Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Chocolate Stracciatella Ice Cream with Salted Caramel Shards


Oh my god. I've tried not to whinge about the weather too much on this blog - because for one thing, it's tedious, and for another, the rain has been so depressing that I've spent the last few weeks in the foetal position, rocking backwards and forwards, crying out for vitamin D and grabbing another pair of fleecy socks. But I've just checked the long-term weather forecast and lo, I bring tidings of Great Joy. If Accuweather is to be believed (and with a name like that, why wouldn't it?) next week will bring sunshine and temperatures above 20C - even above 25! For at least three days in a row! My melatonin is twitching at the very thought.

 
So this beautiful ice cream recipe, which has seemed inappropriately summery for far too long, can finally step through the drizzle and into the spotlight. It's time to introduce our new favourite ice cream, the recipe I hinted at last time, the star of our Italian party and the only ice cream we've ever made to be finished in its entirety in one sitting. Are you ready? Here we go.

 
The base is a sweet, creamy vanilla from the Ben and Jerry recipe book. Incredibly quick and simple, unlike other ice creams I could mention, this doesn't ask you to make a complicated custard, nor to panic over burning or curdling, nor to wait for hours while it cools down in the fridge. All you need is a whisk, some American measuring cups, a few short minutes of stirring and ta-dah! Ice cream is ready to churn.

 
But delightful as vanilla ice cream is, we wanted something a bit more exciting. First, we added the fun bit which makes it stracciatella - crackly ribbons of pure melted chocolate, solidifying on impact like the low-rent sundae sauces of childhood but infinitely more delicious. Stopping here would have made a fantastic ice cream. To be honest, even the vanilla on its own would have been pretty good. But a flash of divine inspiration illuminated the genesis of this particular ice cream and while drizzling in the chocolate, we also scattered in golden, crunchy shards of salted caramel. Let me say that again. Chocolate, ice cream and shards of salted caramel. I KNOW. It was amazing. Grown men squabbled over the container, batting each other's spoons aside to nab the last few bits of caramel. We almost had a ruckus on our hands. It was that good.

 
Within a week, we'd made another batch of stracciatella - this time, leaving out the caramel and swapping in some quartered, juicy cherries. From now on, nothing in this house will be safe from being scattered into ice cream - nuts, maltesers, berries, rum-soaked raisins, little pieces of fudge, chunks of biscuit, even clusters of granola. And there's no reason why only dark chocolate should get to share the fun - I want to try with white chocolate, or milk, or even mint or orange flavoured chocolate. Or, let's be honest, an unholy combination of two or three different types, all drizzled in together. But truthfully, I have a sneaky feeling that dark chocolate and salted caramel might turn out to be the best possible option. Look at that caramel! It's the colour of sunlight! Obviously an auspicious omen. I'm giving the credit for next week's heatwave entirely to the ice cream.

 
Chocolate Stracciatella Ice Cream with Salted Caramel Shards
Vanilla ice cream recipe adapted from the Ben and Jerry recipe book, caramel from David Lebovitz's Salted Caramel Ice cream (which is blogged properly here).
 
For the vanilla ice cream
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup of caster sugar
- 2 cups of double or whipping cream (we had to swap in milk for a quarter of this - it was fine)
- 1 cup of milk
- a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste
 
For the salted caramel shards
- 100g caster sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon of sea salt (something posh like Maldon)
- some flavourless oil like sunflower
 
For the stracciatella drizzle
- 80g dark chocolate (or, as discussed above, any kind of chocolate you want)
 
First of all, make the caramel shards. Get a large baking tray and wipe the surface with some flavourless oil on a bit of kitchen roll, just to grease it slightly. Spread the sugar evenly across the base of a medium-sized saucepan and put it over a moderate heat. Watch carefully while the edges gradually melt into liquid, stirring every now and then with a heat-proof utensil to bring the melted bits into the middle. Don't worry if your stirring makes lumps, they'll melt eventually. 

Keep on gently heating and stirring, patient patient patient, until the sugar is all melted and golden brown. Let it bubble until it gets darker, starts to smoke and smells like it's just about to burn, then take it off the heat, scatter in the salt STRAIGHT AWAY and VERY QUICKLY pour it out onto the greased baking tray. Immediately lift up the tray and tilt it this way and that to spread the sugar into as thin a layer as possible - holding the tray almost vertical to make the sugar flow into a thin sheet. Obviously you need to be careful not to burn yourself because the caramel is hotter than the sun, but it'll solidify almost immediately so it shouldn't burn you unless you're incredibly unlucky. Once it's all spread out, set the tray aside to finish cooling down.

To make the ice cream, whisk the eggs in a large mixing bowl (or freestanding mixer) for about 2 minutes or until very light and fluffy. Keep whisking while you gradually add the sugar, then whisk the whole thing for another couple of minutes until totally blended. Pour in the cream, milk and vanilla, whisk again, then transfer to your ice cream maker and churn. This one really appreciates a long churning time - it's in the final few minutes that air is incorporated, making the final ice cream light and soft - so give it a good 25 minutes. 
 
About five minutes before the ice cream is ready, bash up the tray of caramel with a pestle and mortar, or a rolling pin or whatever, so that you've got lots of little crunchy shards. Melt the chocolate in the microwave, 15 seconds at a time, in a jug if you can (for ease of pouring later).

Dollop about a quarter of the churned ice cream into a big tupperware, and spread out evenly. Then drizzle over the melted chocolate in a thin stream, like in the pictures, and scatter on the caramel (or whatever). Repeat in layers until you've used everything up. 

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