Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lemon Curd Ice Cream

I've been doing a lot of lemon desserts since a friend at work gave me a bunch of her ginormous end-of-crop Meyer lemons. They sat in my fridge for a couple of weeks before I decided what I wanted to make with them, but I've been making up for lost time ever since.

I started by making lemon curd using my favorite recipe (you can find it here). I made a double recipe, so I had plenty of luscious lemon curd to play with. First up were lemon curd scones and now this ice cream.

Some people confine ice cream to the warmer months (I lean in this direction myself), but others enjoy it year round. That's great news since lemons are a winter fruit and it would be a shame to miss out on this ice cream because the seasons don't cooperate with the fruit.

This ice cream starts with a basic custard, to which you add lemon curd. Yowza, how great does that sound? I doubled the amount of lemon curd since what is lemon curd but a custard with lemon in it, and what is vanilla ice cream but a custard? The mad scientist in me thought of dumping the entire bowl of lemon curd in the ice cream maker but I resisted. Maybe next time.

I heard about this ice cream from some of my Twitter buddies. Kayte was almost in a state of rapture (she L-O-V-E-S lemon). I read Tracey's post about it, and she loved it, then Margaret raved about it. Three for three, so I simply had to make it, even though fall weather had definitely arrived.

When I made it, I didn't read the recipe before I made it and thought it was a typo that the cream wasn't added with the milk, so I tossed it in too. So I missed the part of the recipe where you're supposed to whip the cream and add it to the chilled custard. And it was so fabulous that I'll do it exactly the same way next time I make it. I can't imagine it being any lighter or creamier.

The true test of how good this was is that we have chocolate gelatto in the freezer, and this lemon ice cream is the one we go for every time. Yes, it's that good.

Lemon Curd Ice Cream (adapted from Murphy's Ice Cream Book of Sweet Things by way of Tracey's Culinary Adventures)
2/3 cup/130 g sugar
5 egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/2 cup lemon curd
zest of one lemon

Bring the milk and cream to a low simmer in a saucepan. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale yellow. Temper the eggs by pouring in the milk in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly.

Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and place over low heat. Stir continuously until the custard thickens slightly and just coats the back of a spoon (about 170 F). Immediately remove pan from the heat.

Add the lemon curd and lemon zest to the warm custard, stirring to incorporate fully. Cover the custard with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Remove the custard from the refrigerator and strain it to remove the lemon zest (unless you like it in there). Churn mixture in ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. The ice cream will still be fairly soft after churning so transfer it to a freezer-proof container and freeze until solid.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Making Jam at Happy Girl Kitchen

There are many benefits to living in Northern California. There's the fabulous weather, stunning scenery, lively food scene, numerous farmers markets, and countless small businesses that use the abundant produce that is grown here, much of it organic.

I enjoyed a muesli with maple yogurt and a Blue Bottle Coffee latte before the workshop

I discovered one of these businesses when I went to Pacific Grove last month. Happy Girl Kitchen is a cafe with a difference: the business is focused on sustainable practices and is single-handedly trying to revive the art of preserving the harvest. Jordan and Todd partner with local family farms, connecting the harvest with home preservation advocates. To further their efforts, they offer canning workshops. Five hours long, attendees learn several recipes hands-on, and get to take home a couple of jars of each recipe they make. They throw in a delicious lunch to boot.

Jordan uses the oven to make the apple butter, eliminating hours of stirring

Happy Girl recently opened a store in San Francisco's Ferry Building, yet all of the products they sell there, in Pacific Grove, and the farmers markets they sell at are made in a relatively small kitchen in their Pacific Grove location. It was here that I recently attended a workshop on apples, quince and pears. We learned how to make apple butter, apple chutney, quince jelly and can pears in a honey syrup.

Many hands make light work - ten of us were able to cut up pounds of quince in minutes

One of the reasons I've never canned is I'm afraid I'd do it wrong and kill someone. It turns out I'm not alone in that fear, but there's not too much danger of that if you follow some simple rules. We learned the importance of having a perfectly clean rim on the jar (a tiny bit of fruit or an herb interferes with the sealing of the lid), of processing the filled jars in a hot water bath for a long enough time to heat the center of the jar to a safe temperature.

Even the quince cores are used for their pectin. Wrapped in a cloth, they boil with the fruit.

Quince were new for me, and although they have a lovely aroma, they are tough to love. They're a bit wooly on the outside, and taste a bit too tangy. They're best when cooked and they are ideal for jelly. Jordan told us how to make membrillo with the quince pulp after we cooked it down and strained the juice for the jelly. She even let us take it home so we could make membrillo ourselves.

Straining the pulp to extract all the juice to for the quince jelly

That was something I enjoyed about my day at Happy Girl. When Jordan grabbed a jar of pickled beets to serve with lunch, she poured out the pickling liquid, ditto with the bread and butter pickled zucchini. The mixture smelled amazing, and Jordan explained that she'd save it for making a vinaigrette. At Happy Girl, they strive to use, and reuse, everything they can. Food scraps and paper products are composted so very little goes to waste.

The whole time we were there, Jordan was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable ambassador for canning. She encouraged us to experiment with herbs and spices by dividing a batch in several parts so that if something wasn't successful, you haven't spoiled the whole batch.

We've already sampled the pears (preserved in a bath of honey syrup with a cinnamon stick) and the quince jelly, and both were fabulous. Even the quince pulp (for the membrillo) was delicious. If the byproducts of the canning process are delicious, what's stopping me from taking up this almost lost art? Not a thing now that I know how to do it without victims.

I plan to make the trek to Pacific Grove in a few weeks for another canning workshop. Jordan and Todd will be doing one more tomato workshop and I plan to be there to learn to make their fabulous salsa.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Rant (with a Side of Cream Biscuits)

Even though I come from Florida, the land south of the South, when I was a child no self respecting cook would be without a box of Bisquick. As far as I knew, that was where biscuits came from, period. Home cooks (mostly moms in those days) had been freed from the enslavement of preparing food "from scratch" and convenience products, frozen dinners and instant breakfast (and orange juice!) were all the rage. I didn't know food came from another source that wasn't a can.

Having knocked out the basic biscuits from Baking From My Home to Yours just before my morning shower, I can scarcely understand the appeal of "instant" biscuit mix. How much more instant can it be compared to measuring out flour, salt, baking powder, butter and milk? We all fooled ourselves back then by saying things tasted just as good as homemade, but does any kid long for their mom's frozen waffles?

When I saw that Jennifer of Cooking for Comfort had selected these biscuits for Tuesdays with Dorie, I didn't intend to write a screed about convenience foods, but I can't help myself. As a society, the US has an appalling rate of obesity among children (and adults) and convenience foods aren't helping us. For all the bad press butter got even a few years ago, it turns out it's healthier for us than margarine (shudder) or that stuff in the tub. Eggs, shunned because they have cholesterol, aren't bad for us at all, and we're now told we can include them in a healthy diet. It turns out that food, the real stuff that we buy and cook ourselves, is good for us, even when it contains things we once thought were bad for us. That's because our bodies seem to find it easier to process things that are food rather than things born in a chemistry lab.

Convenience foods frequently contain ingredients that aren't nutritive, but they give the products the shelf life of plutonium. If I pull some lettuce out of the fridge that got neglected and turned brown and icky, I expect that. When I let some engineered dreck sit on the shelf for two years, then I open it and it tastes just as it would have two years earlier, that's a little scary.

I know people are busy, I get that. I am too, in fact I work two jobs myself, one of which is VERY full time. I'd rather make my own convenience foods and freeze them than buy engineered anything, so when I made these biscuits (which were great, I may have forgotten to mention that) I put a bunch in the freezer. One day when we're having chili or soup or an omelette for breakfast, I'll pull a few out of the freezer and bake them fresh. The house will smell amazing, they'll taste amazing, and all will be good in our world.

Now that's a convenience food.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Lemon Curd Scones

The old saying that necessity is the mother of invention was definitely at work for these scones. Inspired by my favorite DISCONTINUED scone at Peet's Coffee, they make use of that extra lemon curd lurking in your fridge. What, you don't have a problem with leftover lemon curd taking up valuable space? Me neither, which is why I made my go-to recipe (you can find it here) the night before I made these, but a good quality jarred lemon curd would be just fine.

My favorite Peet's lemon scone had a lemon icing, which I made, but I served some with a dollop of lemon curd instead. They were yummy and lemony without being too sweet. For me, the secret of a good drizzle is to cut out as much sugar as possible. I hate it when the taste of the sugar overtakes the flavor of the lemon.

Things you should know if you make these:
  • Flour your board (or counter) liberally as the dough is VERY wet and sticky.
  • I use Ina Garten's mixer method to mix my scones, but you could use a pastry blender, two forks or your fingers if you prefer.
  • Don't mix the dough until it's combined, stop when it still looks a little clumpy and floury. 
  • Use a bowl scraper to transfer the dough to your WELL FLOURED work surface. Then flour the bowl scraper and use it to press the dough into a circle that's about 1 1/2 inches thick.
  • I like to cut my scones with a 2" biscuit cutter (flour it before each cut) but you can cut your dough into wedges if you like triangular scones (I find the triangular ones too large).
  • Brush the scones with a little cream before baking for a nicer finish, but that's unnecessary if you glaze them.

Lemon Curd Scones
Printer-friendly recipe

1 egg
1/3 cup cream
1/2 cup lemon curd
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes
Extra cream for brushing (optional)
Lemon glaze (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, a silicon baking mat, or butter it lightly. Set aside.
In large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together and set aside.

In a small mixing bowl or 2 cup measure, beat together the egg, cream and lemon curd and set aside.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, drop the butter into the flour mixture and mix on low speed until the mixture resembles a combination of oat flakes and pea-sized pieces of butter. Still on low speed, pour in the liquid mixture and mix until flour is mostly worked in. Turn off mixer, and with a few swipes of a spatula, mix in any flour remaining on the bottom of the bowl. Dough will be very wet!

Flour a counter liberally and coax your dough onto the floured surface (a plastic bowl scraper is ideal for this). Flour your hands and/or the bowl scraper, and gently pat the mound into a somewhat cohesive disk about 1 1/2" high. Flour a 2" biscuit cutter and cut out scones, flouring your biscuit cutter before each cut. Place each on the prepared baking sheet. Brush with cream if desired.

Bake the scones for about 20 minutes (check after 18 minutes if your oven runs hot), until they are nicely browned. When cool, spoon on the glaze and serve immediately.

Lemon Glaze

Juice of 1 lemon
Approximately 2 cups of powdered sugar

Combine lemon juice and 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar in a bowl, stirring and mashing any lumps until the glaze is smooth. Add additional powdered sugar to get the desired consistency. Set aside until scones have cooled, then spoon on to scones.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Apple Pecan Muffin Cake

Few things are more evocative of autumn than the smell of apples cooking, warm with cinnamon. The smell that wafted from the oven when I made this made me want to pull out the fall coats (such as they are in northern California) and warm sheets. Even better, we had our first seasonal rain as I was baking this cake, and the gentle sound of the rain reinforced the feeling. Fall is here, and this cake is the perfect way to celebrate.

I mixed up the recipe a bit, doubling it as I usually do, and I omitted the raisins. Not a fan, and I didn't think dried cherries would be as good. The cake came together easily, the crust was crusty and the center fluffy, just like a terrific muffin. The flavor was delicious and the pecans made it extra special. A few ideas if you make these (Katrina has the recipe for you here):
  • I like to measure the brown sugar into the bowl, break up the lumps, then add the rest of the dry ingredients
  • I substituted quick cooking Irish oats since that's what I had
  • I omitted the almond extract and added 1/2 tablespoon of boiled cider (which I ordered from King Arthur Flour) for extra apple flavor
  • Toast your nuts for extra flavor
  • Although I didn't go in this direction, this cake would be great made with white whole wheat flour replacing all or some of the all-purpose flour
  • I almost added chopped candied ginger but I was afraid my tasters wouldn't like it
  • Add the apples, nuts and dried fruit (if using) before all the wet and dry ingredients are incorporated to help avoid over mixing

Katrina of Baking and Boys selected this recipe from Baking From My Home to Yours as this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe. I haven't posted for TWD in a long time, though I've baked along. I was home from work early to the other day, and realized with a thrill that I could bake for TWD and post on time. That's what people who aren't working 12 hour days do. Note to self...come home early more often!