Monday, April 27, 2009

Marshmallow Sauce

Let's say you have made a big, delicious batch of strawberry gelato. And although you've enjoyed it on its own, you've started to wonder how it would work in sundae form. You don't want to eclipse the brightness of the fresh strawberry flavor with something as assertive as hot fudge, so you think, Hmm, how about marshmallow sauce?

You pull out your favorite cookbook for ice cream toppings and read the recipe for marshmallow sauce. You see it includes gelatin, which is a no-go for a member of your family who is an enthusiastic fan of (a) marshmallow sauce, (b) strawberry gelato, and (c) eating food in most forms, but who is a vegetarian.

You decide to read up on marshmallow sauce and see if it's possible to adapt a recipe for vegetarian consumption. Good news ~ it is!

This recipe, which I adapted from this one from What's Cooking America, produces a marshmallow sauce that is so close to store-bought it's amazing. It's absurdly simple to make, and the result is light, fluffy, spreadable, and ooey-gooey. The recipe does, however, call for a raw egg white, so depending on your comfort level about such things, this may not be the recipe for you. I tend to be extremely cautious about such things (you can ask my husband ~ he'll tell you I tend to cook pork chops and chicken breasts to a state of doneness called "jerky"), but I am okay with the little bit of egg white in this recipe for reasons I describe in the recipe notes. If you're not, please skip this one ~ trust me, the gelato is very nice on its own.

Marshmallow Sauce

  • 1 egg white
  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup
  • Pinch salt
  • 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whip attachment affixed, combine egg white, corn syrup, and salt. Whip the corn-syrup mixture on high speed until it is light, fluffy, and roughly twice its original volume.
  2. Turn your mixer off and spoon in the confectioner's sugar. Beat on low speed until sugar is blended into the corn syrup mixture. Add vanilla and beat in.

Spoon marshmallow sauce over ice cream; use it as a fondue for chocolate-covered graham crackers, fruit, and cookies; or top a peanut butter sandwich with it. Refrigerated, it will keep for about 2 weeks.

Makes about 2 cups of sauce.

Recipe Notes

  • The USDA recommends that raw eggs not be consumed due to the risk of contracting salmonella poisoning. That said, if you are a daring and reckless sort who plays it fast and loose and you want to try this recipe, there are a few things you can do to minimize your risk (if you care to). Purchase Grade AA eggs from a reputable (i.e., "clean") source (ideally a local farm), do not use any eggs with cracked or damaged shells, refrigerate your eggs at a consistent temperature of about 38 degrees F, and wash your eggs with soapy water before cracking them. This will prevent bacteria present on the shell from contaminating the yolk and white.
  • It is possible to purchase pasteurized eggs. They come in a variety of forms ~ in the shells, in cartons, as yolks or whites only. These have been treated with heat, but not cooked, to kill bacteria.
  • Young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are discouraged from eating raw eggs at all.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fresh Strawberry Gelato

Fresh-Strawberry-GelatoI was in Sorrento, Italy, the very first time I had gelato. It had been hot that day ~ beastly, brutally hot ~ and even now, at twilight, heat still radiated up from the sidewalk, which had baked in the Mediterranean sun all day. My husband and I were taking a walk down the sloping street leading away from our hotel. The faintest whisper of a cooling breeze was starting to come in off the water, and it was heavenly.

Farther along, down a street of shops and cafes, we spotted a line of people so long that it snaked around the corner and out of sight. The group was too diverse to be waiting outside a nightclub. Smartly dressed seniors mingled with jeans-clad teens; snuggling couples waited alongside jostling families.

scooping Curious, we walked closer. Ah. It was a gelateria, and it was packed. This being the early 1990s, when gelato was just starting to make inroads into the American dessert scene, we took our places at the back of the line, expecting to find the Italian equivalent of hand-dipped ice cream.

We were right, and wrong. The gelato we ate that night was similar in many ways to the ice cream we were familiar with. As expected, it was sweet, creamy, and blessedly frozen. One big difference, however, was the portion size. In New York, or anywhere in Dairy Country, USA, you can order your hard ice cream in scoops that are designated "small," "medium," or "large." But everyone knows these are just the polite terms for the real sizes: "baseball," "softball," and "tetherball."

In Sorrento, the gelato scoops balanced delicately atop our improbably narrow cones were the size of golf balls. I would be lying if I said that the first thought that flung itself into my mind wasn't something akin to "The sample spoonfuls at Baskin Robbins are bigger than this!" But oh, the flavor! Amaretto, kiwi, pineapple, espresso. So intense! So true. This was more like sorbet than ice cream. I’m a big supporter of chunks in my ice cream, but this smooth, perfect gelato was so absolutely authentic in its essential flavor that I barely missed my peanut-butter cups and toffee bar crumbles. And no clunky chocolate chips, either ~ this gelato was flecked with rich dark-chocolate stracciatella. And it rocked.

Strawberry-gelatoI have never forgotten that gelato, and now that I make my own, I use it as the benchmark for what I want to achieve with my frozen desserts. Yes, I do love a chunky and complicated mix of nuts and candy and sweet heavy cream. But as my tastes become gradually more refined, I'm striving to combine my New York State sensibility with my appreciation for the finer nuances of the elegant Italian-style gelato. How? Bigger bowls.


Fresh Strawberry Gelato

~ Adapted from the May 2009 issue of Bon App├ętit, p. 115

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 1/4 cups sliced ripe strawberries, cleaned and hulled
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate juice (I used Pom)
  1. Prepare an ice bath by filling a large stainless-steel mixing bowl with halfway with ice and adding water. Place a clean, dry stainless steel bowl into the bowl filled with ice. Set aside.
  2. Combine sugar and cornstarch in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan, stirring to combine. Whisk in milk, then cream. Place saucepan over medium heat and whisk continuously until the cream mixture bubbles and begins to thicken ~ about 5 to 8 minutes. Pour the gelato base into the bowl resting atop the ice bath; stir the mixture occasionally so that it cools evenly.
  3. Puree the strawberries in a blender or food processor. If desired, pour through strainer into gelato base. (I didn't strain my mix; strawberry seeds are tiny and I don't object to them.) Add pomegranate juice and stir to combine. Remove from water bath, dry bottom of bowl, cover and chill until the gelato base is completely cold, about 3 hours.
  4. When the base is thoroughly chilled, process in ice cream machine according to manufacturer's directions. Transfer to a chilled container with a tightly fitting lid. Freeze, covered, for at least 3 hours prior to serving. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes to soften slightly before scooping.

Makes about 1 quart.

Click here for printable view.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Pomegranate Punch Sorbet

As much as I love sorbet, and love to develop sorbet recipes, my thoughts don't tend to drift in that direction till the temperature crests at least 60 degrees and the snowflakes are a fond, not a distasteful, memory. As it is 30 degrees as I write this and we had snowflakes ~ in April ~ not two days ago, this sorbet is a bit of an exception.

Two events came together to inspire me to take the ice cream maker out of storage early and think prematurely summery thoughts. First, POM Wonderful sent me a case of their wonderful juice to play with. The second is that my father-in-law ~ one of the best people I know ~ has an April birthday, and he is a very big fan of pomegranate juice, so I wanted to develop something special just for him.

Gampy really enjoys dessert, but my mother-in-law, who is an equally lovely person (yes, I hit the in-law jackpot), works for the sugar police and is careful not to let him enjoy his dessert too much. (Just kidding, Gam!) To make everyone happy, I decided to go with something on the lighter side. Sorbet fit the bill. (There is a significant amount of sugar in the syrup, but since the juice has no added sugar, it works out.)

Gampy Baiting a Fly Hook with My Son ~ Fishing 2008

Besides being high in vitamin C and potassium, pomegranate juice is a great source of tannins, anthocyanins, and ellagic acid ~ three types of polyphenol antioxidants, believed to play a role in preventing heart disease and some forms of cancer. That makes pomegranates something of an antioxidant Superfood.

Pomegranates, native to Iran, have been cultivated since ancient times. In fact, some scholars believe that it was a pomegranate, not an apple, that precipitated the Fall of Man, back in the Garden of Eden. Makes sense to me ~ an apple does seem a little prosaic to be at the root of such a momentous and cataclysmic bad choice.

Pomegranate Punch Sorbet ~ for Gampy

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 12-ounce bag frozen raspberries or 2 cups fresh raspberries
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • 2 cups very cold pure pomegranate juice (I used POM)
  1. Prepare a simple syrup by combining the sugar and the water in a medium saucepan and bringing to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. When the syrup comes to a boil and all the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and stir in the raspberries.

  2. Bring the syrup back to a boil, then remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes.
  3. Process the raspberry syrup with an immersion blender ~ be carefully to avoid splatters, it will still be very hot at this point ~ and pour the puree through a strainer to remove seeds. Chill the puree in the refrigerator or in an ice-water bath until completely cold.
  4. When the raspberry puree/syrup mixture is cold, stir in lemon, orange, and pomegranate juices.
  5. Taste for sweetness. If the mixture is too tart, you can add a tablespoon or two of honey, agave, or light corn syrup. Do not add granulated sugar at this point, as it may not have a chance to dissolve completely and your sorbet may have a gritty texture.
  6. Process the pomegranate mixture according to the directions on your ice-cream machine. It will be fairly soft when it's finished, so plan on freezing it for about 4 hours prior to serving if you like a firmer sorbet.

Click here for a printable view of this recipe.

Recipe Notes

  • If you don't have an immersion blender, you can pour the mixture into a heatproof blender canister or use a food mill. If none of these options is available to you, just pour the syrup with the whole berries into the strainer and mash them against the seive with the back of a spoon.

  • If you have access to a good source of pomegranates, you can certainly juice your own. But as pomegranates in New York tend to be pricey, I like POM juice. It's 100% pure pomegranate, and I like that they are proprietary over every step of the process from tree to bottle.
  • If you have leftover pomegranate mixture that won't fit into your ice cream machine (like I did), lucky you! Keep it in a sealed container in your fridge and add a splash to ginger ale, seltzer, or lemon-lime soda. Or use it to make wine spritzers. Yu-um.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Honey-Buttered Popcorn

This recipe is not for you if:

  • You prefer to use a knife and fork to eat ribs, fried chicken, or pizza.
  • Having sticky fingers makes you painfully uncomfortable.
  • You are wearing a very expensive suit and have a tendency to drop food down your front.

This recipe is right up your alley if:

  • The words "buttery," "sweet," "sticky," and "crunchy" elicit an immediate and Pavlovian drool response.
  • You think the best part of going to the movies is getting the large bucket of popcorn ~ which comes with a free refill.
  • You are my mom, to whom I am dedicating this recipe.

Popcorn is many things to different people. A movie snack, a charming Christmas-tree decoration, packing material. To my mom, it's a dietary mainstay, a comfort food, a quality-of-life issue. Others can wax poetic about their chocolates and their sea-salted caramels, but my mom would rather have a bowl of buttered popcorn any day of the week.

Falling not far from the tree, I'm pretty fond of popcorn myself. I can't tell you what the last movie I saw in the theater was, but I can tell you that I happily ponied up the additional quarter for real butter on our super-jumbo tub of popcorn. When I'm at my desk into the wee hours of the night, a giant bowl of air-popped popcorn achieves what caffeine no longer can: it keeps me awake and making deadlines.

Plain air-popped popcorn is considered a whole grain, which makes it a complex carbohydrate (that's the good kind). At 30 calories per cup, it's high in fiber and contains no salt or sugar. True, plain air-popped popcorn is a bit of a snore (unless you're eating it hand-over-fist to stay awake). But even the oil-popped version has only 55 calories a cup, and offers considerably more flavor.

This recipe takes all that popcorny goodness and gilds it with pure molten sunshine. (And by that I mean, tosses it with melted honey butter.) If you don't mind the sticky fingers, it just might be the perfect snack: you've got your crunchy, sticky, sweet, salty, and buttery, all in one bowl. With fiber! Be advised: This version is nothing like toffee-coated popcorn or Cracker Jack. Both of those are coated with a sort of candy shellac ~ they're dry and civil. With this popcorn, the butter is melty and the honey is gooey. If you're wearing a nice tie or, say, a wedding dress, you might want to throw on a smock before indulging.

So . . .

Mom, this is for you. Not just because you love popcorn so much, but also to celebrate the fact that you are taking a big step this spring to make a dream come true ~ and I'm really proud of you! {Hey everyone ~ my mom's becoming a beekeeper! How cool is that?} So, here's to you and your new hive! I can't wait for that honey to start rolling in. Get to work, girls!

Mom's Queen Bee Honey-Buttered Popcorn

  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels

  • 2 tablespoons salted butter

  • 2 tablespoons local honey

  1. Pop the popcorn kernels in an air popper and place in a large bowl. Combine butter and honey in a microwave-save bowl and microwave for 10 seconds. Stir, then microwave again for about 10 seconds. Stir. (Repeat if butter is not melted at this point.)
  2. Using a tablespoon, drizzle half of the honey-butter mixture over the popcorn in the bowl. Toss gently using a wooden spoon or large spatula. Drizzle remainder of honey-butter over and toss again. Serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

  • If you want to change up the flavors a little bit, try adding a couple of drops of flavoring oil or pure extract to the honey-butter mixture before drizzling it over the popcorn.
  • Now that you've got the popcorn, how about watching a movie with it? Try The Secret Life of Bees.



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