Monday, August 4, 2008

Chocolate-banana-toasted coconut ice cream

I've been thinking that we lucked out that bananas were the fruit with the magical custard-substituting powers. Bananas go with so many different flavors they make a wide variety of reduced fat ice cream flavors possible. If it were, say, grapes, what could you do with them?

That's all to say that I'm still ringing the changes on banana ice cream although, after going through a variety of different fruits, honey, peanut butter, white and now dark chocolate, I'm just about out of standard pairings. I've got at least one more novel idea, but unless I think of more, or find a less calorie- and fat-conscious audience, I'm going to be sticking to lighter fare hereafter.

But there's still today's chocolate banana toasted coconut ice cream. I've got no real story as to the origin of the recipe; It's really using up the leftover cream and coconut milk I had along with some shredded coconut that I bought for an Indian recipe I never made because my curry leaves faded before I got the chance.

Here's what I did:

1 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup milk
3/4 ounce (by weight) dutch-processed cocoa
1/4 cup Splenda blend or 1/2 cup sugar
a few pinches more of sugar, don't use Splenda for this
1 frozen and defrosted banana
1/4 cup cocoa nibs (have I talked about cocoa nibs? Good stuff. They're what you get if you stop making chocolate halfway through the process. Take Cocoa beans and clean, ferment, roast, shell and crack them to get nibs. Crush the nibs into a liquid, maybe add a bit extra cocoa butter, add sugar and maybe milk, temper the results and you've got chocolate. Nibs give you a nice crunch and a dark chocolate flavor and they're good for baking and freezing.)

1. Spread 3/4 cup coconut in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Toast in 350 degree oven until golden brown. This should take only a few minutes. Watch closely as they burn quickly.

2. Spread the remaining coconut on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with a few pinches of sugar. Toast until golden brown. It won't be in the oven long enough to fully melt the sugar into a glaze, but it will melt enough to stick to the coconut. Put this batch of toasted coconut into a freezable container and put into the freezer. When it's been fully chilled, it will become brittle. Crush the coconut into pieces of whatever size you'd like. I left mine about a half-inch across.

3. In a medium pot bring cream, milk and coconut milk to a boil. Add the unsweetened toasted coconut, turn the heat down to low and let simmer for ten minutes. (Normally for an infusion I'd turn the heat entirely off, but simmering coconut milk long enough can cause it to caramelize and I was hoping to get some of that flavor into the ice cream as well.

4. Take the cream mixture off the heat. Fish the toasted coconut out and whisk in the sugar and cocoa. Don't worry if the cocoa won't entirely dissolve.

5. Either put the cream mixture and the banana into a blender or add the banana to the pot and use a stick blender. Blend until smooth.

6. Pour into a suitable container and chill to 40 degrees. Churn. Just before ice cream is ready to remove from the churn sprinkle in the reserved toasted coconut and the cocoa nibs and allow the churn to mix them in. Or do it by hand after removing the ice cream from the churn.

7. Ripen in the freezer for at least two hours.

And here's what I got: (Sorry, that picture looked a lot clearer when it was still in my phone.)

I've got to admit, I'm a little disappointed in the results. Oh, on the whole it's just fine but the details still matter. The ice cream itself froze quite solidly (and it bugs me that I still can't predict what texture I'm going to get) but has a nice smooth texture when it warms up. I used a bit too much cocoa as the chocolate flavor pushes the coconut infusion and banana into the background. If you're going to have imbalanced flavors, you can do worse than having over-strong chocolate, but I was hoping for better. The faint coconut flavor is definitely toasted coconut so that's nice, though. The real problem was the nicely crisp toasted coconut shards reverted to the raw texture. As the ice cream melts away you end up with a mouthful of coconut and nibs; I wanted both to be crunchy but instead you have to chew for a while and bits get stuck between your teeth. Coworkers more fond of coconut than I am liked it so it's good for what it is but I was aiming to overcome my a priori anti-coconut bias and I didn't beat the spread.

Next time I'll have to try a stronger infusion and skip the mix in. And maybe add some almonds. That should work.

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