Thursday, July 10, 2008

White chocolate banana cherry ice cream

Cherries are finally in season and Publix is carrying some surprisingly fine examples at a pretty good price these days. I was tempted to just eat the whole bag straight, but the blog has its demands so an ice cream application it's going to be. My first thought was make a straight cherry ice cream using a Philadelphia style base--that's ice cream that doesn't use an egg-based custard, just milk, cream, sugar and flavoring, something I've been meaning to try for a while. But I've thought of another, more interesting, context for a Philadelphia-style ice cream (which I may not get around to doing unless I find a better ice cream audience, but I live in hope) so I set that aside.

My second thought was to use the chunk of white chocolate I've had sitting in my pantry for some time. I've made a couple white chocolate ice creams before both of which had very smooth creamy and light textures, but both of those also had a custard base and I was curious if I could melt some white chocolate into an eggless cream mixture and get good results. White chocolate and cherry is not an exceptionally unusual flavor combination, but I came up with it independently on my own so I'm going to give myself some credit on this one.

My third thought was that I should try to lighten up my recipe so my co-workers might actually eat it. To that end I cut the amount of white chocolate I was going to use from eight ounces down to four and added half a banana instead. So that makes my base:
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
4 ounces white chocolate
1/2 banana (frozen and defrosted)
1/3 cup Splenda blend (or 2/3 cup sugar)
1 pinch salt

1. Chop chocolate finely.
2. Add chocolate, Splenda blend and salt to cream and milk in medium saucepan. Heat over medium low heat stirring frequently until everything is dissolved.
3. Place banana and cream mixture into blender. Blend until smooth.
4. Cool on counter for 1/2 hour then refrigerate to 40 degrees.

As for the cherries, I wanted some syrup but I didn't want to cook them. I pitted and roughly chopped 1 1/2 to 2 cups of cherries, sprinkled them with a Tablespoon or so of sugar, added a dash of vanilla, a squeeze of lemon juice and a couple Tablespoons water, stirred well and let sit in the refrigerator for a day. And then, once the ice cream base was in the churn I put it in the freezer for 15-20 minutes to get good and cold.

As for the churning I'm disappointed to say that my fancy Cuisinart churn has been no real improvement over the bargain Sears brand one it replaced. I've noticed that the bucket wobbles back and forth on top of the motor. I think it fits securely when it's warm, but it shrinks a little when frozen so it doesn't sit on the base correctly. You'd think it would be designed better than that. The wobbling means that the dasher can't stay firmly against the side of the bucket and scrape the frozen bits out into the mix for even freezing. In my old churn, there was a large enough hole in the top that I could get in there with a spatula and scrape down the sides while the bucket spun. Not with the Cuisinart. Instead I shut the machine down every five minutes, grab the dasher, manually scrape the sides, replace the lid and start it back up again. The weak motor in the Sears churn wouldn't be able to get going with a half frozen mix in place, but the Cuisinart doesn't have any trouble. On the other hand, the motor is strong enough that a fully frozen mix doesn't stall it out so I can't judge readiness by the pitch of the struggling motor's whine any more. No big deal either way, really, but for the extra expense I was hoping for better.

Anyway, I made slightly larger batch than usual so I had to shut the churn down before it overflowed while the ice cream was still a little softer than I would have liked. But it'll probably work out fine. I alternated scoops of ice cream with spoonfuls of cherries, Folded everything together a few times to distribute the syrup and stuck it in the freezer for ripening.

So how did it turn out? Pretty well. The texture is about the same as a light custard, say made with just two egg yolks: smooth and creamy, but a bit chewy and quick to melt. I'll call it a success. As for the flavor, it's interesting. In the sherbet I made last week the pineapple, coconut and banana flavors merged synergistically. That's not happening with the banana and white chocolate. The two flavors aren't really very far apart, but the flavor of a spoonful of this ice cream keeps switching back and forth as my attention shifts like the optical illusion that can be a vase or two faces. It's kind of weird, really. Both flavors are surprisingly strong given how little of either ingredient is in such a large batch of ice cream. The combined flavor is on the mellow side and the sharp berry tang of the cherries cuts through and clears it away until the next bite. So, the full effect if you're paying close attention is of at least three flavors (with hints of vanilla and citrus) shifting around with each bite. If you're not paying close attention then it's just really really good.

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