We're coming to the end of strawberry season over here. But you can still get huge boxes in the shops for the equivalent of pennies.
And they still taste great. The darker the berries, the sweeter the juice.
I have some Kefir in the fridge and had heard you can use it interchangeably with buttermilk in recipes.
So I'd thought I'd try the Roasted Strawberry and Buttermilk recipe from Jenis Splendid Ice Cream at Home.
Jenis book is great and I love her ice creams but her standard base involves a lot of faffing around with cornstarch and cream cheese that sometimes I can't be bothered with.
The cornstarch and cream cheese are presumably a home cook friendly way of getting some stabilization and extra milk solids in the ice cream.
But you can achieve better results, more easily (which is important, as I'm quite lazy) with a proper ice cream stabilizer blend and skimmed milk powder.
So I used those instead.
The result was much less intense than the Strawberry Ice Cream with Balsamic Vinegar I made a couple of weeks ago.
This is a much subtler, lighter ice cream with the Kefir bringing out a tart perfume in the strawberries.
This is a Frankenstein's Monster type of recipe, bolted together clumsily with bits from two other recipes. It turned out great though!
I wanted to try the light ice cream base from the underbelly blog. But I didn't want a plain old milk flavor.
The easiest way to add a bit a flavor to a recipe without having to re-balance the mixture is through infusion. And I'd been fancying a Chai Tea ice cream for a while.
So I took the spices (unfortunately I didn't have any actual tea) from the Honey Chai Frozen Yogurt recipe in Dana Cree's "Hello, My name is Ice Cream" and mixed them into underbelly base...
And boom, I had a pretty successful Chai Spice Ice Cream.
There were a few other missing ingredients to be honest. All my individual stabilizers had gone off (!), so I used a generic, pre-mixed ice cream stabilizer. No problems there.
But I'd forgotten about the invert syrup and I didn't have time to make any so I substituted it for Karo Light Corn Syrup.
Structurally I think they're more or less the same but the Karo is much less sweet than invert sugar. And since the underbelly recipe isn't very sweet anyway, I was worried the Karo might tip it over into "flatness".
It was fine though. The spices are are gently warming. And the light base carries them well.
The kids obviously didn't like it. But that just meant there was more for me...
Believe me, this tastes a lot better than it looks in my awful photo. My photography skills are still very much lacking. All I can say is: I'm working on it!
So please give this one a go. It's really easy and it's really tasty too. Just 4 ingredients. One of which is balsamic vinegar.
In these sophisticated, globe trotting times this probably doesn't seem as strange as it might once have done. Restaurants seem to be dribbling balsamic over all sorts of desserts these days.
The original recipe is of course Italian. Gelato Di Fragole All'Aceto Balsamico originates in a book called Entertaining all'Italiana with Anna del Conte.
But I found it in my old favorite Ices: The Definitive Guide by Liddell and Weir.
Be careful with the balsamic though. It's really intense. At least mine is. And if you add too much it can be overpowering.
So I would recommend starting with a teaspoon and then increasing the dose as you taste the mixture, working up to a tablespoon, max.
We're in lock down in Barcelona. And there's no herbs growing on my terrace. In fact there's nothing growing on my terrace at the moment!
Luckily the boys in the flat above us threw down a bunch of mixed herbs from their terrace, mostly mint and lemon balm (which they recommended we make into soothing teas).
The weather's hotting up now though, so instead I knocked up a quick ice cream based on a recipe in the excellent Ices: The Definitive Guide by Liddell and Weir.
It uses a light French vanilla custard base, infused with the grassy flavors of the herbs using a vigorous muddle and a bit of a steep.
The end result was slightly chewy ice cream with a lovely, herby fresh mint flavor that's lifted by the citrusy lemon balm.
Perfect for eating on our plantless terrace, as we enjoy the last of the days sun and dream about when the garden centers will open again...
I love ice cream. But I'm also very lazy. So obviously, a no-cook ice cream base will always be the holy grail for me!
With a no-cook ice cream, you just mix all the cold ingredients together and then pop the mixture straight into your ice cream maker. Easy. And you win so many times...
So, you work less and get to eat ice cream sooner. What's not to love? Well, the problem is that most no-cook ice creams are horrible.
The most common recipe you'll find on the web is a Philadelphia base that goes something like this:
Bleugghh. Too fatty and sweet for me. And it gets really icy, really quickly in the freezer.
And this is the problem with most no-cook ice creams. In order to work without cooking, they're often loaded up with fat and sugar. And because they don't use eggs or anything else to stabilize the ice cream, they quickly deteriorate in the freezer.
There's loads of ways round this using fancy sugars and stabilizers. But most people don't have easy access to these ingredients.
I wanted to make a no-cook ice cream that didn't compromise either taste or texture and could be made with ingredients that are easy to find in most supermarkets. So it should:
Not easy, it's true. Almost every recipe on the internet (and to be honest, there aren't many that don't use the aforementioned Philadelphia base), uses far more cream than milk and I know that means they're going to be too fatty for me.
However I did find a different Philadelphia base recipe in the book Ices: The Definitive Guide by Liddell and Weir which actually uses more milk than cream:
So I tried this and it was pretty good. Clean and milky with a nice firm body. The condensed milk gave the ice cream a slightly chewy texture and a very subtle cooked flavor that was in fact, quite nice.
The liquid sugar in the condensed milk no doubt helped control the ice crystals. However it was still a little bit icy. And it did get more icy, quite quickly in the freezer. And in the end, I decided the condensed milk gave the ice cream slightly too much chew. It was a bit toffee like.
But this recipe was good starting point. All I had to do was reduce the condensed milk and control the iciness. The thing is, removing some of the condensed milk was actually likely to increase the iciness. I had to replace it with something else.
Enter skimmed milk powder (SMP). It's easily available in the supermarket, it will replace the milk solids from the condensed milk and by soaking up the water in the milk, it should also help control the iciness.
But by replacing some of the condensed milk with SMP, we're also reducing the sugar level. On one hand, this is great as it allows us to taste more of the dairy flavors. But on the other hand, less sugar means the ice cream will freeze much harder in the freezer.
We could add a tablespoon of vodka to help keep the ice cream softer in our freezers. But I just leave it out a good five minutes before I serve it, to soften up. And this works fine!
Any ice crystals that melt while left out, will re-freeze as bigger crystals back in the freezer. I wanted to control this by adding extra stabilization. And with luck, this should also improve the general smoothness and creaminess of the ice cream. But what to use?
Eggs are what we'd usually use. And while there are recipes that use raw eggs in un-cooked ice cream, I didn't think it would appeal to many people! The thing is, most other stabilizers require heating to trigger them. For example, cornstarch, tapioca starch, locust bean gum all need to be heated or they won't work.
The only ones I can think of that don't are Guar Gum and Xanthan Gum. While Guar Gum can still be pretty difficult to get hold of, Xanthan Gum is often used by vegans as an egg replacement in baking. So it should be in the health section of most big supermarkets. Or if not, your local health food shop.
With Xanthan Gum a little goes a long way. We don't need much and in fact, if you do use too much it can give the ice cream a slightly slimy texture. So be careful! Your measurement need to be exact.
You don't have to use any Xanthan Gum, but it will definitely make this ice cream better. It will be smoother coming out of the ice cream maker and will take longer to go icy once it's stored in your freezer.
I actually prefer this base without any vanilla. But if you want that flavor don't add too much or it will overpower those dairy flavors. And always use either vanilla beans or proper vanilla extract. The vanilla essence stuff is artificial and nasty!
Anyway, the recipe...
Fior di latte is perhaps the simplest, purest ice cream of all. It’s a Sicilian gelato and fior di latte translates from Italian as “flower of milk”. Or “the best of the milk”.
And that’s all it is: a sweetened, milky ice cream. No eggs. No vanilla. Nothing but milk, cream and sugar.
I’ve seen it described as “monastically simple”. And while there is something quietly spiritual about those soft, white waves, there should be nothing austere about this gelato.
Thick, dense and creamy, as long as it’s not too sweet there’s a whole load of complex dairy flavors to explore here.
For many, a Fior di latte is the best test of a gelato shop. I suppose because any shortcuts an inferior gelateria might try to hide behind other flavors will be starkly apparent in their Fior di latte!
And that’s why it such a great place to start when you start learning to make ice cream. You can really concentrate on finding a balance of sweetness and creaminess and a texture and body that work for you.
I recommend making it again and again and again!
In this Fior di latte recipe I wanted to keep everything as simple as possible. So I’ve tried to keep the ingredients to a minimum and the preparation as straightforward as possible. Let’s have a look at each ingredient in more detail:
In this recipe I’m using 3.5% full fat milk. You could use semi-skimmed or even skimmed. But then you’d need to adjust the recipe.
This because when the milk is combined with the cream, we’re looking for a 7% total fat content. So if you use lower fat milk, you’ll need to use a higher proportion of cream.
Why 7%? Any less and it starts to taste a bit “hard” and “metallic” to me. And the sweetness is accentuated so it can start to taste like candy. Any more and the creaminess can leave a slightly cloying aftertaste.
Although it’s called Fior di latte, every recipe I’ve ever seen contains some amount of cream. And as I mention above, with too little cream it starts to taste a little “hard” to me.
There is in fact a variation called Fior di panna (“flower of cream”, obviously). But it’s not clear to me at what point the amount of cream means it’s a Fior di panna rather than a Fior di latte!
Anyway I’m using 36% fat cream. You can of course use cream with a different fat content. Just be aware that you won’t get the 7% fat that I’m aiming for without adjusting the recipe.
Most ice cream tastes far too sweet to me. But we don’t use sugar just for the sweet taste. It also keeps the ice cream thick and soft and stops it getting icy. So we can’t just use less sugar when we want a less sweet ice cream.
What we can do, however is use different types of sugar. This is because different sugars have different levels of sweetness. So here we use a combination of table sugar (sucrose) and the less sweet dextrose.
Dextrose (also called Glucose) is only 3/4 as sweet as table sugar. So if we replace some table sugar with dextrose we still get all the structural benefits of sugar, but the ice cream will be less sweet.
Dextrose also reduces the freezing point of water more than table sugar, which means our ice cream will be softer too!
With no eggs to emulsify and stabilize this low fat gelato, we need to add something else to thicken the ice cream and stop it becoming icy and coarse.
Fior di latte gelato probably originates in Sicily and is essentially a frozen crema rinforzata which is a sweet milk pudding, thickened with cornstarch. And we could use cornstarch here.
But it’s a little bit more difficult to make Fior di latte with cornstarch. And more importantly, I’ve never managed to do it without being able to taste the cornstarch in the final gelato.
Locust Bean Gum works in the same way as cornstarch but is much more effective, much easier to use and most importantly: adds no discernible taste to the final gelato!
You probably won’t be able to find it in your local supermarket. But it’s widely available online, it lasts for ages and as we’ll see, a little goes a long way.
OK, the recipe…