Jan. 3rd, 2015

How has it been five months since I last posted about my experiments in frozen desserts?

apple calvados sorbetLast fall I was casting about for some frozen dessert ideas that would be both seasonal and edible by my vegan sweetie. It turns out there's a page of delectable-looking autumnal sorbets out there. Though I'll also want to try making the Cardamom Pear Sorbet, I went with Calvados and Apple Sorbet this time. The recipe is simple, and the flavor was crisp and refreshing (in an autumnal sort of way :) ) with both apple and Calvados flavors coming through along with the lemon juice and zest called for by the recipe. The texture was too hard and icy to be scoopable, so it was a step backward texture-wise from the raspberry sorbet I'd made following America's Test Kitchen's carefully calibrated instructions. ATK's tips suggest that adding corn syrup and/or more sugar would have produced a softer texture.

chocolate soy vegan "ice cream"Next I wanted to delve into the world of vegan "ice cream." Many vegan ice cream recipes call for a base of coconut milk and/or cream, which unfortunately doesn't agree with aforementioned sweetie. I found this chocolate vegan ice cream recipe and between the top photo on that page and the soy base, I was sold. Also, using tofu to make ice cream sounded intriguing. I didn't care for the "diet-friendly" aspects of the recipe, so I used regular instead of light soymilk and sugar instead of stevia. Also, because apparently I just can't leave a recipe alone once I start tinkering with it, I used Dutch-process cocoa powder instead of regular cocoa powder to intensify the chocolate flavor. The result turned out with a rich chocolate flavor and an acceptable—if not as creamy as dairy—texture. I'd make it again.

At Thanksgiving I solicited requests from my family for a Christmas-time ice cream and got one for chocolate hazelnut ice cream. Most recipes for this start with Nutella, but this one starting with whole hazelnuts promised it was better. Plus, bins of whole, in-the-shell hazelnuts had appeared at my local grocery store. Here's where I have to admit that I'd never cooked with hazelnuts before and assumed the recipe would tell me whether and when to shell them. Luckily my folks were visiting and clued me in before I pressed the button on a food processor full of hazelnuts still in their shells. That was close! I started shelling and soon found that I now had well under the pound of hazelnuts called for. Do you know how long it takes to shell enough hazelnuts to produce a pound?

The recipe instructs, "In a food processor, grind hazelnuts until they form a paste, about 5 minutes. Hazelnuts will first grind into tiny crumbs, then clump into an oily ball, then break down into an oily paste." The small food processor I was borrowing didn't have an on/off switch, just a pulse button, and I was probably afraid of burning it out by running it too long continuously (I was borrowing one because my previous one met its demise when I overtaxed it). So I don't know if the pulses added up to 5 minutes, but I did it for what felt like a long time and never came up with anything like a "paste," just an oily clump of tiny crumbs. Though I would later press the base through a strainer, many of the crumbs were too tiny to strain out and ended up affecting the texture. The resulting ice cream was rich with chocolate and hazelnut flavor, but what would have been a smooth texture was compromised by the ubiquitous tiny hazelnut crumbs.

This recipe never asked me to get in-the-shell hazelnuts. I'd figured they must be like chestnuts, available for a short time of the year, not available packaged in an equivalent form. Wrong. So I don't blame the recipe for that or my near-miss in the shelling department. But the difficulty of transforming hazelnuts into a smooth paste would keep me from trying this recipe again. For the love of everything that is cold, creamy, and delicious, next time I'd just start with Nutella.

rosemary walnut ice creamThat brings us to my latest batch. Having made ice creams and sorbets for other people for so long, I wanted to get back to trying something I thought I would really like. Thinking back to my early experiments with thyme and lavender, I tried this recipe for rosemary walnut ice cream. Its use of cornstarch seemed a little unusual, but especially compared with the previous ice cream experiment, it was refreshingly straightforward. The result is creamy with a pleasant rosemary flavor and crunch of walnut pieces. I'd certainly make this again.

Updated to add: I forgot to mention the maple-fig ice cream I made for a friend for Halloween! I skipped the toasted pine nut garnish. I don't really go for figs, so I didn't try the ice cream, but I solicited reviews from its partakers. From the recipient:
I thought it tasted great! I love maple syrup/sugar and thought that worked really well with the figs. I thought the sauce was really good, but worked best in moderation. Too much sauce was overwhelming, like too much sugar or something. Texture was great- it was definitely a softer ice cream, but some of that may have been how much my freezer door was open around Halloween. There were some seeds, especially in the sauce, but that's not a big factor for me. If anything, I kind of like seeds, especially if they add flavor. Because it was softer, it was pretty easy to scoop, but I guess it didn't make for a nice tidy discrete little ball of ice cream- might have been difficult to get in a cone, I guess is what I'm trying to say, if that kind of thing matters at all. It didn't bother me much since I was usually just attacking it with a spoon. I think the ice cream could have stood for more fig. The maple can be too sweet, almost cloying and figs are sweet-ish already, so I'd go more fig, maybe a little less maple, were you to make it again. Please?
And from another taster:
I liked everything about the maple fig. Wasn't as big a fan of the sauce, but the ice cream was good on its own. I'm not really sure what I didn't care for about the sauce. It wasn't horrible. Just a bit much on the ice cream?


So that was a success!

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