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Changing weather means changing diet

First We Eat: As the weather warms up it’s time to get out the ice-cream maker

When my dog Jake brought the season’s first tick into the house, I knew for certain that the weather had changed, and spring had arrived. But there’s an upside. That break in the weather means it’s time to eat ice cream. Dave eats ice cream year round, or claims he does. But what I know as keeper of the kingdom of frozen goods is that he forgets about ice cream in mid-October; the unfinished carton languishes until I take pity on it and give its crystallized contents a decent burial.

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One of the upsides (seeing as we are discussing upsides) of this pandemic is that social distancing and the prime ministerial admonition to “Go home. And stay there!” has re-kindled widespread interest in home cooking. That includes ice cream. After all, if you can’t go out for supper, you can’t go out for a cone either. But no problem. Ice cream’s a snap to make. Just don’t try to keep homemade ice cream in the freezer until next October.

I’ve had several different ice-cream makers. My favourite is an old-style hand-cranked Waring I found in my mother’s basement. The ice-cream tub nests inside a wooden exterior that holds ice and salted water. Somehow the textures of the ice creams I make with it are better — creamier, I think — than what I’ve made using the store-in-the-freezer double-walled canisters containing space-age coolant. Those do work, though. In fact, I’ve made ice cream with just a bowl in the freezer, and stirred it every couple of minutes to alleviate the formation of ice crystals and mimic churning. But it was hard on the freezer and its contents — all that opening and closing raised the temperature. So it works as a last-ditch effort only.

Do you favour ice cream or Italian gelato? Both are made with cream, milk and sugar, but ice cream contains egg yolks and more cream, resulting in a richer, airier dessert. Gelato is lower in fat, which may or may not matter to you. I love gelato’s intensity and its dense texture. On the other hand, there’s sorbet and sherbet. Sorbet is pared down to essentials, sugar syrup and fruit. Sherbet is also made with sugar syrup and fruit, but includes cream — less than ice cream, but still enough to alter its texture from sorbet, which can be grainy.

Photo: dee Hobsbawn-Smith

When I finish term papers and garden chores, I plan to do a little research, using plant-based milk alternatives to see how they affect flavour and texture. I’ll report back when I get a chance.

Flavour-wise, the choice is yours. I recall falling in love with a custard-based ice cream steeped with rooibos tea, another flavoured with salted caramel, a grapefruit and Campari sorbet, and a coconut ice cream made with canned coconut cream that was unusually intense. But most often, I prefer chocolate, often with a swirl of caramel (add it near the end of the churning process, as the ice cream comes close to setting). First we eat ice cream, but let’s talk about something other than insects.

Dee’s Backyard Mocha Cinnamon Ice Cream

If you’re going to make ice cream, make it worth your while. Leave out the cinnamon sticks if you wish. Makes about 2 quarts.

  • 2 c. whipping cream
  • 2 c. milk
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped into the pot
  • 6-8 egg yolks
  • 1 c. white sugar
  • 1/2 c. espresso or very strong coffee, chilled
  • 2 tbsp. Kahlua or coffee liqueur
  • 2 c. whipped cream
  • 1 c. melted dark chocolate

Simmer the cream, milk, cinnamon and vanilla bean in a heavy pot for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand so the flavours can steep. In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar.

Slowly pour in the slightly cooled cream and spices, whisk well, then return to the pot.

Place over medium heat and cook gently, stirring with a wooden spoon. Do not boil. Cook until lightly thickened — it should coat a spoon and leave a clear line when a finger is drawn across the spoon’s back.

At this point, remove from heat, strain and discard the cinnamon and vanilla, and stir in the espresso and liqueur. Cool, then chill. Fold together the whipped cream and melted chocolate. Fold the chocolate cream into the cold custard. Make ice cream as usual per the ice-cream maker’s instructions.

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