Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sour Cherry Gelato

As a confessed ice cream addict, it's no surprise that I also made it my job to sample my fair share of gelatos (er, gelati) on my trip through Italy in 2010.  While being sure to sample a wide variety of flavors--from banana, to coconut, to fig and tiramisu--surprisingly, my favorite was sour cherry, er amerena.

I say surprisingly because I probably never would have knowingly chosen a scoop of sour cherry, and most likely did so as a result of my generally non-existent Italian tourist language skills. But luckily for me this turned out to be an awesome mistake, and not only is sour cherry delicious on its own, but was also the perfect complement to any other flavor I paired it with.

After the success of last month's Roasted Strawberry Buttermilk ice cream, I thought revisiting this Italian treat would be a great way to use the rest of the hand-picked sour cherries I'd actually had the forethought to freeze back in June. (score!)

I'm still a little skeptical that one can make gelato at home; although gelato is typically made with a higher milk-to-cream ration that ice cream, the other key difference is that it's churned at a lower speed, and thus has less air incorporated, giving it that dense and creamy texture you just don't get with ice cream. So, while this is pretty much impossible with a home ice cream machine, I'm still calling it gelato.

Buon Appetito!

Gelato Root Beer Float!
A couple of notes: In my Jeni's ice cream cookbook, I remembered her mentioning that using chopped pieces of fruit will often simply result in frozen chunks of fruit...unfortunately, I remembered this as I was chewing frozen pieces of cherry in my gelato. If you want to avoid this but still have some extra fruit flavor and color, you may want to puree the reserved cherries and mix them in after churning, rather than adding chopped pieces. Also, I'm usually super lazy when it comes to vanilla, but this is one recipe where using an actual vanilla bean rather than extract really adds a lot--and you know what I'm going to say here--Get them at World Market on the cheap!!

Sour Cherry Gelato
     from NPR

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 whole vanilla bean, split
6 large egg yolks
3/4 cup superfine sugar
Pinch of salt
4 1/2 packed cups pitted sour cherries, also known as pie cherries, cut in half
1/2 cup granulated sugar

1. Place the milk and heavy cream into a large saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the pan and add the pod to the pan as well. Bring the milk and cream just to a boil but take care not to let the mixture boil over. Remove the pan from the heat.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, beat the egg yolks with the superfine sugar and salt until light and thick. Whisk a small ladleful of the hot milk and cream into the eggs, whisking quickly to prevent the eggs from curdling. Add 4 or 5 more ladlefuls of the milk mixture, one at a time, whisking all the while. Pour the egg-milk mixture into the saucepan with the remaining milk and cream, and whisk to combine thoroughly. Cook the custard on medium-low to medium heat, stirring constantly, for about 20 minutes or until it is thick enough to lightly coat the back of a wooden spoon. Do not let the custard boil. Remove from heat, and pour the custard into a heatproof bowl. Remove and discard the vanilla bean pod. Cover the custard with plastic wrap, making sure to press the wrap right onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

3. Place 3 cups of the cherries and the granulated sugar in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring the cherries to a simmer over medium heat and cook until the sugar has melted and the cherries are soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Pass the cooked cherries through a food mill fitted with the disk with the smallest holes. If you don't have a food mill, puree the cherries in a food processor or blender, then strain the puree through a fine-mesh sieve and discard the solids. You should have about 1 1/4 cups of liquid. Put the liquid in a small saucepan and bring it to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes, until it is slightly thickened and reduced to about 1 cup. Remove the cherry syrup from the heat and let it cool to room temperature.

4. Stir the cherry syrup into the cold custard and refrigerate until the mixture is thoroughly chilled.

5. Freeze the cherry custard in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. When the ice cream is just about done, mix in the remaining 1 1/2 cups cherries. Transfer the ice cream to a tightly lidded container and freeze until hard.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Peach Streusel Muffins

Happy National Peach Month!! After a slice of delicious Brown Sugar Cinnamon Peach Pie, the peach parade continues with what turned out to be somewhat unfortunate peach muffins...

So, have you ever had that moment in the middle of cooking where you realize things are not exactly going the way you planned? For me, that moment happened with these biscuits err, muffins when I noticed that the dough was getting pretty thick. Really thick. And sticky. We're talking, like, pizza dough.

Then, rather than getting mixed by the mixer, the batter proceeded to actually CONSUME the beaters and become entirely wrapped around the mixer in a giant ball. It was awesome.

Having double and triple checked the recipe, I refuse to admit that this could possibly have been user error :)  Honestly, I think Betty Crocker was just a little off in their liquid measure for this recipe and next time I would definitely up the milk or maybe add oil or sour cream instead. To be fair these muffins were still tasty when warm, but just a little too dense and pancakey for my taste once they cooled.

 Peach Streusel Muffins
     from Southern Living 

1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened  
1/3 cup sugar 
1 large egg  
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour 
1 tablespoon baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
3/4 cup milk  
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen peeled peaches, chopped 
1/4 cup sugar 
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
2 1/2 tablespoons chilled butter or margarine

1. Beat 1/2 cup butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add 1/3 cup sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add egg, beating until blended.

2. Combine 2 1/3 cups flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with milk, stirring well after each addition. Stir in vanilla extract, and fold in chopped peaches.

3. Spoon muffin batter into greased or paper-lined muffin pan, filling two-thirds full.

4. Combine 1/4 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, and cinnamon; cut in 2 1/2 tablespoons butter with pastry blender or fork until mixture resembles crumbs. Sprinkle evenly over muffin batter.

5. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Brown Sugar Cinnamon Peach Pie

Recently, one of my absolute favorite food bloggers Smitten Kitchen posted about getting back to basics, and allowing simple flavors to shine through in dishes rather than fixing what isn't broken by throwing in heaps of extracts or spices just for the sake of it. Generally, I agree. Well, except for cardamom, you know how I feel about that. : )  In SK's post, she was specifically referring to peach pie, and while I absolutely agree that the delicious flavor of in-season fruit stands on its own, when I had a craving for peach pie a couple of weeks ago, I knew plain old peaches just weren't going to cut it.

I was craving a pie with depth. Specifically, a peach pie complemented by the sweet touch of brown sugar and cinnamon. And when I found a recipe that included both of these things AND a dash of booze, I knew it had to be good.

If you're worried about overwhelming sweetness (not usually something that enters my pie-eating considerations...) although this recipe calls for both white and brown sugars, surprisingly the most frequent compliment I received on this pie was that it wasn't too sweet. Similarly, even though the bourbon smelled a bit overwhelming in the initial stages, the flavors melded beautifully and it didn't stand out at all in the end.

A couple of notes: Using peaches that are a little more on the firm side is fine, this helps to keep their shape during baking rather than getting too mushy. I also, accidentally, reduced the brown sugar in this recipe to 1/3 cup but will probably continue to do so based on the feedback. I went with my new go-to crust recipe from The Homemade Pantry, but feel free to use your own favorite or store bought crust.

Brown Sugar Cinnamon Peach Pie
     from Pink Parsley
6-8 large fresh, firm, ripe peaches (3-4 lbs)
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
2 Tbs bourbon or whiskey
2 Tbs butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten + 1 tsp water
1 1/2 Tbs granulated sugar + 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1. Divide your chosen pie crust dough into 2 equal pieces and on a lightly floured surface, roll the first piece into a 12-inch circle.  Starting at 1 side of the dough, wrap it around a rolling pin and transfer to a 9-inch pie plate.  Press dough into the plate being careful not to punch through.  Trim the overhang.

2. Peel the peaches, and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices, and cut the slices in half.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugars, cinnamon, and salt.  Add the peaches and bourbon, and stir to coat.  Immediately pour the filling into the pie plate, and scatter the butter pieces over the top.  Don't make the filling until you are ready to use it, because the peaches will give off too much of their liquid and the filling will be runny.

3. Roll the second pie crust into a 10-inch circle, and if making a lattice crust, cut into several strips using a pizza cutter or knife.  Make a lattice design over the peaches.  If you choose to make a standard top, transfer the crust to the pie, pinch the edges together to make a fluted edge or use the tins of a fork to press them closed.  Cut a few slits in the top to release steam.

4. Brush the top with the egg wash, then sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar.

5. Freeze the pie for 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and position the oven rack to the lowest position.  Heat a baking sheet in the oven as it preheats.

6. Place the pie on the preheated baking sheet.  Bake 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.  Bake 40 minutes.  If the crust is getting too dark, cover loosely with aluminum foil.  Bake an additional 15-25 minutes, or until the juices are thick and bubbly.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool 2 hours before serving.