Blink and you missed them. I got word this morning that this is the last week for Pete’s strawberries at the farmer’s market. It’s a shame too because I’ve been just too damn busy to do all the things I had hoped – strawberry shortcake or that roasted strawberry sorbet I wanted to try. I suppose I could use conventional grocery store strawberries but I wonder if I should even bother. Those sad pale berries are what turned me off to strawberries in the first place. It was a trip, years ago, to Chino Farms outside San Diego that reminded me of what a strawberry could be. Just thinking about that berry makes my mouth water, even now.
Before I whine too much, let’s just say that I did squeeze a few things in. This morning, I made a beautiful strawberry rhubarb pie that I’ll talk about another time. And last night, I took some of those berries that have been languishing in my fridge since last week’s market and made some ice cream. Yep, some damn fine ice cream.
A few years ago, I went to ice cream school at Pennsylvania State University. Yes, you read that right. Ice Cream School. Penn State has a large College of Agricultural Studies where one can earn degrees in all sorts of fields like crop and soil sciences, horticulture food science and dairy and animal science. A company I was working for sent me to fix our ice cream. We were having production issues and none of us knew enough to fix it on our own so I took a week-long highly complicated class to learn more of the technical side of the ice cream process.
Did you know that the Penn State dairy barns are just a hop, skip and a jump from the football stadium, aka “The House that Joe Pa built” ? True story. In fact, I bet when they show aerial shots from the blimps during games, you can see cows grazing over there to the left. I find this hugely entertaining.
So besides cows within spitting distance to a major sporting landmark, I learned quickly, sitting amongst chemical engineers from major national food corporations, that I was way out of my league. Upon check in, I was handed two enormous binders filled with complicated formulas, long PowerPoint presentations on the molecular structure of ice formation and a comparatively tiny section on flavor and texture development. Well damn, what had I gotten myself into? Case in point: “The Thermodynamics of a Rapid Hardening Freezer System” was the title of an upcoming class. Say what?
While most of the course was far too technical for my needs, I did learn what was causing our textural problems and how to fix it. I came back inspired. I also ate A LOT of ice cream, which was a pretty great perk. One of my favorite discoveries was how buttermilk can make a fantastic ice cream – tangy, refreshing and utterly delicious. Hey Caroline – add this to your “buttermilk love” list!
Back home, I started experimenting in my little 1-quart ice cream maker and was delighted by the results. Since commercial buttermilk is typically low fat, I found I like it best mixed with heavy cream, which results in a rich base with none of the icy crystals typically found in low fat ice creams. Though really good on it’s own, my best batches were mixed with fruit. The buttermilk emphasizes the fruit bright flavors, particularly with berries and stone fruits. I pump this up by macerating the berries a bit first in some sugar and a little booze – kirsch is rather nice. But don’t use too much or the alcohol will inhibit the freeze.
One key thing to remember: make the initial base with just the cream and add the cold buttermilk just before churning. First time out of the gate, I added the buttermilk at the start, forgetting that cream with a little buttermilk is often used to make creme fraiche. I ended up with a very thick base. Tasty but not what I was shooting for.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: MEDIUM-HIGH though this increases to HIGH as the outside temperature increases. I receive tremendous satisfaction from making frozen desserts and knowing that I have a few of my own pints stashed away in the freezer. Watching the mixture spin and churn and waiting … waiting … waiting for it to be ready is more than worth it.
STRAWBERRY BUTTERMILK ICE CREAM; adapted from a David Lebovitz recipe in The Perfect Scoop
Makes 1 quart
¾ lb strawberries, sliced
¼ cup sugar
1 Tablespoon kirsch or vodka (optional)
1 cup heavy cream
6 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
- Make sure your ice cream maker freezer canister is in the freezer before you start. It really sucks to realize your forgot to do this step.
- Combine the strawberries, ¼ cup sugar and kirsch in a medium bowl. Let sit until sugar is dissolved, about ½ hour.
- In a medium saucepan, scald the cream and the ½ cup sugar over medium heat, until the sugar is dissolved.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks to break up.
- Pour a little bit of the hot cream into the yolks to warm up or temper the mixture.
- Add the remaining hot cream, whisk to combine, then pour back into the saucepan.
- Cook the mixture until just thickened over medium heat, whisking constantly, about 4-5 minutes.
- Strain mixture into a medium bowl.
- In a blender, puree the macerated strawberry mixture until smooth.
- Combine the custard mixture and the pureed berries; cover and refrigerate until cold. About 2 hours minimum but best overnight.
- Just before churning, add the cup of cold buttermilk and stir to combine.
- Process in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturers instructions.
- Transfer to a freezer safe container and freeze for at least 1 hour before serving.