Monday, April 9, 2007

Goji Berries and Five Spice

I made a couple of different flavors of ice cream this weekend that I thought I would share. The first was the goji berry ice cream that I mentioned in a previous post. I also decided to try and get away from my beloved commercial stablizer that I've become so accustomed to. I'm not really sure what's in it (though I've heard that it's soy-based), and I'm not too keen on using ingredients that I don't fully understand (certainly as far as the contents). So until I do fully understand it and what goes into it, I decided to look for other solutions.

The basic idea behind the stabilizer, was to keep ice crystals small. How this was accomplished, I'm not sure, but I did notice that every time I used it, my ice cream base would thicken. I had also noticed that the thicker my ice cream base, the more quickly it churns. And the more quickly it finishes churning, the smaller the ice crystals. My theory was that if I could thicken the base via another means, then I could effectively replace the stabilizer. I went with the following ingredient list:

1 pint milk
1 cup heavy cream
5 1/4 oz/wt sugar
4 oz/wt cream cheese, softened
6 egg yolks
pinch salt
2 teaspoons tapioca starch

When most people think corn starch, I think tapioca starch. Granted, they're not completely interchangeable in every situation, but they are in most. A couple of bonuses to using tapioca starch is that it is completely flavorless (no corn flavor) and it doesn't cause problems to people with corn allergies.

Of course, this would make a fine plain ice cream, but I'm all about flavor. As I said, the first batch was goji berry. I rinsed off five ounces, by weight, of dried goji berries, then put those, along with the milk in a blender and pulsed a few times, until the berries were nice and small. This concoction was refrigerated overnight, so that the milk could soak up as much flavor as possible, as well as to rehydrate the berries.

The next day, I used my favorite double-boiler method to make my ice cream base. The sugar, egg yolks, softened cream cheese (cut into chunks), salt, tapioca starch, and just a little of the milk were whisked together in a double boiler. When it started to thicken, I slowly added the rest of the milk, and then the cream. Note: I did not strain the berries. I wanted them to add a little bit of interesting texture. When it was all incorporated, I continued to whisk to let it thicken, and then moved the bowl to an ice water bath and whisked slowly until the mixture had cooled. This was refrigerated overnight again, and then churned in my ice cream machine.

I can't say I was all too happy with the results. The ice cream base was thinner than I wanted, so it took forever to churn, and still ended up pretty soft. It took freezing overnight to get it to firm up all the way, but then it still scooped easily. The flavor was pretty intense, and in fact I couldn't handle more than a spoonful at a time. I let my friend Tim try some and he agreed that while the flavor was good, it was too intense for more than one spoonful. I gave some to my other friends Charles and Jacob, and they couldn't get enough of it. So I suppose it's entirely possible that Tim and I just don't care for goji berries as much as we thought we might.

I decided to move onto my next flavor, Chinese five-spice. And why not? Depending on who you ask, Chinese five spice contains things such as cassia (what we call cinnamon), cassia buds, anise, star anise, ginger and/or cloves. They're all baking ingredients! Why wouldn't you use them together for something sweet? My original intent was to use whole spices and either grind them myself, or let them infuse as whole spices. Unfortunately, visits to two different local Chinese markets yielded no anise or cassia buds, and since I never made it to a "regular" grocery store to look for anise (and I'm sure it would have been there), I decided to use a blend that I had bought previously.

The ingredient list was the same as above, except with two tablespoons of tapioca starch instead of teaspoons (and of course, no goji berries). I still believed in my friend tapioca starch, but I decided to go at this from a different angle. An added benefit of starch is that it also acts as a protective barrier against protein over-coagulation. Whereas heated milk (or cream) by itself might curdle, milk with a lot of starch will keep from doing so. And of course, the starch would thicken as it came closer to the boiling point.

Everything except for the egg yolks were added to a sauce pan along with a tablespoon of ground Chinese five-spice and brought to a boil, while I whisked occassionally. As it came close to the boiling point, it thickened as I expected. In fact, I suspect I could have churned it without the yolks, but I had them, so I was going to use them. I turned off the heat and poured a little of the hot mixture into the yolks, while whisking them the whole time. Then the yolks were whisked back into the rest of the mixture, which was then moved back onto the heat for a moment. Many of you will recognize this process as "tempering the yolks". I whisked for a few more minutes on low heat, and then moved the sauce pan to an ice water bath and whisked until it cooled. This was refrigerated overnight, then churned in my ice cream maker.

It took much less time for this mixture to finish churning, and when I pulled it out of the machine, it was much thicker than I expected. I moved it into a container for overnight freezing, making sure to taste a spoonful on the way. It was amazing! I was afraid it wasn't going to be flavorful enough, but it had a punch! In fact, it almost tasted like pumpkin pie spice, but with the powerful licorice flavor of the anise/star anise instead of nutmeg. Even better, after it had spent the night in the freezer, it was still soft enough to scoop with a plastic spoon, but firm enough that it didn't melt during the ten minute drive to work (which was admittedly a chilly drive, but not freezing by any means).

So there's a couple of flavors for your consideration, goji berry and Chinese five spice. I will likely make both in the future, but the five spice will be because I really like it, and the goji berry will be to see if I can find a way to like it. If you decided to make either on your own, I would love to hear how it turns out.


  1. Fat Chick: I think it's awesome that you're thinking about going to culinary school. But don't let your level of success in the Wilton classes determine whether you go culinary or pastry. Believe me, Wilton classes are one thing, the professional pastry world is another thing entirely. The piping skills you learn from Wilton will help you in both culinary school and pastry school. I cannot count the number of times in school that I had to pipe out things like hot mashed potatoes.

    I'm just curious, which schools are you looking at attending?

  2. Right now, I'm looking into several school choices. I'm close to Austin which has the Texas Culinary Academy but am considering other choices that also teach Le Cordon Bleu techniques.

    My husband is in the Army and is being told he has to report to Fort Knox, Kentucky in June. That, like everything in the Army, is subject to change so I've also looked for programs in KY as well. The closest one I could find was at Sullivan University in Louisville. I don't know anything about the school or the program.

    Honestly, I'm not sure what to look for. I've heard La Cordon Bleu was the way to go but I guess that depends on who you ask. I've researched a bit but until I know for sure where I'll be living in 6 months, I can't make any final decisions. Any suggestions when talking to schools?


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