Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A return to ice cream. And blogging.

France loves ice cream. It's everywhere. As a snack from a street vendor, a couple scoops as dessert from a brasserie, even as a fancy coupe (what we call a sundae) from a more upscale restaurant. When I was in Carcassonne, there was an ice cream vendor around the corner from my hostel with a big selection of homemade ice cream everyday. It was 2.50 Euro for a scoop in a waffle cone. It was more expensive than the other vendors I saw, but it was clearly made by hand in small batches and not from an ice cream company. It was worth every cent. I fell in love with their tiramisu ice cream. The one day they didn't have it, they had a caramelized fig sorbet in its place. It was delicious. I'm not sure why it was called a sorbet because it very obviously had a milk base. I've been thinking about that ice cream since I got home.

I have a love-hate relationship with figs. On one hand, they are so good for you, packed full of fiber, vitamins and minerals. On the other hand, their texture is, let's face it, downright weird, and the flavor is so subtle that it easily gets lost if paired incorrectly. Most American folks' first encounter with the humble fig is the ubiquitous Fig Newton. Dry, processed, occasionally stale and barely tasting of figs, this is not a good first impression. The fig is not my favorite fruit by any means, but nearly all of the memorable desserts I've had involved figs. Why is that? It perplexes me. Perhaps I need a food therapist to help me sort out my complicated relationship with figs.

I'm cooking dinner tonight with two new friends. Like all of my friends, they love food and love to cook. Of course, I offered to bring dessert. I decided to attempt to make the caramelized fig ice cream. It's in the freezer right now. The flavor is not what I had in Carcassonne, but it's darn good. My obvious problem is the kind of figs used in France. I need to find out what kind are available in the southwest of France and if they are available here.

Tonight this will be paired with gingerbread.

Caramelized Fig Ice Cream

2 TBSP butter
1 quart brown turkey figs (or whatever brown fig is available to you)
1/3 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup dark Kayro syrup
1 TBSP molasses
1oz. marsala

Cut figs into quarters lengthwise then cut in half crosswise. Melt butter in deep saute pan. Add figs and saute over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add sugar, corn syrup and molasses, stir well. Let simmer until the figs are soft, the sauce is a deep golden brown and thick. Be sure to stir occasionally so it doesn't stick. Add the marsala and stir well. At this point, I transferred the mixture to a bowl and whizzed it lightly with my stick blender. It's your choice. I wanted more of a swirl instead of a fully mixed ice cream and I wanted something more smooth and less chunky. After I pureed it lightly, I put it back into the pan and sauteed for a few more minutes. Ultimately, the fig/sugar mixture should be thick like caramel sauce but almost a light milk chocolate color.  Let this cool.

Use your favorite vanilla ice cream recipe and freeze in your ice cream maker as usual.  Place half of the ice cream in a loaf pan.  Layer all of the caramelized fig mixture, then top with a final layer of vanilla ice cream.  Using the handle of a wooden spoon or spatula, insert it into the pan through all three layers in one corner and drag straight across the pan.  Pull up, reinsert into the pan just below where it was pulled out, drag across the pan.  Repeat this process going left to right in rows, then repeat from top to bottom in rows.  This will create a swirl of the fig mixture.  If you want easy, just add the fig mixture to the ice cream in the final few minutes of mixing.  Fussy or easy, it's darn tasty.

Semester Two: Let the games begin!

Last wednesday was the first day of my second semester. What a day it was! I'm in class from 9 AM to 7 PM with no breaks, except for the time it takes to get from class to class. My day began with two lecture classes and continued with two labs. My labs were a lot of fun. In Garde Manger, we made garnishes for a few hours, tomato skin roses, radish roses (or as my brother calls them-cracked radishes), celery and green onion garnishes. It was fun. Tomorrow, we get into herb identification and salad dressings. Garde Manger, for those who don't know, encompasses the cold kitchen. We'll cover topics like garnishes and salads, but also sandwiches, platters for buffets, even sushi. In Garde Manger II, which I plan of taking, we'll cover butchering and sausage making and advanced garnishes including ice carving. My class is taught by my department head. He's awesome, hilarious, knowledgeable, and tough. I'm looking forward to the challenge of getting an A in his class.

My second class that day is Hot and Cold Desserts. We also jumped right in with cheesecake and custard desserts, rice pudding and bread pudding. My bread pudding didn't turn out well at all. I followed the instructions and ended up with too much liquid. Oh well. My cheesecake came out great, however, which is what matters since it is supposed to be served as a dessert in our restaurant. Apparently a lot of what we make in this class is production for the restaurant. Everyone in the class is great. Everyone worked hard, had a good time, and generally enjoyed the whole process. At the end of class, we critiqued what we made. We all talked about hat worked, what didn't, how it could be served or fixed. The vibe in the class was so much better than in Baking I. Everyone wanted to be there and not because Food Network makes it look so fun. I'm really going to love this class. I have the same instructor that taught my sanitation class. I really loved her. She has a ton of experience in most aspects of the hospitality industry. She really wants her students to succeed. She also told us that we can be as challenged as we want to be in this class. She wants us to think like pastry chefs. For example, we don't have to make our cheesecake in a round traditional pan. We could use a muffin pan for individual servings or a long rectangular pan. We can make deconstructed desserts, different flavors, etc. It's going to be a good semester.

Yesterday was Day Two. The day is a little longer, but I have a break in the afternoon. I started the day with Cake Design and Decorating. We had to bake two types of cakes with which we will practice decorating or the first part of the semester. We used the same ingredients and measurements but two different mixing methods. The first was the creaming method, which most people know, especially if you'd ever made a pound cake before. You cream the butter and sugar, add the eggs, then alternate the dry ingredients and wet ingredients. This makes a nice dense cake that holds up well to the weight of a large cake. The other method was the Two Stage Method. I was not familiar with this, but I like it. You add the dry ingredients, the sugar, butter, and a little of the liquid (in this case the milk and eggs combined). You mix until fluffy then add the liquid in two stages... hence the name! It makes a lighter, fluffier cake.