Sunday, May 11, 2008

Spiced caramelized pear ice cream

I have a mixed history with fruit ice creams. Banana works out great but other fruits tend to give grainy hard-freezing results. In an episode of Good Eats a few years ago Alton Brown talked about this: "the complex chemical composition of the bananas perfectly replaces the eggs that usually hold an ice cream together and provide it with a smooth mouth-feel." So, when I found a recipe in David Lebovitz's highly acclaimed and generally reliable The Perfect Scoop recipe book that uses pear the same way, I was pretty interested in trying it out.

On the other hand, I think Lebovitz made the recipe a little harder than strictly necessary and gave it a rather simple flavor profile. It's just pears, sugar and cream. Now if you've got perfectly ripe, heirloom pears whose flavors you want to highlight, why not? But I've got some fair-to-middling Bartletts from Publix so they could use a little help.

Here's my version:

3 medium ripe pears, peeled, cored and roughly diced in 1 cm cubes
3/4 cups (170 grams) sugar
1 Tablespoon (10-15 grams) honey
1 Tablespoon butter
2 pinches allspice
1 pinch cinnamon
1 dash powdered cloves
1 dash powdered ginger
2 cups heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
a few drops lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Spread the sugar in a large, nonreactive, heavy-bottomed saucepan or dutch oven. Add honey and butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring as butter melts and honey gets less viscous to moisten the sugar and help it to melt. (Lebovitz only used the sugar which requires a good bit of finesse to melt and caramelize without burning. The fructose in the honey and the fat in the butter break up the sucrose crystals in the refined sugar and get it in a liquid mood. The water in both helps dissolve the sugar too. They also buffer the impact of adding the pears which will cause straight sugar to seize up significantly worse than the mixture does.)

2. Continue stirring as the sugar melts until it is all liquid and the color has deepened to a deep amber. Stir in the pear pieces and the powdered spices. Some of the sugar will seize, but just keep stirring until it melts again. Cook for 10 minutes. The liquid won't be entirely evaporated but it should have thickened up a little.

3. Remove from heat, stir in 1/2 cup of the cream, then mix in the rest along with the salt, lemon juice (which is just to keep the pear from browning, not for flavor) and the vanilla.

4. Cool to near room temperature, blend until smooth and then pass through a strainer if you think you missed any tough bits when you cored the pears.

5. Chill to 40 degrees and then churn in your flashy new Cuisinart ice cream churn!

Before we get to how the ice cream turned out, take a look at the dashers in my old Deni and my new Cuisinart churns. It's a very complicated design and they're almost exactly the same. If Cuisinart doesn't own Keystone Mfg (who make the cut-rate Deni line of ice cream makers) they really ought to sue. Since the design isn't different, I'm hoping the higher quality manufacturing will keep it scraping down the sides of the bucket and mixing the frozen bits back in to seed the ice cream mix the way the Deni didn't (particularly as the design of the Cuisinart precludes me getting a spatula in there to do it manually.

After 20 minutes, here's the result. It's a good level of creaminess/firmness although I could have left it in a few more minutes if it wasn't a rather larger batch than usual and was threatening to overflow the bucket. The bucket was still solid at that point so a longer churn was an option. The dasher did a pretty good job of mixing in the frozen bits; there was just a little left to scrape out at the end. Straight out of the churn the pear flavor is mild and the spices a bit too forward for my tastes. But the real test will be both the balance of flavors and the texture after ripening.

After eight hours in the freezer it looks like this. It's nicely soft and scoopable, which is better than most of my fruit-based ice creams turned out. I think that's due to the incomplete caramelization that left a lot of sugar syrup to mix with the cream. The flavors re-balanced nicely with the pear holding its own against spices. But it isn't perfect, the mouth feel has a hint of the gummy texture of cheap ice cream as, like cheap ice cream it melts into a foam instead of liquid. I think that's the fruit pectin at work, or, in the cheap ice cream, guar gum and carageenan. I noticed this in the other fruit ice creams I've made, too. Well, that just means you should eat it fast which is hard not to do anyway when it tastes this good. And I think I've learned how to keep future fruit-based ice creams from turning into concrete so all's well that ends well.


tuxandtales said...

Everyone should be reading this blog! It's inspirational.

billjac said...

Thanks much! I was aiming at informative and interesting but I'll definitely take inspirational too.