Granny Smith Apple Ice Cream

It’s rare that I proclaim something “the best”. Even when I do -like I am doing about this ice cream- it’s sort of a hyperbole. Maybe it should be “up until now, in my humble opinion, this is the best apple ice cream I’ve had”. So, if you had not gotten my point yet, what I’m saying is this is one awesome ice cream if you like apples. I’ve prepared this recipe (it’s from the Eleven Madison Park cookbook) multiple times and it never disappoints and have not been surpassed. It’s got the deep tart flavor of Granny Smiths swirled with a vanilla scented sweet apple puree.

The ice cream has two main components, an apple custard and a puree of apples that is mixed in after the custard is churned. To make the custard we start with a bunch of Granny Smith apples. I sliced those and cooked them till softened in apple cider (this would be the sweet non-alcoholic one, not the hard cider. It’s basically unfiltered apple juice) and citric acid. When the apples are very tender I pureed them with a stick blender and strained them to get as smooth of a product as possible.

The rest of the custard is a standard mixture of egg yolks, glucose sugar, milk and cream. The yolks get whisked with the sugar. The dairy and glucose are warmed with the apple puree and gently added to the yolks. The custard is then carefully cooked to thicken. Lastly I added a bit of Calvados (French Apple brandy) to the cooled custard.

For the second component, sweet apples like Honeycrisp , Fuji or Gala are used. I peeled those, removed the cores and quartered them. They are cooked in a baking dish in the oven along with brown sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and the pulp from a vanilla bean. When totally soft and syrupy I pureed the whole mixture resulting in one of the most delicious apple sauces possible.

As with all ice creams and sorbets I make I like to let mixture sit in the fridge for 8 – 24 hours at least before churning. This is really essential for a good texture and better “shelf-life” in the freezer. There is a lot of science about why that is the case and it is fascinating (well, to me it is). In any case, after a rest in the fridge I churned the apple custard and layered that in two quart containers alternating with the baked apple puree.

It’s so delicious and addictive on it’s own but it also goes good with any cake, especially if it has hints of caramel. Recently I also served it with an Italian ricotta apple cake. Truthfully I was not crazy about how the cake turned out (odd texture) so I was glad I had the delightful ice cream to help it along.

Peaches and Cream, Streusel and Cherries

When I think of Texas fruits, two immediately come to mind, ruby red grapefruit and peaches. That’s fairly narrow thinking, since Texas is so huge and offers a large variety of climates and vegetation. It’s those two fruits that always pop to mind though. Recently on a road trip outside of Houston, I noticed a stand (one of several on the sides of the Hill Country area roads) advertising fresh Texas peaches. The couple at the stand had some amazingly fragrant peaches. The fruit was not much to look at, they are not the large plump and blemish free specimens you see at the supermarket. They were smaller. Some were almond-shaped, others were rounder and others somewhere in between, but they smelled amazing and were sweet and juicy. So, I bought a few pounds and intended to eat half out of hand and make some peaches and cream combo with the rest.

First up was the ice cream. I broiled a few peaches, cut side up until fairly dark and burnished. I pureed those into a classic custard ice cream base along with a few tablespoons of Maker’s Mark bourbon. This made some fantastic burnt peach-bourbon ice cream. I blanched a couple more peaches for a few seconds just to loosen the skin and then peeled them and sliced them into large segments. These were tossed with a little Turbinado sugar so they could macerate for a while before serving.

For a crunchy sweet component I made streusel shards or cookies. This is basically classic streusel made with butter, flour and almonds. Instead of sprinkling it on top of some fruit and baking it like that I spread it in an even layer on a Silpat-lined baking sheet. I topped that with another baking sheet and baked the mixture. As soon as it’s out of the oven and before it turns too hard, I cut it into rough circles with a cookie cutter.

We are in the middle of cherry season and the fruit is delicious, goes great with peaches and is very reasonably priced. So I macerated cherries in red wine, very much like the ones from the calf heart confit dish. I used a portion of their sweet syrup to make a delicate whipped topping. That’s done by mixing the syrup with a little gelatin, pouring it into an iSi canister and charging it with two NO2 cartridges. The NO2 gives the syrup the “foaming action” but without some structure we won’t end up with nice blobs of tasty cherry flavored whipped topping. We’ll more likely end up with something closer to a soda foam. That’s why the gelatin is there. It sets the mixture slightly and gives it the proper texture. In addition to the cherries and whipped cherry topping I also made some plain, lightly sweetened whipped cream. Afterall, this is peaches and cream.

French Laundry: “Banana Split” – Poached Banana Ice Cream, White Chocolate-Banana Crepes and Chocolate Sauce

A classic flavor presented in a very untraditional and delicious way, classic Thomas Keller. Here we have sweet crepes, filled with a mixture of white chocolate and poached pureed bananas. I poached the bananas in a mixture of cream and milk until soft. The poaching liquid is then used to make a custard base for a vanilla bean ice cream that has a good banana flavor.

For the crepes, I filled them and formed them into cylinders with plastic wrap and then froze them till service time. They are then sliced and allowed to warm up a bit. I could be wrong but the goal here is to get a texture not unlike that of a ripe banana. By mixing the melted white chocolate with the banana puree and allow it to freeze and thaw, we get exactly that. A texture and taste that is familiar but at the same time not quiet so.

Garnishes, again, are very traditional. We have -or supposed to have- Maraschino cherries, sweetened whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Real Maraschino cherries are very different than that bright red crappy things you get in your frozen daiquiri. They are cherries soaked/candied in a Maraschino liquor such as the fantastic Luxardo. If we are going to be real traditional, the cherries are also supposed to be Marasca cherries. You can buy these delicious Maraschino cherries in gourmet shops or online, but they are not easy to find in your typical grocery store. Bottom line is: I had none, had no time to shop for them, so I made something to sub for them. What I did is bring sugar, brandy and port to a boil and turned off the heat. Then used that mixture to plump-up a bunch of dried Bing cherries. The result is not the same as the real deal, but still delicious and 100 times better than the fake orbs that garnish Shirley Temples everywhere.

Gingerbread, Pumpkin and Walnut-Pear-Bourbon Ice Cream

Just like the venison dish I posted about earlier, this dessert happened because of Diana. More specifically, it was because of her dislike of gingerbread cookies. Earlier in December I had made some gingerbread cookie dough in hopes of making gingerbread men with my son, however Diana was sure that he will not like those spicy cookies and that I should’ve made sugar cookies instead. So, into the freezer the dough went. I certainly did not want to throw it out but I figured that most of it will go to waste if I simply bake gingerbread cookies. Diana did say that she would not mind a dessert that would use gingerbread cookies. Pumpkin pie or tart was the first idea that came to mind using the dough for the crust. That was the theme, with a few more “twists”, that brought this dessert together and this is a dessert I am very proud of, it was delicious and looked stunning.

My original plan for plating this, and the one I actually sketched, involved making “cannoli” shells from the gingerbread dough and filling that with the pumpkin mousse. I did doubt that this would work though, considering the high percentage of butter in the dough, and I was right. They simply fell apart when fried and got bent out of shape when baked. So, I just cut the thin dough into squares, baked them and broke some of them in half to get smaller rectangles.

For the ice cream, I cooked pears sous vide with butter, vanilla seeds and a little sugar. That, by the way, made the most amazing poached pear slices. I had to keep myself from eating them all. I pureed the pears with ice cream base made from  walnut flavored cream/milk (toast walnuts, and steep them in the dairy mixture for 24 hours, then strain them out), eggs, sugar and bourbon. This is also another recipe I was very happy with and will make again. All the flavors worked great together and were distinct.

I candied a few butternut squash rings and reduced the now squash (plus clove and cinnamon) flavored candying liquid into a thick syrup to serve as a sauce for the finished dessert. The pumpkin mousse is basically pumpkin pie filling. So, I roasted a a small pumpkin (or that might’ve been a butternut squash as well) and pureed the flesh. Then I followed a recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Kitchen to Yours” and made a pumpkin pie filling with eggs, cream, sugar and a little spice. I baked this in a brownie pan till set, then pureed it to a smooth mousse when it cooled.

For garnishes, I used more walnut. I caramelized roasted walnuts and salted them lightly and made dry walnut butter. To make the butter I followed a similar process to making my regular peanut butter. I processed roasted walnuts, a pinch of salt and sugar and a couple of table spoons walnut oil until I got a fairly smooth and spreadable walnut butter. To dry it up, I processed it with Tapioca Maltodextrin unitl it got dry and crumbly. At plating time, I broke it into irregular shapes, almost like rocks and sand, and scattered it around the plate.

Here is a slightly different plating I served the day after