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
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.