream and whisk it in. Churn it according to your ice cream maker's instructions.

How About Some Sauce?

Might as well make some sauce for the ice cream. This is a relatively thin sauce - very pourable - but when you pour it over cold ice cream to serve, it will get thicker. If the sauce was thicker to begin with, it might be too thick on the ice cream.

Sugar is a tricky thing to work with. In theory, you don't need to add the water - you can melt sugar in a dry pan. If you're super-confident, you can do that. But sugar burns easily, and there's always the risk that you'll burn some of the sugar before the rest is completely melted, and then you'll have to start over. Burned sugar tastes bitter.

Trust me, I know. I've burned plenty of sugar.

Caramel Sauce

1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup water
4 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put the sugar, salt, and water in a heavy bottomed-pot with a lid. Slap the lid on and turn the heat up to medium, or just a bit lower. Cook until the sugar is melted - you'll know because the liquid will be completely clear. It might be turning a little golden, but it won't be cloudy.

Meanwhile, combine the cream with the vanilla and set aside until you need it.

Take the lid off and continue cooking. Don't stir it, just leave it be. Cook until the mixture turns a nice amber color. Even though you're not touching it, you do need to watch it - the sugar can go from nicely browned to burned in a heartbeat.

Add the butter and whisk it in completely. The mixture will foam up. That's fine.

Turn the heat off and add the cream, whisking as you go. The mixture might seize up for a while, but it will smooth out again. If you need to, you can turn the heat on again to get it all completely combined.

Let it cool a bit, then transfer it to a container for storage. A pint canning jar works well. Keep refrigerated.

And Now For the Topping

What the heck. We've got ice cream and sauce. Might as well make whipped cream so we can have a sundae.

I used to use an electric mixer to make whipped cream. I've also got one of those nitrous dispensers. I've used my stand mixer, too. But really it doesn't take all that long to use hand whisk and whip it up. The only danger is that if you whip it too much, you could end up with butter instead of whipped cream. It's a little harder to over-do by hand.

I don't like my whipped cream really sweet, but that's something you can adjust when you make your own. In this case, with ice cream and sweet caramel, I didn't think it needed to be really sweet. If I was serving it with a tart cherry pie, I might want a sweeter whipped cream.

But that's part of the fun of making your own - you can make it the way you like it, and flavor it the way you like it. This time, I used vanilla powder instead of vanilla extract.

Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla powder

Combine the heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla powder in a medium bowl. Whisk until it's as thick as you like.

For the finished sundae, I garnished with some chocolate pearls for a little crunch. Shaved chocolate or sprinkles would be great. Or, how about a fresh strawberry?