Vanilla Ice Cream

Dear David Lebovitz,

You are awesome.  I think we should be best friends.  We should hang out and stuff.

Sincerely,

Ali

p.s. My husband loves your ice cream.

Have I mentioned recently that I am in love with David Lebovitz and the magic he makes in his tiny Paris kitchen?  If you haven’t been reading his blog, you probably should.  It was from him that I got that amazing Devil’s Food Cake recipe with the coffee in it.  Mmmm …

The Pie came to visit me for Thanksgiving, so I wanted to make sure to make all of his favourite things for when he was here.  Because one of our family friends always brings  her amazing pumpkin pie to our Thanksgiving dinner, I figured what better complement to the dessert than a home-made ice cream?  And vanilla is the Pie’s favourite.  I’ve never made a “cooked” ice cream before but I have recently learned that all the things that used to intimidate me about cooking are not as hard as I once thought them to be.  So here we go.

This recipe, of course, is adapted from David Lebovitz.  You should read his post about it for all the interesting information about vanilla and where it comes from and how you can store your used beans. 

Start with 1 cup whole milk.  I used half whipping cream and half 1% milk, because that’s what I had.

Grab yourself as well 3/4 cup sugar.

Heat the milk and sugar in a saucepan.

Split a vanilla bean, scrape the seeds into the milk and add the pod as well.  My vanilla bean was dried out so it kind of disintegrated on me, but that’s okay.

Remove the milk from the heat, cover it, and allow it to infuse for about an hour.

Set up an ice bath

Place a smaller bowl (at least 2L) in a larger bowl partially filled with ice and water.  Set a strainer over top of the smaller bowl.

Pour 2 cups heavy cream (whipping cream) through the strainer.

Separate eight eggs and reserve the yolks (I used the whites to make chocolate meringues).

Stir the yolks together.

Re-warm your infused milk and gradually pour some of the milk into the yolks, whisking constantly.

Scrape the warmed yolks and milk back into the saucepan.

Cook over low heat, stirring constantly (and I mean constantly) and scraping the bottom of the saucepan with a spatula, until the custard (because that’s what it is) thickens enough to coat the spatula.  It won’t take long so keep an eye out.

Strain the custard into the heavy cream and stir over the ice in the bath until it’s cool. 

Chuck the vanilla bean pod back into the mix.  Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, then refrigerate to chill thoroughly, preferably overnight.

I also added here 3 tablespoons Screech rum.  Lebovitz says that adding a little bit of alcohol to your ice cream will make it softer after it’s made.

When you are ready to freeze your ice cream, take out the vanilla bean pod and freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.

Store in an airtight container in your freezer until thoroughly frozen.

Serve.  So very creamy …

No-Bake Peanut Butter Crunchy Squares

I made these as a present for the Pie when he came to visit me at Thanksgiving.  The man is a slave to peanut butter, and I like to express my love through food.  We’re a well-matched pair.

The recipe I have calls for 1 cup of crispy rice cereal and 2 cups corn flakes cereal.  I don’t particularly like eating either of those cereals (they get soggy too fast) so I didn’t want to be stuck with piles of cereal when I was finished the recipe.  The solution?  Special K.  A small box containing a mixture of both cereals.  And high in protein too.  In doubling the recipe, I ended up using the entire box (6 cups cereal), which was an added bonus.

For the double recipe you need 1 cup corn syrup.

Corn syrup photographs really well, don’t you think?

2 cups smooth peanut butter.

1/2 cup butter or margarine (go for the real deal).

1 cup packed brown sugar.

And 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.

In a saucepan over low heat, stir together peanut butter, butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup.

Get it all melty and stuff until it’s all smooth and looks like caramel. Caramel made of peanut butter, that is.

Remove it from the heat and mix in the vanilla.

Pour your cereals (2 cups crispy rice, 4 cups corn flakes) in a bowl an mix them (or use my cop-out cheat method of 6 cups Special K Satisfaction).

Pour in the peanut butter goo and mix well.

Press evenly into a sprayed pan (double the recipe makes for a 9×13″ pan).

Chill for 6 hours or until firm.  Flip mixture onto a flat surface and cut into squares.  You might need a spatula to help you ease the squares out of the pan.

Enjoy.  I know the Pie did.

Will keep in an airtight container for ages and ages (separate layers with waxed paper).

Chocolate Meringues

Happy Birthday Minda!

I love meringues, and they’re something I actually mastered as a young child, though how I had the patience for them I will never know.  The sweet, crispy, chewy lightness of the meringue cookies made it worth the wait.

Recently I’ve been looking at alternative forms of meringue, and other methods of making them.  I made these amazing chocolate mocha meringues last year around Valentine’s Day but of course I can’t remember where I got the recipe from.  Do you remember Kª?  Perhaps it was an issue of Every Day Food.  Who knows …

In an effort to recreate these magic chocolate tasties (and because I had 8 egg whites left over from my foray into vanilla ice cream [post to follow next Wednesday, stay tuned]), I flipped through The Joy of Cooking (2006) for a new take on the old classic.  These ones are from page 741, and I doubled the batch (of course).

Now I’ve mentioned this before, but make sure that your egg whites are at room temperature before you start whipping them.  If they are cold you can always warm them up by putting them in a bowl of warm water.

Preheat your oven to 225°F.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a mixer, plop in 1 egg whites, 1 teaspoons vanilla extract, and 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Whisk ’em up at high speed, and add, gradually, 2/3 cup granulated sugar

When you get to the stiff peak stage, you’re done.

Sift together 2/3 cup icing sugar with 3 tablespoons cocoa powder and fold it into the beaten mixture as well.

If it’s still a little swirly, that’s okay.

Spoon the mixture onto the parchment and shape it however you wish.

I had enough leftover for a large meringue to make into a sort of pavlova.

Bake it for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (seriously).  You can see if it’s done if you can remove a meringue from the parchment without it breaking.

Turn off your oven and prop the door open a bit with a wooden spoon.  Leave it like that for an hour or so (again with the waiting).  The trick with good crisp meringue is to let it cool slowly. 

Store the meringues in an airtight container or wrap them tightly for up to three days.

For my little pavlova, I cut up some fruit for the top: raspberries, strawberries, and grapes.

Then I melted some chocolate in a double boiler.

Plopped the berries on the meringue.

Drizzled the chocolate on top.  It’s pretty much a pavlova, minus the whipped cream.

Vanilla and Nectarine Preserves

I told you I was going to attempt Vicious Sweet Tooth’s Vanilla and Nectarine preserves, and so here we go. 

She has some good tips on canning, and of course my mother and I recently made some grape jam with a canner, so just follow those instructions and you should be fine.

Pit and chop up about 4 1/2 lbs nectarines.  Leave the skins on, because that’s where you get the pectin from.  We used about 4L nectarines, so it probably is slightly more than we needed but what the hey.

Plop them in a pot with 2 cups granulated sugar, 1/3 cup lemon juice, and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.  We chucked in one of our old vanilla beans (you can re-use vanilla beans, did you know?) for good measure.

Bring the fruit mixture to a boil.  The pectin in the skins will help your preserves to gel. 

The mixture should thicken and darken a bit.

To see if it’s ready to can, put a plate (or in our case, a ramekin, which can handle the temperature change without cracking) in the freezer for a little while, then remove it and drop some of your hot jam mixture onto the plate.  Put it back in the freezer to cool for a few minutes.  If you give the drop a push and it wrinkles up, it’s ready for canning and will gel nicely in the jar.

Pour your mixture carefully into your hot, sterilized jars. 

Seal to finger-tip tightness before returning to the canner for another five minutes.

Tada, you have preserves!

This yielded us 7 half-pint jars (250mL each).

Vanilla Cake

For his birthday (which was on the 21st), the Pie requested a vanilla cake.  Conveniently for me this is also the type of cake requested by Chel and Invis for their wedding cake, which I will be making next May.  No time like the present to begin perfecting a recipe.

Vanilla cake is also traditionally known as “white cake”, which forms the base for millions of different kinds of cakes.  This one, however, I wanted to make sure that vanilla was what you got out of the whole thing, not just some bland cake designed to set off a fancy frosting.

You may not know this, but vanilla extract is made by soaking cut vanilla beans (which come from orchids) in a strong dark spirit, such as rum or bourbon.  I figured, what the hey, might as well try it myself.  I got two vanilla beans from Belbin’s and poured about a tablespoon of Screech into the little tube.  You’re supposed to leave it for a few months, but I only had a week.  So that’s what I did.

I was also careful to scrape out all the vanilla bean seeds to enhance the flavour.

The batter for this cake was inspired by the Whiteout Cake in Lewis and Poliafito’s Baked.  When I go to Manhattan to visit my brother, I want to see their bakery.  Anyway, I changed the icing, added jam, and of course used extra vanilla, both my own special Screech blend and regular pure extract.

THE CAKE

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Butter three 8″ round cake pans, line them with parchment circles (which I make using my personal kitchen compass), and then butter the parchment as well.

Dust the pans with flour and knock out the excess.  I definitely did something wrong in this step, because my cakes STUCK.  But I’ll get to that later.

Separate three eggs and bring the whites to room temperature.  I set mine in the sun for a few minutes.  Use the yolks the next day in a tasty omelette.  We did.

Sift together in a bowl 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon baking soda.  Set this aside for a spell.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup vegetable shortening on medium speed until they’re creamy.

This will take about 3 to 4 minutes.

Add in 1 3/4 cups sugar and 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract.

Beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Scrape down the bowl and add one whole egg, then beat until just combined.

Turn the mixer to low and add your flour mixture as well as 1 1/2 cups ice water.  Add the flour in three separate additions, alternating with the water, and starting and ending with the flour.  Scrape down the bowl and mix on low speed for another minute or so.

In a separate bowl, whisk together your 3 egg whites with 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar until you reach the soft peak stage.

Gently fold the egg whites into the rest of your batter.

Distribute the batter amongst the three pans and smooth the tops.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, rotating halfway through, until you can insert a toothpick in the middle of the cake and it comes out clean.

Invert onto racks and let cool completely before frosting (you can remove the parchment when they’re cool).  You will notice how I lost a few of my cake edges.  But I guess that’s what icing is for — to fill the gaps.

THE FROSTING

In a bowl, plop in 2 250g packages of cream cheese, preferably at room temperature.  Add in 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, as well as 3/4 cup heavy cream (whipping cream) and 3/4 cup icing sugar

Beat with a hand mixer until mostly smooth.

In a double boiler or a heat-proof bowl set above a pot of barely simmering water, melt 12 oz white chocolate.

Add the melted chocolate to the cream cheese mixture and beat the crap out of it until it’s smooth.

THE CRUMB COAT

Set the first layer of your cake on your serving plate and slather the top with a generous layer of icing (don’t worry, you’re not going to run out).  Add several dollops of jam.

We love our Auntie Crae’s.

Plop on the second layer and repeat the above steps.  Plop on the third layer, and now you can begin your crumb coat. 

We do a crumb coat so that you can get all the messiness out of the way beforehand.  Cover the entire cake with a thin layer of icing.  Don’t worry if crumbs or jam gets into the icing.  This is your priming coat in any case.

Pop it into the fridge for at least fifteen minutes for the icing to set.

Bring it out and slather it with more icing.  You see how that sealant coat keeps the cake’s interior from interfering with the exterior.

Decorate to your whimsy and serve. I used dragées and white sprinkles for this effect.

Keep leftovers covered in the refrigerator.  It has a slight lean because I didn’t bother to level the layers before attaching them, but the Pie liked it well enough.