Monday, June 25, 2012

Absolutely, Positively the BEST Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream Ever

Attention homemade ice cream fans! The raspberry ripple ice cream you see here is not only eye-catching but is absolutely, positively, the best I’ve ever tasted. (And I’ve sampled lots of pretty good homemade ice creams while creating cookbooks and articles over the years.)

The flavor is fresh, clear, and captures the glorious fruitiness of succulent, zingy, peak-of-season berries better than any I ever tried or devised before. The texture is as smooth and creamy as the super-premium freezer case ice creams (and remains that way during storage), yet, surprisingly, this version contains no eggs and considerably less cream (and calories) than the usual commercial offerings.

And more good news—it requires no tricky techniques. Eliminating eggs makes it possible to skip the usual fussy, time-consuming process of preparing an egg custard base. Armed with only an ice cream maker and the following recipe, you’ll be able to readily create this extraordinary summer pleasure reliably and readily.

How is this possible? A couple of surprisingly simple culinary secrets account for what sounds too good to be true. The first and most important one is a breakthrough formula devised by an Ohio ice cream manufacturer and cookbook author named Jeni Britton Bauer, who spent fifteen years perfecting her craft. She discovered that by incorporating just a little cornstarch and corn syrup into her base recipes, she could completely eliminate the graininess and icy-hardness problems that often plague homemade ice creams. (I’ll be writing more about Jeni and featuring her wonderful book, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home in a blog post soon.)

The reason these two ingredients work is chemically complicated, but simply put, they are "interfering agents" that discourage the formation and growth of crystals. Molecules in cooked cornstarch both bind up and get in the way of water molecules trying to form large ice crystals, and these are largely responsible for the unpleasant graininess in many homemade frozen desserts. Additionally, the glucose molecules in the corn syrup likewise help prevent dissolved sugar from turning back into large crystals that can cause ice cream and similar frozen desserts to feel gritty to the tongue.

 The other secrets are in the choice and handling of the berries. Some ice cream recipes call for uncooked pureed raspberries (occasionally referred to as a coulis), and this might seem the best way to produce a fresh, vibrant flavor. But through lots of comparative testing I’ve discovered that in many recipes boiling the berries with a little sugar first is a key to intensifying and enhancing their fruity taste and setting their gorgeous color. And just like the ice cream base, the berry sauce rippled into it needs to include a little cornstarch and corn syrup to keep its texture from turning gritty and hard during freezing.

 For superior flavor, it’s also best to use a combination of the usual red raspberries (shown below) mixed with either black raspberries (shown right) or blackberries. Both black raspberries and blackberries have a bold, bracing character that noticeably brightens and deepens the less robust red raspberry taste and hue. When black raspberries are available, I like to use them half and half with the red ones. If only blackberries are on hand, the ratio of two-thirds red raspberries and one-third blackberries works nearly as well.

Best Ever Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream

Raspberry ripple has always been one of my favorite ice creams, but, frankly, until I came up with this recipe, I’d never made, or even tasted, a version that delivered quite the looks, taste, and texture desired. Here, at last, is what I’ve been striving for, thanks in part to the expertise of ice cream guru, Jeni Britton Bauer. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

I’m sure you could use this ice cream base recipe as a foundation for other totally different ice cream flavors, but I designed it to combine with the special, “freezeable” raspberry sauce. (The sauce can be used as is or for readying sundaes as well. Or if you're looking for a shortcut raspberry ripple ice cream, stir it into purchased premium vanilla ice cream.)  Here, the two components are mixed together to create the to-die-for raspberry ice cream base, which is then further enhanced with more swirls of raspberry sauce. Oh my!

 If you do experiment with adding other flavors to this ice cream base, I’d love to hear about your results.

Tip: McCormick’s now makes a very pleasant raspberry extract. It’s usually sold right along with the more traditional vanilla, almond and other extracts in the baking aisle, and I use it in many baked goods and desserts.

Ice Cream Base
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/3 cup heavy (whipping) cream
2 cups whole milk, divided
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon raspberry extract (or substitute vanilla extract and 2 pinches of fresh lemon zest)
2 tablespoons cream cheese, softened

 One batch Raspberry Ripple Sauce, prepared ahead and chilled

 In a 4-quart non-reactive saucepan, stir together the sugar, cream, 1 3/4 cups milk, corn syrup, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Adjust heat so the mixture boils gently and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes. In a cup, stir the cornstarch into the remaining milk until smoothly incorporated. Stir the mixture into the saucepan and let return to a full boil, stirring. Continue cooking 2 minutes longer or until just thickened slightly, then immediately remove from the heat.  Combine the cream cheese in a small, deep bowl with about 1/4 cup of the base mixture. Whisk until completely smooth and well blended. Thoroughly stir the mixture back into the ice cream base.

 Stir the raspberry (or vanilla) extract and a generous 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup of the raspberry sauce into the ice cream base; reserve the remainder of the sauce for rippling. Pour the mixture through a sieve into a non-reactive storage container. Refrigerate until very cold, at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours, if desired.

Put the ice cream base in an ice cream maker and proceed according to the manufacturer’s directions. When it has finished processing, spoon out about a third of the mixture into a well chilled 1-quart or larger freezer-safe storage container. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons raspberry sauce. Add another third of the ice cream and top with 2 to 3 tablespoons more raspberry sauce; repeat a third time. (Reserve any leftover sauce for simply spooning over vanilla ice cream.) With a table knife held vertically, swirl the mixtures together to create ripples of sauce throughout; for large ripples and streaks mix fairly lightly, for a more blended ice cream, mix more thoroughly. Immediately freeze, airtight, for up to 2 weeks.

Makes a generous 1 quart.

The first pic below shows the raspberry sauce used for sundaes instead of incorporated into ice cream.The second shows my raspberry cobbler posted here.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Earning My PhD in Wild Berry Picking, Plus a Glorious Raspberry Ice Cream Sauce

If they ever start handing out PhD’s in wild berry picking, I’ll be in line for one. I’ve spent hours foraging for raspberries and blackberries, first in Maryland farming country, then later in six foreign countries and five additional American states. But right off let me give credit for my early childhood picking education to a woman named Margie, whose family’s farm adjoined ours on one side.

 Actually, she was “Miss Margie” to me, because where I lived no child ever addressed a grownup by his or her first name. Unless the woman was a relative and could be referred to as “Cousin,” she was called “Miss,” even if she was married. And Margie was an intimidating presence, so I certainly

would never have stepped over any boundaries with her: Though smallish, she was agile and appeared strong and sinewy in the way of many seasoned farm hands. She was lean almost to the point of gauntness, like a woman who had been too busy growing and preparing food to spend much time sitting and eating it, which was likely the case. Her face was leathery and parched from the sun, not surprising since both she and her husband could be seen out working the fields with their red Farmall tractor.

 This activity, in particular, set her completely apart from the other women in our community, who, even if they planted huge gardens and harvested and canned hundreds of quarts of produce for the winter larder, never drove a tractor or handled any farm machinery. Many folks looked askance at this breach of convention, but others forgave her because she and her husband were “newcomers” from somewhere too “backwards” to know what labor was appropriate for women. In fact, her family had been on their land since before I was born, but where I lived folks were labeled newcomers until every person who remembered their coming had passed on!

 Due to their distinctive, twangy drawl and odd language—their speech was peppered with lines like, “I’m a fixin’ to plant me some corn ‘ore yonder,”—Margie and her husband always stood out and were branded as “Tennesseans.” Even if I didn’t know the actual word pejorative, I understood that this tag usually meant hillbilly, hick or somebody from the hardscrabble Appalachian mountain states west of us. (Or maybe just from a place more backwater than where we lived!)

Other than nodding to her when she and my parents exchanged pleasantries in the store or post office, the only face-to-face interaction I ever recall having with Miss Margie came one unforgettable day as I was picking wild black raspberries along the fence that marked the boundary between her farm and ours. I wanted to flee as I saw her nearing with her bucket, but knew that my mother might be told of my rudeness if I did.

“Nice day.” I said. “The berries don’t look too good this year—kind of seedy.” That was all I could manage in the way of the typical neighbor chitchat.

“Been worse,” she countered flatly. “Like all mamas, Mother Nature be havin’ good years n’ bad, so we best be grateful for what we git. And seedy don’t matter none when ye’re a makin’ jelly.” Stung by her rebuke, I eased away, pretending to concentrate on my harvesting, and said nothing further. Thanks goodness I hadn’t reached through the fence and snitched any berries on her side, as she would surely have pointed out that clear violation of local picking protocol. She was right about the jelly, but I was longing for one of my mother’s cobblers!

I think she realized she’d sounded too harsh, because after silently picking a few minutes, she spoke in a much kinder tone. “Squat down low and look right in them canes to git what ye missed,” she offered. “Real nice, ripe ‘uns be thar ahidin’ from the birds.” Her words nice and ripe came out sounding like “nahs” and “rahp.” When I bent down, I could see that this was true. Not only were there a surprising number of pristine, purple-black clusters glinting back at me, but shaded from the drying wind and sun, they were plumper and less seedy than those in plain sight.

 Over the next half hour she gently furnished more tips, all of which I rely on to this day. Frankly, I’m a little reluctant to share them, because I don’t want the competition if you happen to forage near my house! As Miss Margie observed, armed with her techniques you can “do right well,” even if another picker has harvested in the same spot shortly before you came!

 Besides peering into the brambles at eye level, she recommended always checking the canes growing low and lifting up ones bent over to the ground (often they are bowed by the weight of their fruit!). She also suggested pulling apart branches as if they were curtains, a step that inevitably revealed a little cache (like the berries above right) tucked behind the leafy screen. (For more wild berry pics, go here.)

Another simple yet stunningly effective technique she taught me was to make a second pass through the patch, going in the opposite direction from the original foray. Just as examining a situation from a different angle inevitably seems to reveal new options, this step almost always exposes fruit that was missed the first time around.

In case you are a newbie forager, let me pass along some more rudimentary suggestions of my own. Be sure to wear full length pants and a heavy, long-sleeved shirt so that when the briars reach out and snag you, they’ll rip clothing and not your flesh. And take a larger container than you think you’ll need. While it’s a little painful to come home with a paltry haul in a huge bucket, it’s pure torture to have to leave succulent berries in the patch just because your container is full!

Raspberry Sauce for Sundaes and Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream 

If you can find black raspberries (yes, raspberries that are purple-black like blackberries) either in fields or farmers’ markets, do try them in this recipe. They are particularly delicious when paired with the more familiar red variety, as they have a deep fruitiness and tang that IMHO gives the red even more appeal than they have served solo. Using half of each yields a vibrant purple-red color, as you can see in the sundae pics here. (You can easily tell black raspberries from blackberries; the raspberries will be hollow underneath from growing cap-like over the protruding nubs of blooms. Which explains why they are sometimes called "blackcaps.")

 It’s, of course, easiest to simply spoon the sauce over ice cream—and the results will be sublime. But the recipe is designed so it can be swirled in and frozen to create a glorious homemade raspberry ripple ice cream. The ripple ice cream shown was created simply by swirling sauce into slightly softened vanilla ice cream, then freezing it until firm again. (The homemade raspberry ice cream recipe that incorporates the sauce is here.) Both the small amount of cornstarch and corn syrup called for help prevent the texture of the sauce from becoming hard or gritty in the freezer, so do not even think about leaving these ingredients out!

 3 1/2 to 4 cups red or black (or a combo) raspberries, washed and patted dry
 1/2 cup granulated sugar (or a little more for really tart berries)
 Generous 1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons water, divided
 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
 1 teaspoon lemon zest and 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, optional
 2 teaspoons cornstarch

Stir together the berries, sugar, 1/2 cup water, the corn syrup, lemon zest and juice (if using) in a medium nonreactive saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring, over medium heat. Adjust the heat so the mixture boils gently, then cook for 10 to 12 minutes or until the berries are soft and have broken down. In a cup, stir together the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons cool water until well blended. Stir the mixture into the berries and bring to a gentle boil; boil for 2 minutes.

 Remove from the heat and let cool to warm. Stir the mixture through a fine sieve (one fine enough to catch the seeds) into a nonreactive storage container. Keep stirring and pressing down until as much juice and pulp is forced through as possible. Scrape off any pulp on the underside of the sieve into the non-reactive storage container. Stir the mixture and if necessary thin it with more water until a saucy consistency is reached.

 Use immediately, if desired, at room temperature as a sundae sauce; or refrigerate, covered, for up to 4 or 5 days. Use the thoroughly chilled sauce to swirl through ice cream for a raspberry ripple ice cream. The sauce thickens in the refrigerator, so you may want to thin it by stirring in a little water if using it as a sundae sauce. If using it to ripple through ice cream, don’t thin it first; the slightly thickened consistency is what you need.

Makes about 1 cup of sauce, enough for 7 or 8 sundaes, or 1 batch of raspberry ripple ice cream.

Here's my raspberry crumb cobbler recipe, which you might also like.

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Very Berry-Fruit Streusel Cobbler and Memories of Home

 I’ve been enjoying fresh berry and fruit cobblers for as long as I can remember. I grew up on a Maryland farm, where gathering and eating both wild and cultivated raspberries and blackberries was a memorable part of every summer. As a reward for our harvesting, my mother often used the berries and whatever other fresh fruit was on hand to make us a cobbler for dessert.

We usually sat on our old wooden porch to eat them. It was a comfortable habit that I think added to the pleasure, so I follow suit and sit on my tree-shaded deck to enjoy them today. That's where the photo was taken. (We devoured the servings as soon as the last picture was snapped!)

When I was about eleven, my mother taught me how to prepare cobblers. They've been one of my summer rituals ever since, although I've expanded my repertoire well beyond the biscuit dough version I learned from her. The one in the picture is really a cross between a cobbler and a crumble: An easy streusel mixture is just stirred together and crumbled over the fruit. (The word streusel is originally German and comes from the verb streuen, meaning to scatter, or strew.) This sort of topping is easier than a biscuit dough, since it requires no rolling or shaping.

I started picking berries around age four, and have probably gathered several thousand quarts since then: My first forays were out to the strawberry patch in the family garden. Next, I collected the cultivated red raspberries growing by the garden fence. And finally, I foraged for the wild black raspberries, blackberries, and dewberries along the edges of fields all over our property. I talk about the folksy neighbor who gave me my best picking tips here.  (Yes, the dewberries have a magical sounding name, but in fact, these low-growing cousins of blackberries were take-your-breath-away sour; they only tasted good cooked with a lot of sugar.)

We also had one cherry, one plum and one apricot tree, to harvest in early summer, but the birds usually ate all the cherries and our stone fruit trees never produced more than a couple apricots or plums each season. I don't know why, but this was always a big disappointment

I’ve always found the quiet moments out harvesting in the country exceedingly soothing; the mind can wander and flit as freely as the meadow butterflies, while the hands keep busily, automatically working to fill the pail. Now that I live in the suburbs, much of my foraging occurs at the edges of highways and supermarket parking lots. Which means that the relaxing day dreaming is now interrupted with car doors slamming, occasional honking and vehicles zipping by. But, to be honest, the fresh berries from the burbs are just as spectacular as the ones from the farm.

Very-Berry-Fruit Streusel Cobbler

This homey, succulent streusel cobbler calls for red raspberries and cherries and either black raspberries or blackberries. Black raspberries have a wonderful, zingy flavor that complements the other fruits beautifully, but the black varieties are hard to find in markets. If necessary, blackberries make a fine substitute, though the two don't really taste alike.

 The recipe calls for adding some plums, apricots or peaches to round out the flavor--each adds a different, wonderful appeal and also "stretches" the berries and cherries a bit. Another advantage of adding in stone fruits is that they yield a less seedy cobbler.

The topping comes out slightly crisp and sweet, providing a pleasing contrast to the tartness of the filling underneath. Be sure to bake until the streusel is done all the way through and golden brown. Test the center top with a toothpick to be sure.

If you're interested in other seasonal fruit desserts, check out my favorite apple crisp or blackberry cobbler, which is shown below.

Generous 3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 cup red raspberries
1 cup black raspberries or blackberries
1 cup dark sweet or sour pitted cherries
2 1/2 cups pitted and chopped red or black plum, or apricots, or peeled, pitted and chopped peaches (or a combination)
2 to 4 teaspoons lemon juice
1 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose white flour
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Ice cream or whipped cream for serving

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly coat a 9-inch by 13-inch flat baking dish with nonstick spray. For filling: Thoroughly stir together granulated sugar and cornstarch in a large bowl. Gently stir in the berries, fruit and lemon juice until well blended. Spread mixture evenly in baking dish.

For dough: Thoroughly stir together the flour, brown and granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the melted butter, stirring until incorporated. Add the egg, stirring with a fork until mixture is blended and clumped. Sprinkle the clumps of dough mixture evenly over fruit.

Bake in middle third of oven for 35 to 45 minutes, or until well browned and bubbly. Test the center with a tooth pick; the particles should look dry and crumbly, not wet or gummy. Transfer to wire rack and let cool to barely warm or cooled before serving. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.
Makes about 10 servings.

This is a pic of my traditional biscuit-topped  blackberry cobbler.
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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Ariel's Restaurant--A Gem Tucked in the Vermont Countryside

If you are an avid restaurant goer, you know that once in a while the planets and stars come into perfect alignment and the culinary gods bestow upon you a magical evening. It’s marked by fine food and stimulating conversation, nicely tied up with a bow of pleasing ambiance and attentive, but unobtrusive service.

That's exactly what my hubby and I were fortunate enough to experience at Ariel’s  Restaurant in Brookfield, Vermont, while I was attending a professional baking conference last fall. We enjoyed it so much we are headed back for another dinner there later this week during a little vacation in New England.

As you can see from the pics below, the setting, a tiny, tucked-away hamlet called Pond Village, is as picturesque as any New England countryside scene ever conjured up by an artist. As soon as we drove up, we were charmed. While we waited for our whole party from the conference to arrive, we strolled about in the crisp fall air, admiring the view of the historic floating bridge, and golden-hued tree in front of the Greer Trails Inn across the street.

Ariel's proprietors, chef Lee Dumberman and Richard Fink, have added inviting touches inside as well as out—soft, tulip lights, fresh plants, warm yellow walls and friendly greeting all combined to make us feel welcomed and at home. They sounded just as welcoming when we booked our reservation this time, so this must be their usual habit.  They have been in business over twenty years. 

One of the memorable items on the menu was the smooth, fragrant and very flavorful squash bisque. It was perfect for the cool autumn evening. Another was  a light, extremely enticing soda bread. It was highly aromatic with fennel seeds, which I wouldn’t have thought to add, but were just the right touch. The bread is pictured at the bottom, and I’ve posted the recipe for it here.

I'll post again soon with details of Ariel's spring menu and our meal soon.  Ariel's Restaurant is located at: 29 Stone Road  Brookfield, VT 05036  Phone: (802) 276-3939

Ariel's Seeded Soda Bread

Another restaurant post you may like--my visit to the famous Le Bernardin, in New York City. Or perhaps my visit to Denver's Rioja here.

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