I've been playing with ice cream again. In the past couple of days, I've made two different flavors: lemon and blood orange. Both were made exactly the same way, using fresh ingredients. And as you might have guessed, both were made using the base ice cream recipe I developed while playing with commercial ice cream stabilizer. Let me reiterate the basic ingredient list, minus stabilizer:
3/4 cup sugar
6 egg yolks
4 oz cream cheese, softened
pinch of salt
1 cup cream
1 pint milk
This ingredient list will produce a basic ice cream, with no flavorings. I had a friend tell me last week that his favorite flavor of ice cream was "plain", meaning no flavorings whatsoever, not even vanilla. He told me that he liked the clean taste of the unadulterated dairy and sugar. The above ingredient list will get you a somewhat rich version of that same concept.
Before I go beyond that concept, I'd better give you some idea as to how this recipe is put together. I've covered this before, and will likely cover it again. But I think the context demands a short explanation here.
You need a double boiler. Rather than going out and buying an expensive commercial setup, I recommend using the tools you should already have. You need a saucepan and a wide metal bowl. When you fill the saucepan with an inch or two of water, and put the bowl over it, the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water. This is all you need for a double boiler. In many procedures, such as this one, I like to put a dish towel between the bowl and the saucepan, so that the bowl is resting on the towel instead of the pan itself, making sure that the edges of the towel are nowhere near the burners. The steam from the saucepan will keep the towel wet, and the towel itself will provide grip for the bowl.
With that in mind, set your double boiler over high heat and bring it to a rolling boil. In your bowl, combine the sugar, yolks, cream cheese (cut into pieces), salt and about a quarter of the cream, and start whisking. Your primary goal is not so much to mix everything together homogeneously, that will happen naturally. Your goal really is to keep everything moving, and make sure that no part of the mixture spends any more time in direct contact with the bowl as possible. The less time the yolks spend touching that bowl directly, the less of a chance they have of scrambling. The little bit of cream that we added will help you out in this area.
As some of you may know, this method is exactly the same as you would use for making lemon curd. Replace the cream cheese with butter and that little bit of cream with lemon juice and that's exactly what you're making. I use cream cheese instead of butter because the cream has enough butterfat as it is. I also like the flavor of cream cheese, especially when combined with other ingredients. It has the powerful ability to become an integral background note in what might otherwise be little more than a mediochre dish.
Back to our plain ice cream. As you continue to whisk, and you don't need to whisk quickly, you will notice the mixture thickening. That's because the egg yolks are starting to reach out and grab everything around them, and form them into a tight little gel. This is the essence of a curd. As this point you can slowly begin whisking in the rest of the cream. It will cool the mixture slightly. At this point I usually go a couple more minutes, which allows the mixture to heat back up and tighten a little more. Finally I whisk in the milk, which completes the concoction.
The procedure from this point is standard. Remove the bowl from the heat and put it on top of a bowl full of ice water. Keep whisking. Your goal here is still to keep egg proteins away from the side of the bowl, untill the bowl cools down to at least room tempurature. Then you can move the mixture to a resealable container, and move that container to the refrigerator overnight. This ages the mixture slightly, and allows the flavors to meld completely and become something that really is worth more than the sum of its parts. After it's aged, freeze in whatever ice cream maker you have, according to the manufacturer's instructions, and then move to your own freezer to harden.
This will create a dish that is clean and smooth, much like what my friend spoke of. But he also complained that nobody is willing to make and sell such a thing commercially. That's because the masses like more flavor. So let's go back and make the changes that I did this past week.
When you set up your double boiler with the sugar, yolks, cream cheese and salt, add the zest of two lemons to the bowl. You will also need to juice both lemons, and strain the juice into the bowl. This will ensure that you're not adding lemon seeds or pulp to the mixture, which would be undesirable in the final product. Make sure to add the zest to the bowl, and then strain the juice into the bowl. The last thing you want is to strain out all of that flavorful zest. Leave out the cream for now. The liquid from the lemon juice is plenty of moisture as it is.
Continue exactly as before, including adding all of the cream and milk when it's time. This will make a thinner mixture than before, because of all the added moisture. I compensate for this by adding two tablespoons of my commercial stabilizer when I add the lemon zest and juice, as previously mentioned in other articles. This will thicken the mixture slightly, making it much easier to churn. I should note that this is not necessary, and if you have a decent ice cream maker, your ice cream should still freeze properly. I cheat and use the stabilizer as insurance.
This will make a very creamy and very lemony ice cream indeed. Why did I choose lemon? For some unknown reason the words "lemon ice cream" got into my head, and I couldn't figure out why I had never seen such a thing before. It sounded so good, and so obvious. I had seen lemon sorbet, but never lemon ice cream. The result of my efforts was flavorful and creamy. I believe that the natural oils in the lemon zest combined with the other fats in the mixture to give it an unworldly flavor that packed a lemon punch with next to none of the tart acidity normally associated with lemons.
I wasn't finished. I have the good fortune of living near a grocery store that stocks certain less common produce on a regular basis. As I was picking up my lemons, I was startled to see blood oranges alongside the rest of the produce. For those of you who aren't familiar with this delight, it requires little explanation. It looks like a regular orange, but the outer rind tends to look like it has a red rash on parts of it. The flesh on the inside is blood red, rather than the bright orange most of us are used to. And the flavor is far more intense than any regular orange, packing more tartness and flavor than regular oranges.
Back in cooking school, we had made blood orange sorbet, using a commercial puree that the school was able to procure much more easily than the average home cook. I had the advantage of using fresh produce, and I wanted to see if blood oranges translated into ice cream nearly as well as lemons.
I used the zest and juice of two blood oranges exactly the same as with the lemons. I naively expected a dark red ice cream, similar to the sorbet from school. What I didn't take into account was the pigment of the other ingredients. The egg yolks with their natural yellow instantly turned my curd to orange, still slightly dark because of the blood oranges. But by the time I had finished adding the cream and milk, both of which are undeniably white, the mixture had become a very light orange indeed.
And the flavor? It tastes a lot like an orange cream ice cream bar, if perhaps a little more flavorful. It tasted more like a traditional orange than a blood orange, making me wonder if blood orange ice cream is even worth it. Then I realized that the original flavor had more of a punch than traditional orange in the first place, and wondered if such a thing was essential to making a regular orange-tasting ice cream. Don't get me wrong, it was good. It was dang good. But it wasn't blood orange anymore, in flavor or in color. I suppose if I were to add red food coloring, I could fool myself and others into thinking it was more blood orange than anything, at least temporarily. It's kind of like adding green to mint ice cream to make it seem mintier.
Both the lemon and the blood orange ice cream were good. So good in fact, that I'm likely to make both again, probably more than a few times. You should give it a try too. Let me know what you think.