Sunday, October 16, 2011

Crème Fraîche Ice Cream with Salted Caramel Sauce and Pound Cake Croutons

Do you know how hard it is to photograph ice cream? Pretty hard, actually.

The fact that it melts at an exceedingly fast rate can be tricky but the biggest problem is that there's a bowl of delectable ice cream just sitting right in front of you and you can't even have a bite until you finish snapping pics. Which makes for quick work on my part since I can rarely resist a bowl of ice cream for very long. As you can see, due to my low reserve of will power, I tucked into this bowl of ice cream PDQ.

This recipe is a recreation of another fantastic dessert I had while in Atlanta, or rather Decatur. Decatur, what little I saw of it, is lovely. If you happen to be in Atlanta, I think it's well worth taking a short trip outside of the city to check it out. I took the drive to Decatur to dine at Cakes & Ale.  Everything was terrific, outstanding actually, but the high point of dinner was their crème fraîche ice cream with caramel and pound cake croutons. (I guess that goes without saying, though, as dessert always seems to be the high point of every meal for me.) 
While dining at the bar at Cakes & Ale, I was reminded why I still love and miss the South even if I choose not to live there*. (I do not consider Texas to be part of the South for reasons that require a ranked list, hence the asterisk. If you care to read why, see below.) (Also, I'm testing using footnotes for future blog posts as my use of parentheses for asides is getting out of hand.)

Anyway, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a couple of lovely local ladies who noticed I was dining alone and immediately took me under their wing. It's the easy camaraderie and familiarity amongst Southern women that reminds me most why I miss the South. Not even 5 minutes after introductions, we were already sampling liberally from each other's plates and cups. I know eating from each other's plates may sound weird to some but it's not at all uncommon amongst the women I grew up with. In fact, it was considered rude to decline the offer of a bite. I suppose it's the South's version of the time honored tradition of breaking bread. You'd best abide or you'll risk being considered ill mannered. It's just easier to make nice and take a bite.

Because those ladies were so generous with their dishes, I saved the last few bites of my dish of ice cream at Cakes & Ale for them to try. This pained me greatly as my favorite bites are always the last few that remain in the bowl. After ice cream has warmed to the point that it's kind of soupy, to me, that's when it's most delicious and the flavor really shines. (I read somewhere that the frozen iciness of ice cream dulls your taste buds slightly so maybe that accounts for why ice cream in a soupy state tastes best.) Luckily, when I recreated this terrific ice cream at home, I had the bowl to myself and was able to savor the last spoonfuls. Although I lacked the sparkling company I enjoyed with the ladies, it's a small price to pay to not have to share.
This is another dessert I made for the Slow Food $5 Meal Challenge. I barely eeked by on the cost per serving at $1.23 per 3 ounce serving with sauce and croutons. While I know it can be made at home on the cheap, I bought crème fraîche because I've never been able to replicate the lovely, thick texture and rich taste of dairy-made crème fraîche in my homemade attempts. The taste and texture of the crème fraîche used in making this ice cream is paramount, so if there's ever a time to throw caution to the wind and splurge on a tub of ridiculously priced crème fraîche, this ice cream is the occasion. On that same note, I also recommend making the pound cake used for the croutons. Certainly you can buy a frozen, all butter pound cake if you want to skip a step but pound cake is simple to make. I think having left over homemade pound cake around to snack on is worth the extra effort. I made Joanne Chang's Vanilla Bean Pound Cake recipe from Flour- it's terrific and deserves its own post (which some day I may get around to writing).

Crème Fraîche Ice Cream
adapted from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop

1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
5 large egg yolks
2 cups crème fraîche

1. Place a medium-sized bowl with a mesh strainer set over the top in a larger bowl filled with icy water. Set aside for later.
2. Measure out the milk, sugar, and salt and place in a medium sized saucepan and warm over medium-low heat. In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. Once the milk mixture is warmed, pour into the egg yolks while whisking and then pour the milk-egg mixture back into the saucepan.
3. Cook the mixture over medium heat while stirring with a heat proof silicon spatula until it thickens and coats the spatula. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the saucepan with the spatula as you stir to ensure that the mixture doesn’t burn as it becomes a custard. Pour the custard through the strainer set over the bowl in the ice bath that you prepared and stir to cool. When cool enough to handle, remove the bowl with the custard and place in the refrigerator until completely cooled.
4. When cool, whisk in the crème fraîche and freeze the ice cream base in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Salted Caramel Sauce
adapted from David Lebovitz’s Ready for Dessert

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt, add more to taste

1. Melt butter over medium heat in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the sugar and cook until it reaches a dark amber color. When the caramel smells close to burning, remove the pan from heat and slowly add in the cream, being very careful as the caramel will bubble up and may splash.
2. Stir until the sauce is smooth, then add vanilla bean seeds and sea salt.
3. Let the sauce cool and taste. Add more sea salt, if desired. The sauce should be served warm but can be kept refrigerated for up to two weeks.

Pound Cake Croutons
adapted from Food & Wine

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces pound cake, cut into 1/2” cubes

1. Preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit. In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the pound cake cubes and stir to coat with melted butter.
2. Arrange the cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, until well toasted.
* Why I don't consider Texas to be part of the South:
1. The Republic of Texas, as Texans love to tell you, was once a country unto itself. This lore permeates Texas culture and manifests itself in natives as a belief in the individualism of Texas and a helluva lot of Texas Lone Star paraphernalia. This fierce individualism sets Texas apart from the Southern states.
2. When the topography changes from oak and pine trees to cactus and shrubs that can only nominally be called trees, you are decidedly not in the South.
3. Beef barbecue. Pork is the traditional meat in Southern barbecue- it's what I was raised on and I largely prefer it (although Texas has imbued a deep and abiding love of brisket in me). When I have to specify that I want pork ribs because beef ribs are the default, I know I am not in the South.
4. People here tend to drink their iced tea unsweetened. This observation is based on lunching with native Texan work colleagues and, while not exactly a representative sample, is highly indicative to me that these are not Southern people.
5. Our governor seems to think he's a cowboy. While the South has plenty of elected officials who, like Perry, make complete asses of themselves, they don't denigrate a noble tradition in the process. (This point really has very little to do with the argument but I couldn't resist the dig.)