Sunday, March 2, 2008

Balsamic strawberry ice cream with black pepper

I wanted to make a strawberry ice cream while strawberries were still in season (They are still in season, right? I picked them up at the farmer's market, but that particular stall had a suspiciously broad range of produce and no farm name on a placard. I found the corn especially suspicious. Does anyone grow corn in south Florida? Can you grow corn in south Florida?), and, as usual, I had to do something to ruin the simple pleasure of a classic ice cream flavor.

Going into this I expected balsamic strawberry ice cream to be an overdone cliché on the foodie blogosphere (there are lots of folks who do stretches of slightly exotic ice cream recipes during the Summer), but I couldn't find more than one or two versions out there so there's still some point to adding my recipe.

After tossing the few groddy strawberries and eating a few of the others, my pint was down to 12 oz. Most strawberry ice cream recipes go with a full pound for three cups of dairy so I cut down to one cup of milk and a cup and a half of heavy cream.

As these were good quality fresh strawberries, I didn't want to cook them. Instead, I sliced them up and tossed them with a few splashes (1 1/2 Tablespoons?) of ten year old balsamic vinegar and a quarter cup of Splenda blend. Even if it wasn't the only bottle I have in the house at the moment, I think ten year aged balsamic would be the right choice for this recipe. It has some depth and richness of flavor but it isn't something fabulous that will get lost in the mix. As for the Splenda blend, I think I've mentioned before that I'm accommodating a diabetic coworker and I've found that the off-taste is undetectable in ice cream (although it does come out in simpler sorbets). A quarter cup is as sweet as a half cup of real sugar. Some strawberry ice cream recipes call for as much as three-quarters of a cup, but the strawberries and the vinegar are sweet too so I didn't want to overdo it. After tossing those ingredients together I let them macerate for a half hour or so.

Next I scalded the milk and cream and let it cool down to around 140 degrees F. Then I whipped two egg yolks with a third cup of the strawberry-balsamic liquid holding back any solids. I tempered the egg mixture, mixed it together with the dairy and brought it all back up to 170 degrees to create a custard. I was worried about the vinegar causing the milk to curdle, but in such small quantities it only helped in the thickening process. Many strawberry ice cream recipes call for lemon juice which has a similar effect. After cooling the mix in the refrigerator overnight I did notice some clumps at the bottom, but not a lot and they mixed back in easily in the churn. (This is in contrast to the black sapote sherbet I made a while back that had significant amounts of milk and orange juice. There were definitely gummy little bits in that. Not enough to ruin it, but it wasn't an ideal texture.) To avoid any problems along those lines I kept the rest of the strawberry mixture separate from the dairy until they went into the churn.

Before it went into the refrigerator for the night, I gave the strawberry mixture a quick turn in the blender. Not long enough to get it smooth, but enough to release more liquid. I only added about half of it to the dairy mixture for the final churning and reserved the rest for a topping. I also coarsely ground pepper into the churn as it was starting out. It's hard to say how much went in total; no more than a couple teaspoons at the outside I'd guess. It's supposed to be subtle.

The mix thickened up quite quickly and is one of the few mixes that actually succeeded in stopping the churn's motor. The motor was making some really unpleasant noises, though, so it may not have been working at full strength. I think it also helped that I turned down the thermostat in the refrigerator so both the mix and the bucket were extra cold to start out.

The texture and flavors were very nice right out of the churn. A strong strawberry flavor with unmistakable notes of balsamic and a slow burn from the pepper. That may mean that it will be too mild when fully ripened, though. I just tried a bit out of the freezer and discovered that it's frozen very solidly. I'll have to let a bowl sit out for a few minutes for a fair test after dinner.

OK, it's later now and I tried a bowl. The flavor wakes up after only a minute or two out of the freezer, but the texture isn't great. It goes straight from a crunchy solid to liquid without a creamy intermediate. I recall having this problem with homemade strawberry ice cream when I was a kid, too. Maybe it's because of the pectin in the fruit giving extra firmness to the mix? Or possibly the Splenda as sugar does have structural properties in ice cream. Microwaving the bowlful for ten seconds might defrost it more evenly and give a better result. I'll have to try that later. On the other hand, texturally, I like how you bite into a strawberry seed or two in each spoonful and then occasionally into a peppercorn. So, on the whole a success with reservations. It needs some tweaking for the ripened version but it was just fine as soft serve.


Sarah C. said...

Wow, the balsamic vinegar is really unexpected, although very good, addition!

billjac said...

It's a classic combination from Modena, where balsamic vinegar originated, but I don't think it's been seen much in the U.S. until the last couple of decades. American cooking generally keeps our sweets straightforwards, but I think adding another dimension or two makes it more interesting.

Now, my next ice cream I promise to be a genuinely innovative flavor combination.