August 4, 2011

Amazing Lemongrass Ice Cream

I made an amazing ice cream the other day.

Well, I thought it was amazing, but it prompted my husband to claim that he's "never liked anything that came out of that ice cream maker."  Well, that's simply not true, because he loves the Watermelon Sorbet that I make.  However, when speaking specifically about ice creams, I think it may be true, which prompted me to conclude that he just doesn't like homemade ice cream.  Is that possible?  Please, those of you who make ice cream, let me know:  Is this a real disorder?  How scary!


Anyhow, it all started when Grace prompted me to buy, not one, but two bunches of lemongrass at the farmer's market, because she likes to drink lemongrass tea (lemon grass steeped in boiling water with sugar added, a "tisane" if you want to get technical).  I like lemongrass, because it has a lemony flavor, without the citrus acidity of an actual lemon.  A more cultured eater would tell you it reminds them of Thai food, but me... it reminds me of Trix cereal.

Last summer we had lemongrass growing in our herb garden, but it didn't survive the winter.  I've missed it, so in selecting the lemongrass, Grace and I selected bunches that still had some roots attached to the stalks.  As soon as we got home we planted three stalks, but we still had about six more to do something with.


Sunday was a lazy day, and I found myself online reading David Lebovitz's recipe for Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream.  I made it last fall.  The flavor is truly fantastic, but the process is laborious and there's a chance that the end-result will be a little grainy.  I didn't feel like stirring hot caramel for a long time.  But I did read the blog post a couple times.  And you know how the power of suggestion works.

I've always liked ice cream.  When I was a kid, every day after school I would go to my grandma's house.  Every day at 3:00, she would serve me a bowl of ice cream. (Thanks, Grandma.)  As an adult, in the winter I don't even think about ice cream, but in the summer, I need it.  Lately, my brand of choice is Ben & Jerry's, which is fairly indulgent.  A few weeks ago, I decided enough was enough.  If I was going to eat ice cream, I would make my own.  Not that my own is less fattening or more healthful than Ben & Jerry's, but I find that when something delicious is homemade or costly, servings are doled out a little more conservatively.

So I wanted to make ice cream. And I had a craving for caramel.  And an abundance of lemongrass. And, well... I did it.  And I love it!

I used David Lebovitz's recipe for Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, substituting lemongrass stalks for the vanilla bean;  decreasing the eggs from five to four, because the last time I made the Vanilla version I thought it was just slightly too eggy; and increasing the milk to have enough liquid to steep the lemongrass in.

Then, to add some interest--remember I've been eating Ben & Jerry's which has all kinds of fun mix-ins--  after churning the ice cream, I folded in shards of caramel from the Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream recipe.  If you eat it the first day, the caramel is just hard and crunchy, so let it sit for half a day.  The caramel starts to melt into the ice cream, so that you have creamy lemony ice cream with the slightest bit of a burnt sugar swirl and the crunch from the caramel that hasn't melted yet.  Like I said, I love it!

Amazing Lemongrass Ice Cream
Adapted from David Lebovitz.
If you take pleasure is serving guests especially attractive desserts, reserve one large interestingly shaped piece of caramel for each guest, and use it to garnish the ice cream along with some plump blackberries or raspberries.
Makes 1 generous quart.

For the Ice Cream
3 stalks of lemon grass
2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
a pinch of kosher salt
4 egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream
Caramel shards (see below)

1.  Extract the flavor:  Rinse lemongrass stalks well, dry, and remove the root end.  Cut lemongrass into one inch lengths.  Combine lemongrass, milk, sugar and salt in a small saucepan.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Reduce heat to low and simmer 20 minutes. Then remove from heat and let sit, covered, one hour.

2.  Make the custard: Pour heavy cream into a glass bowl with a capacity of at least one and a half quarts.  If desired, place the bowl over an ice bath.  Set aside.  Strain the milk into a medium saucepan and rewarm over medium heat.  Whisk together egg yolks in a mixing bowl.  Gradually pour about half of the milk into the eggs, while whisking constantly.  This "tempers" the eggs so that they don't become scrambled in the ice cream.  Pour the tempered egg/milk mixture back into the saucepan.  Heat medium heat, stirring constantly with a rubber scraper, until the custard thickens and coats the back of a spoon.  (This will probably take less than five minutes.)

3.  Pour the custard into the cream and stir to combine.  (If using an ice bath, continue to stir, until the mixture has cooled to room temperature.)  Cover the custard with plastic wrap and refrigerate 8 to 24 hours for the flavors to blend.

4.  At least a few hours before you plan to serve the ice cream, pour the custard into an ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturers directions.  Transfer to storage container, folding in caramel shards as you go.  Freeze at least four hours before serving.  (Scoop-ability should be just about perfect after 2-4 hours, but the caramel doesn't start to melt until about 6 to 12 hours.  My recommendation:  Churn the ice cream in the morning and freeze until 15 minutes before serving.)

For the Caramel Shards
This is not a creamy caramel, but a hard candy that tastes pleasantly of burnt sugar.  Can be made up to two days ahead of time.  Store in an airtight container.

1/3 cup sugar
a pinch of kosher salt

Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat.  Alternatively, brush a neutral-flavored cooking oil onto the cookie sheet.  Have a heatproof rubber scraper on hand.

Spread sugar into an even layer in the bottom of a small saucepan.  Heat over medium heat and watch closely.  Do not stir, but carefully push unmelted sugar toward the center of the pan, if you find that your sugar is melting unevenly.  Sugar will melt, then begin to brown.  When it is brown, just as you see the first wisp of smoke coming from the pan, sprinkle in a pinch of salt and, without any hesitation, pour onto the cookie sheet.  Tilt cookie sheet to encourage caramel to form as thin a layer as possible. Let sit 20 minutes to cool and harden.  Break candy into small pieces with your hands. 

Wanna do a caramel sauce ribbon instead of the caramel shards? 
This one from Smitten Kitchen is simple, but once you try it, you'll want it on everything.

Want to see more ice cream recipes? 
Visit my Homemade Ice Cream Notes page.

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