I think we’re all aware what today is – a day originally created by Pope Gelasius in 496AD to honor a few martyred Christians, right? A rather gruesome start. The romantic notion we now fancy didn’t make an appearance until the middle ages with Geoffrey Chaucer and the practice of courtly love. I’m not the biggest fan – we pastry chefs have PTSD symptoms around this day – and the pressure to produce something wonderful for your sweetheart is too much. Dinner, chocolate, roses? How about you put a good flick on the tube, order out Chinese and rub my feet? Now that’s a Valentine’s Day I can get behind.
Regardless, in honor of a day traditionally linked with chocolate, I do have something wonderful and my Month of Chocolate is peaking with a good one – a dark, unbelievable rich and creamy chocolate ice cream. A remarkable recipe but a project. It starts with a rich, creamy custard that sets up thick like a pudding or mousse unlike any ice cream base I’ve ever seen. Run that through an ice cream maker and you have something wonderful.
I first came across this recipe of Fergus Henderson’s a while ago. You probably don’t know this London chef but I guarantee you, every chef in this country certainly does. The man has had an enormous impact worldwide, putting nose-to-tail eating and all the tasty bits on the map. Offal and dishes including bone marrow, pig ears, kidneys and all the various pieces are the hot new dishes. Don’t knock it – prepared properly, they are delicious and chances are very good that if you walk into the hot restaurant in your town, there’s at least once dish that can trace it’s roots back to this man. His impact is far-reaching and lasting – I knew that the Roasted Bone Marrow with Parsley Salad I had at New York City’s Prune way back in 2002 was 100% Henderson.
I had the great fortune dine at Henderson’s London restaurant St. John years ago and it was fantastic. Wandering through Portobello Road a few days later, I happened upon Books for Cooks, a delightful cookbook store and picked up his first book The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating before it was released in the US. My kind of souvenir. It’s a fascinating little tome, full of recipes that seemed exotic to me at the time: that classic bone marrow preparation, kedgeree, trotters, and ham in hay. The pastry section was slim but interesting with classic British sweets I found intriguing: treacle tart, Eccles cakes, and carragheen pudding. It was a book that I may not have cooked from but I read cover to cover a few times. I couldn’t help but have respect for the man who was single-handedly turning around the perception of British food and doing it well.
A few years later, I ordered his second book and immediately flipped to the back. It wasn’t that I was disappointed in the pastry options of the first, just that it left me wanting more and the cover illustration of a pig diving into an English pudding was promising. I was delighted to find another the recipe for chocolate ice cream. You see, the head note for chocolate ice cream in the first book was intriguing “… we tried to create a bitter chocolate ice cream. We have failed so far, so if anybody can help please communicate with us (includes phone number). Even so, seeing as chocolate ice cream is fundamental, I have included the recipe we currently use. It is not as dark or bitter as I could wish for, but is rich and delicious.” You have to admire a man that writes that in his cookbook.
Happily, the second book had an update. “We finally did it, battling with the schizophrenic nature of chocolate – the sweetness going in one direction, the chocolate taste in another, plus the chalkiness of bitter chocolate. The battle was worthwhile and we now have the perfect chocolate ice cream. I hope you’ll agree.” After reading that, how can you not a) love this guy and b) want to try it?
A look at the recipe and my first response was, wow. It’s not so much difficult as involved and it takes 5 days, something not even mentioned in the head note. That’s a very chef-type detail: it takes however long it takes. It also reinforces the habit of reading through the entire recipe before you start. Of course I had to make it.
Here’s how the steps break out to give you an overview of what’s involved: 1) melt the chocolate, 2) heat milk/cocoa powder, 3) beat yolks/sugar until fluffy, 4) temper yolks, 5) cook mixture to 175°F, 5) cool custard, 6) make caramel, 7) combine caramel and chocolate, 8)strain, 9) chill 2 days, 10) process, 11) freeze 3 days, 12) enjoy.
Whew. Are those full 5 days necessary? I’m not sure but I do know the texture improves the longer it sits. This ice cream is like a cross between a frozen chocolate pudding and a truffle. After reading those head notes, I’m confident that the Chef and his pastry chef put in the time so I’ll take their word.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: HOLY @$*%! This is remarkable. The deep dark chocolate flavor is lovely but expected. It’s the texture that simply throws me off the deep end – unbelievably silky and creamy. Fat will do that, you know. This is easily the best chocolate ice cream I’ve ever had, much less made. Given that the flavor is so prominent, you must use high quality dark dark chocolate. Henderson recommends El Rey Apamate at 73.2% cacao but get the best and darkest you can find. It will make a difference. And plan ahead; like the best of us, this one needs some luxurious resting time. I realize it’s too late to make for a special dinner tonight but you should probably celebrate this weekend anyway. Start now and you’ll just make it.
ST. JOHN DARK CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM – from Beyond Nose to Tail
Makes 1 quart
7 ounces dark chocolate (70%-75% cacao), finely chopped
2 cups + 2 Tablespoons whole milk
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
6 large egg yolks
13 Tablespoons sugar, divided
¼ cup heavy cream
- Melt the chocolate: either in a bowl set over simmering water or in the microwave in 45 second burst at 50% power, stirring between bursts until smooth.
- Set melted aside until needed; let cool slightly.
- Heat milk/cocoa: In a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the milk and cocoa powder and bring to boil, turn off the heat and set aside.
- Whip the egg yolks: Using an electric mixer, beat egg yolks and 7 Tablespoons of the sugar on high until thick, pale and very thick ribbons form, about 3 minutes.
- Temper the eggs: whisking constantly, gradually add hot milk/cocoa mixture until combined.
- Cook mixture: Return mixture to the saucepan and whisk in the melted chocolate until blended.
- Stir over low heat until slightly thickened and a thermometer registers 175°F, about 5 minutes. Stir constantly, especially in the corners.
- Cool custard: Transfer the chocolate custard to a large bowl and place over and ice bath to cool. Stir until custard is cool.
- Make caramel: Bring remaining 6 Tablespoons sugar and 2 Tablespoons water to a boil in a small heavy, deep saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. (Note: a silver or light colored pan is best so you can see the color of the caramelizing sugar.)
- Caramelize the sugar over high to medium-high heat, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush to dissolve any sugar crystals (do not stir), until a dark amber color forms, about 5 minutes.
- Gradually whisk in cream (careful – mixture will bubble vigorously).
- Combine/strain: Whisk caramel into chocolate custard. Strain into a large container.
- Chill: cover and chill for 2 days.
- Process: Process custard in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Freeze: Transfer to another container; freeze for 3 days before eating.