Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Life is Just a Bowl of...Cherry Garcia?

Forgive the obviousness of the title. Clearly the brain freeze that comes from nearly non-stop ice cream making (and eating) is getting to me, stifling my creativity for writing perhaps, while vehemently fanning the flames of an undying obsession. Let this also serve as my excuse for not posting in over a week, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me when you taste my latest creation. Well, my homage to a classic Ben & Jerry’s creation really. One inspired by the bountiful red cherries of the summer season.

When it first occurred to me to turn those ruby colored, jewel-like fruits into ice cream I decided to take my search online to find a published recipe for Cherry Garcia. I was disappointed to find that none of the recipes started with a cooked custard base, something I’ve extolled the virtues of before and have become almost evangelical about. I’m convinced it’s the only way to get that densely rich, über-creaminess that is paramount in great ice cream. So, heaving a heavy sigh I decided the only thing to do was to write a recipe of my own.

And so the journey began. As is my creative process, my kitchen cupboards were soon plastered with post-it notes filled with my nearly indiscernible scrawl as I mixed, whisked, scalded and stirred my way to the perfect custard base. Too many egg yolks and the ice cream tastes “eggy.” Too few and it’s not dense enough. 7 egg yolks I decided were the perfect amount. Now it needed just the right hit of sugary sweetness. I added sugar starting with less, tasting and adding more as I went until I’d achieved the perfect balance of sweet but not cloying. Whenever I write a recipe the biggest challenge is remembering to scribble down each addition on those post-it notes as I go, before I forget what I’ve done. As you can surely imagine this becomes an even bigger challenge when I’m writing cocktail recipes, but I’ll get to that another day. I decided that a bit of black cherry preserves would be just the thing to give extra cherry flavor and a rosy blush to the ice cream base. When I was satisfied with the proportions of tart and sweet I whisked the cream into very soft peaks and folded it into the cooled custard. This extra step of lightly whipping the cream only adds to the dreamy, cloud-like texture that is both light and dense at the same time. A culinary contradiction of the fondest sort!

After a 25 minute whir in the Cuisinart, the ice cream was at the glorious soft serve stage. This is exactly when you want to mix in the cherries and chocolate and where I stand hovering over the ice cream maker, spoon in hand, greedily shoveling big mouthfuls of the frozen ambrosia. I heave another heavy sigh, but this time it's full of deep and utter satisfaction.

Ah yes, life is indeed a bowl of Cherry Garcia.

Homemade Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia
(With Two Flavor Variations)

Densely rich, über-creamy and studded with bits of fresh cherries and dark chocolate. Enough said.

Makes a scant 2 quarts

1½ cups whole milk

7 large eggs yolks

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

6 tablespoons black cherry preserves

1½ cups heavy cream, lightly whipped

4 ounces good quality dark chocolate, chopped

1 cup fresh cherries, pitted and chopped

Heat the milk in a pan, and while it’s getting warm, beat together the sugar and egg yolks and vanilla extract in the bowl of a freestanding mixer with a paddle attachment until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and falls back on itself in a ribbon, about 3 minutes. When the milk is just below the boil slowly drizzle it in a thin and continuous stream while whisking briskly so the egg is gradually warmed up. Return everything to the saucepan and cook while stirring with a wooden spoon. Make sure that you are constantly scraping the spoon across the bottom of the pan so the custard does not scorch. The custard is done when it has thickened slightly and can evenly coat the back of the spoon and when you run your finger along the back of the spoon and it holds the “line.” Don’t let the mixture come to a boil, or it may curdle.

Strain the custard into a metal bowl through a fine sieve to remove any bits of egg and stir in the black cherry preserves. Nestle the bowl of custard into a large bowl of ice water to cool more quickly. I do this because I’m incredibly impatient, but you could just put the whole thing in the fridge to cool completely. Lightly whip the cream until it holds a very soft peak and fold into the cooled custard. Continue stirring occasionally until mixture is cold, about 20 minutes.

Transfer the custard to an ice cream machine and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. When the ice cream is almost finished churning add in the chopped chocolate and the cherries to combine. Put the finished ice cream in a storage container and freeze until firm.

*Variations: This basic ice cream recipe is so versatile that you can add any flavor combinations you like to the base. Below are two of my favorites.

Toasted Coconut: Substitute 1 (15 ounce) can Coco Lopez Cream of Coconut (NOT coconut milk!) in place of the cherry preserves and 1 cup sweetened toasted coconut in place of the cherries and chocolate.

Peanut Butter Cup: Substitute 1 cup creamy peanut butter in place of the cherry preserves and 1 bag of Reese’s mini peanut butter cups, chopped, in place of the cherries and chocolate.

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