Sometimes the hard part of home cooking isn’t just following the recipe. Sometimes it’s figuring out what to do when something has gone wrong, and figuring out how to fix it. A kind of “yanking culinary victory from the saucepan of defeat” sort of moment.
I should start by saying that there is absolutely nothing wrong with either of these recipes. I’ve made both of them many times, and they’ve turned out just great. No, the problem here is that I’ve never blogged these recipes, and the added step of taking pictures was what fried my brain.
Every week we use heavy cream for something. If it’s not in our oatmeal, then it’s on the pancakes in the form of whipped cream. Or in a gravy. Something. So, occasionally I find that I have several partial containers of cream that have accumulated in the fridge that all need to be used up. This is not generally cause for dismay – it’s cause for Chocolate Ice Cream!
And because there was extra extra: Caramel Sauce!
The most dangerous cookbook that I own is David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop.” I highly recommend this book. I’ve used mine so much that I put clear contact paper on the cover to keep it from getting more beat up.
I also advocate storing the book somewhere other than in the kitchen. Otherwise, whomping up random recipes is far too tempting, and therefore deleterious to waistlines.
Having duly excavated it from the depths of my cookbook storage, I flipped over to “Chocolate Ice Cream”.
This is probably the richest chocolate ice cream that I’ve ever made, and that’s saying something.
I started by separating five eggs. Mr. Caffeinated enjoys making angel food cake, so he gets the whites. The yolks get lightly beaten and set aside.
Chocolate was chopped. I chop mine fine, so that it will melt without arguing. Chocolate can be temperamental, so I like to whack it into subservience before requiring it to perform.
The cocoa powder is stirred into the cream…
… which is then heated, to bring out the chocolate flavor. At this point, it looks good enough to eat straight – although it’s a bit bitter since the sugar hasn’t been added yet. The chopped chocolate is now stirred in to the warm cream mixture, which melts it.
The milk and sugar were warmed to dissolve the sugar; I substitute half Sucanat, which gives it a nice ‘mocha’ color. I then took its temperature, forgetting that the whole reason for using a thermometer is to make sure that the egg yolks are cooked through. The egg yolks, of course, were sitting quietly on the counter next to the stove, wondering if the cook would regain her sanity any time soon.
I did take a moment to grab a picture of the cast of characters, since this was supposed to be the definitive blog on how to make great ice cream. Great plans and all that.
Some warmed milk mixture was then stirred into the yolks to temper them so that they’d cook up nice and custardy, instead of hard-boiled-egg-ish. This would have been a good time to have an “Ah-ha! I will need the Thermapen shortly” moment, but that, sadly, didn’t occur.
I stirred the tempered eggs back into the warm milk mixture, which is then supposed to be heated to cook the eggs completely. I forgot this step. I was quite interested to see if any leftover egg whites would strain out in lumps, as I’d read. So I merrily whisked away, then strained.
Hmmm… hard to tell if there’s any egg white in that froth. I went to the sink and rinsed off the bubbles.
Well, what do you know? There were egg whites hiding in there, after all! Feeling smug about my inquiry into the science behind lump-free ice cream custard, I blithely went back to my recipe.
At this point, I lost my mind and added the egg mix to the chocolate. Wrong! The egg mix was supposed to go into the pot with the rest of the milk, and brought up to 170-175°, to cook the yolks. Oops.
So – nothing for it – I popped the whole mix of chocolate/cream/milk & sugar/yolks on the stove and brought the whole mess to 173°. Since the chocolate was already warm, it didn’t take more than a couple of minutes.
Off the heat, I stirred in the vanilla. Vanilla is volatile, and heat changes the flavor, so I don’t like to cook it if I don’t have to. Then I poured everything into glass, covered in plastic, and put it in the fridge for a few hours.
We put it through the ice cream maker later in the evening. Judging by the way it’s been disappearing, it seems to have survived my lapses in sanity just fine.
Chocolate Ice Cream
Makes about 1 quart
2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1 cup whole milk
¾ cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
5 large egg yolks
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Warm 1 cup of the cream with the cocoa powder in a medium saucepan, whisking to thoroughly blend the cocoa. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer at a very low boil for 30 seconds, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate, stirring until smooth. Then stir in the remaining 1 cup cream. Pour the mixture into a large bowl, scraping the saucepan as thoroughly as possible, and set a mesh strainer on top of the bowl.
2. Warm the milk, sugar, and salt in the same saucepan. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolk. Slowly pour the warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.
3. Stir the mixture constantly over the medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula (170°F on an instant-read thermometer). Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the chocolate mixture until smooth, then stir in the vanilla. Stir until cool over an ice bath.
4. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. (If the cold mixture is too thick to pour into your machine, whisk it vigorously to thin it out.)
From the Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz
Homemade caramel sauce was one of those “Ah-ha!” moments in life for me. I’ve always loved caramel sauce. I particularly love warm caramel sauce on ice cream. Add brownies, and I’m simply emotionally unavailable for any other contact with reality while enjoying the rapture.
I discovered David Lebovitz’s recipe for “Creamy Caramel Sauce” shortly after I acquired his book “The Perfect Scoop”. I highly recommend the book. I also highly recommend keeping it next to the bathroom scales, so that all indulgences can be soberly considered before diving in with ecstatic abandon.
Caramel can be tricky, though – and this particular evening’s attempt was very nearly catastrophic.
It’s not a complex recipe. There are only four ingredients: sugar, cream, salt and vanilla.
It starts with liquefying the sugar over low heat. Sugar melts – and once it starts melting, it goes quick. For minutes on end, I think that this time, it’s all going to go up in smoke before it ever caramelizes… and then it starts turning to a dark syrup around the edges.
Notice the whisk. This is the wrong tool for this job, as I quickly discovered. See how the sugar is clumping up in the wires? That trapped area later caused some of the biggest problems in this batch.
Things were looking good soon, though… I had lovely caramelization happening, and the sugar had all turned to syrup nicely. I went by smell rather than temperature – I could have caramelized longer, but I was worried about the sugar burning. I stopped a little early – but it gave me a lovely mild caramel flavor later.
Much later. Disaster had to strike first.
Have you ever tried to take pictures while simultaneously doing something with both hands in which timing is critical? I really needed a third hand for the next step. I stirred in the cream… which foams and bubbles furiously when it meets up with hot sugar syrup. I tried to take a picture – which failed utterly – and then accidentally dumped the cream in all at once rather than incorporating it gradually in a steady stream.
The caramel seized. It seized hard. And it solidified in the whisk. Life was Not Good.
Lebovitz says in the book that “if there are any bits of hardened sugar, whisk the sauce over low heat until smooth.” Basically what I had was one giant lump of hardened sugar, surrounded by mildly caramel-colored cream. So I stirred.
And stirred. A good fifteen minutes went by, and the sugar slowly began to melt. I turned up the heat a little… but ended up turning it back down for fear I’d scorch the whole batch.
I can’t do that! I’ve come too far!
I eventually pried the rest of the rock-hard caramel out of the whisk, and proceeded with a heat-proof spatula. Life went along much better after this, although a lump remained that steadfastly refused to melt.
Finally, everything was melted in… and the additional heat was making the sauce try to turn into solid caramel candy. I added more cream… and turned off the heat. In went the salt and vanilla, and then the whole batch sat till cool enough to pour into a jar.
Caramel sauce achieved! It’s quite good – I’ll put my almost-failed caramel sauce up against the grocery store aisle variety any day.
Creamy Caramel Sauce
1 c. sugar
1 ¼ c. heavy cream
¼ t. salt
½ t. vanilla
In large, deep, heavy-duty saucepan or dutch oven, spread sugar in an even layer. Cook the sugar over low/medium heat. Keep an eye on it.
When it starts to turn to syrup at the edges, use a heat-proof spoon or spatula to stir slowly, to prevent scorching and to melt it uniformly.
Once liquefied completely, and it’s smelling like caramel, pour in the cream in a slow and steady stream, stirring constantly and vigorously. If you must have pictures, recruit someone else to take them, from an angle that won’t block your stirring elbow. The caramel will steam and bubble up furiously, so be sure you’ve got a large pan to begin with!
After you’ve achieved a uniform smoothness, remove from heat and stir in salt and vanilla. This is now ready to serve immediately. Keeps well in fridge, and reheats just fine.