Friday, July 25, 2014

O Pioneers!

In Utah, July 24th is a public holiday called Pioneer Day.  It commemorates the day when the Mormon pioneers arrived in Utah and Brigham Young basically told them all to stop.  (Legend says it was a revelation; I have to think that Mr. Young realized that once past the Salt Lake valley it's very dry and not terribly habitable.)  It's an odd holiday.  It's part celebration of the old West, with rodeos and parades and fireworks, and part covert religious holiday, for many present-day Mormon residents of Utah had ancestors who traveled with Brigham Young, and some re-enact their great*-grandfathers' journey with handcarts, and so forth.

Utah's odd.  Until the past twenty years or so, it was nearly entirely Mormon, but now there are many people who live here who grew up elsewhere, are not Mormon.  You know how some communities struggle when a bunch of hipsters move in and the neighborhood gentrifies?  Just imagine all of Utah gentrifying, and you have a good sense of its growing pains.

In any case, some non-Mormon Utahns, who don't have pioneer ancestors, cheekily dubbed July 24th "Pie 'n Beer Day."  A way to celebrate the day off!

But it was 100 degrees, and no way in hell was I baking a pie.  So instead, I went to the garden, and picked a bunch of sweet basil, and made sweet basil ice cream.

Making ice cream is easy.  You'll need an ice cream maker.  I have the kind with an insulated bowl that you freeze, and I've found that it works great.

Ice cream is essentially a frozen creme anglaise, which is a thin custard sauce.    This is the base of all ice creams, and it's really pretty flexible.  It's a custard, it's delicious, and you're going to freeze it anyway.

Here's the basic plan:

  • 3 cups half-and-half (get the kind that's just milk and cream.)
  • 4 egg yolks  (more yolks = a richer ice cream.  4 works for me.)
  • 3/4 cups of sugar.
  • 1 cup of packed basil leaves (I always hate this locution.  Ever try to pack a leaf?  It's not exactly brown sugar here.  But goosh them in there the best you can.)
Mix up the egg yolks in a heatproof container.  I use my 4-cup pyrex measuring cup.  Set aside.

Take the sugar, one cup of the half-and-half, and the basil, and put it in your blender or similar blending thingy.  I used a Magic Bullet for two minutes.  You want it to be smooth, without any big basil pieces.

Pour the basil mixture into a medium saucepan, and add the rest of the cream.  Heat it over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the milk steams.

You can see it just starting to foam at the edges.  Perfect temp.

Now, if you were to just add the hot milk to the egg yolks, you'd wind up with cooked egg yolks.  So what you want to do is temper the eggs.  Pour about a cup of the hot milk in a thin stream into the egg yolks, whisking the yolks briskly.  Once that's mixed well, pour the egg yolk mixture back into the rest of the cream mixture.

Let it cook for about 5-7 minutes, stirring continuously but lazily.  It's ready when the mixture is thick enough that it coats the back of the spoon, and if you were to swipe your finger along the back of the spoon, you'd leave a line.  

(If, however, you try to get a picture of this for your blog, but your custard is too hot, and you burn your finger, and nearly drop your phone into your custard sauce, well, that makes too of us.)

This is not an exact science; all you want is for the sauce to be thickened, and since you're freezing this for ice cream, it really doesn't matter all that much.  

If you like, strain the custard through a wire strainer into a glass bowl.  (I usually don't bother, unless I didn't temper the eggs right and they scrambled a little.  Lazy cooking ftw.)  Cover it with plastic wrap, and chill it for at least two hours.  The mixture needs to be cold before you put it in your ice cream maker.

Freeze in the ice cream maker according to its direction.  Mine takes about 25 minutes to get a nice soft ice cream.  Scoop it into a container and freeze it for about two hours.

Then, scoop and garnish with strawberries.  The basil flavor is delicate and delicious.

Ramekins optional.

And that's how you celebrate Pie n' Beer Day, without beer (I had wine) or pie.

No comments:

Post a Comment