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Ice cream: a party for your palate

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NEW YORK — Think back to your favorite childhood memory. See a picture in your mind?

Look at your hands. Bet they're clutching an ice cream cone.

"We love ice cream because it's nostalgic," says Bruce Weinstein, author of "The Ultimate Ice Cream Book" (William Morrow). "We think of the ice cream truck when you were a kid and birthday parties — which were all about the cake and ice cream."

Of course, we can't ignore the indulgence factor.

"Ice cream is a rich, creamy comfort food that we all love," Weinstein adds.

That's a big accomplishment for a little scoop of a frozen dessert, especially considering most ice creams have very few ingredients.

Luci Gott, pastry chef at the New York restaurants 92, Butterfield 81 and Patroon, uses just five ingredients for the vanilla ice cream that is the base for her hot-fudge sundae: half-and-half, heavy cream, vanilla beans, sugar and egg yolks.

"The trend is to use really interesting ingredients, but I don't agree with it at all," says Gott.

Using beets or wasabi to flavor ice cream might be a creative expression for chefs, but she wonders how many ice cream eaters order it a second time — after their initial curiosity is satisfied.

The most popular flavors with her customers are vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, bubble gum and peanut butter and jelly (peanut butter ice cream blended with concord grape sorbet). These are the same flavors that rank high with Gott.

"They're flavors that appealed to me as a child."

Apparently, Gott's taste buds and those belonging to her customers are in line with the rest of the country. The California Milk Advisory Board reports that vanilla is the top-selling ice cream flavor nationwide, followed by chocolate, Neapolitan and cookies and cream. California is the country's largest producer of ice cream.

Instead of making ice cream "interesting," a home chef is better off making sure the ice cream is tasty — which is best done through high-quality ingredients, Gott says. Don't skimp by using mediocre fruits and chocolates, she advises.

"You can't hide any flaws. They will show in the final frozen product."

But Gott doesn't use the very expensive Tahitian vanilla beans, which she says create "a whole lot of juice." Instead she recommends Bourbon vanilla beans from Mexico.

Also, pay attention to the amount of butterfat in the ice cream, how much air is incorporated into it and the temperatures throughout the entire ice cream-making process.

No matter what else the recipe calls for, ice cream wouldn't be ice cream without the cream.

Gott says it's worth it to make your own ice cream. "It sounds daunting, but it's easy and very rewarding . . . It's almost magical because no one seems to know exactly how it's made — and then there it is."

Her trick is to cook the base custard only long enough so it coats the spoon, not a minute more.

Once the custard is ready and tempered, it takes less than five minutes to go from cold base to ice cream when using an ice cream machine, which is readily available from any housewares store.

So, what is Gott's favorite way to eat it?

"Off my finger right out of the machine. It's sooo soft."

The best part about making a sundae is that there is no right or wrong way to do it.

Gott's recipe is simple: Scoop ice cream and add all the treats you like to eat.


LUCI GOTT'S HOT FUDGE SUNDAE

Vanilla Ice Cream:

1 cup half-and-half

2 cups heavy cream, split

2 vanilla beans

3/4 cup sugar

7 large egg yolks

Combine half-and-half, 1 cup of heavy cream in heavy sauce pan. Split and scrape the vanilla beans, and add the beans and pods to the cream mixture. Place over medium high heat watching carefully so as not to boil over. Meanwhile, thoroughly whisk together egg yolks and sugar in large bowl.

Once cream begins to boil, slowly whisk into the yolk mixture until you have added most of the cream. Put this new mixture back into the pan and cook over low heat until mixture coats the back of a spoon. This ensures that your egg yolks are cooked.

Remove from heat and quickly add the last cup of cream. This will help stop the cooking process. You do not want to overcook this mixture as the yolks will curdle. Strain this mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove any bits of cooked egg.

This is your ice cream base. Chill until cold. Once chilled, churn in ice-cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.

Makes 4 servings.

From menu at New York's 92 restaurant.


HOT FUDGE SAUCE

4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/3 cup heavy cream

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Met the chocolates with the butter in a double boiler, or in a large metal bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Meanwhile, warm the cream in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the sugar and corn syrup to the cream and stir until the sugar dissolves completely. Add the warm sweetened cream to the melted chocolate. Continue to heat the mixture over simmering water for 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Add vanilla. Spoon over ice cream while still hot.


CARAMEL SAUCE

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the cream in a small saucepan set over low heat. Cover and keep the cream warm while you make the caramel. Combine the sugar and water in a large heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Brush down any sugar crystals that form on the side of the pan with a wet pastry brush. Once the mixture caramelizes to a golden brown, remove from heat. Slowly and carefully add warm cream mixture to the caramel. Return the pan to a low heat and stir until the caramel dissolves into the cream completely. Let simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Spoon over ice cream while hot.


MACERATED CHERRIES

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 teaspoons rum (optional)

1 cup cherries, stems on

Combine sugar and water thoroughly in a medium-size saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, add vanilla and rum, and stir. Drop in cherries and let soak overnight.


WHIPPED CREAM

2 cups (1 pint) heavy whipping cream

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In chilled bowl, begin to whip cream. Add sugar and vanilla extract and whip until soft peaks.

To assemble sundae: Pour a little hot fudge into the bottom of a sundae glass. Put two scoops of vanilla ice cream on top of that. Pour a generous amount of hot fudge sauce over the ice cream. Pour a few tablespoons of caramel sauce over hot fudge. Top with a generous amount of whipped cream and garnish with macerated cherries. Serve!