Sunday, June 10, 2012

Vanilla Mascarpone Ice Cream with Sweet Roasted Cherries . . .

"My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, 
but just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate." 
                   -- Thornton Wilder

Solid advice, especially as it concerns homemade ice cream. Seems to me it melts faster than the store-bought stuff, so it's wise to take Wilder's suggestion. Luckily, this vanilla mascarpone ice cream is so darn good that eating it before it softens into a puddle won't be a problem for most folks.

Made with some of the most luscious ingredients known to man--heavy cream, mascarpone cheese, and slowly roasted sweet cherries--this may be one for the record books, it's that fantastic.

Adapted from Jeni Britton Bauer's Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home, the latest ice cream volume to take up residence in my ever-expanding collection, this recipe is simple, as are most of her recipes. Three key elements make her standard method stand out from the crowd: she doesn't use eggs; she uses a smidgen of corn syrup; and, her ice creams are ready to eat far more quickly than the norm.

Until now, I've honestly never encountered an egg-free ice cream that has an undeniably wonderful texture. You probably know that the typical ice cream recipe requires the careful cooking, and then straining, of an eggy custard concoction. That's fine if you know how, for example, to make a decent pastry cream and you are well aware of the potential pitfalls, but it's far from a foolproof process for beginners. The likelihood of overcooking the custard and ending up with something akin to scrambled eggs is high. Yeah, there's nothing quite like the sensation of dumping a steaming saucepan full of expensive ingredients right down the sink after you've been diligently stirring it on the stove, non-stop, until your wrist seizes up. Luckily, it's been a while since I've had to face a pour-it-down-the-sink scenario, but I remember those days well. So, while you do have to cook the milk, cream, and sugar, etc., for Jeni's recipes, the chances of screwing up that step are happily diminished.

In the pantheon of ice cream cookbooks, I think this one is kind of a revelation. As I already mentioned, the recipes generally include a little bit of corn syrup, and though that may be a frowned-upon ingredient for those who require all-organic-everything in their gourmet ice creams, it sure helps to produce a seriously fine result. I think it's worth the trade-off.

I made a couple of minor changes to the original recipe by using mascarpone cheese instead of goat cheese (I love both, but I must confess that I love mascarpone more), and by using fresh sweet cherries instead of sour cherries. Also, I decided to add in a tiny bit of vanilla bean paste (the recipe did not call for any vanilla at all) and I think that rounded out the flavor nicely, still leaving the mascarpone aspect front and center. I also reworded the recipe to reflect exactly what I did.

Both of my kids, along with the hubby, told me they think this may be the best ice cream I've ever made. High praise, coming from them. That, however, is a testament to Jeni Britton Bauer's skill as an artisanal ice cream maker and recipe developer, without a doubt; I can't take the credit. I look forward to using this no-egg method many times in the future. It's a winner.

Vanilla Mascarpone Ice Cream with Sweet Roasted Cherries
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Yield: About 1 quart of ice cream.

To make the roasted cherries:
(This should be made ahead of time and can, if you like, be prepared days in advance and kept in the fridge until you need it.)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

2 cups of pitted sweet cherries
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch

Place the cherries in a medium size baking dish/pan (I used a 9"x13" glass dish). Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together in a little bowl and scatter that over the cherries. Toss them around until evenly coated. Roast the cherries in the oven, stirring them about every 15 minutes, until the juice looks thick and bubbly, about 35-40 minutes or so.

Strain most of the liquid off the roasted cherries and let them cool completely before using them in the ice cream. (If the cherries are large, you can cut them into chunks before or after roasting, if you prefer; that's what I ended up doing with mine.)

To make the ice cream:

2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
1 and 1/2 ounces cream cheese (3 tablespoons), room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 and 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup

In a very small bowl, stir together 2 tablespoons of the milk with all of the cornstarch until smooth (this is the "slurry").

In a large bowl, with a fork, mix together the mascarpone, cream cheese, vanilla, and salt until smooth and well combined. Set aside.

Fill a large bowl about 3/4 of the way full with cold water and ice. Have a large, clean Ziploc bag ready and propped open near the bowl.

In a large saucepan, combine the rest of the milk, the heavy cream, the sugar, and the corn syrup. Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Boil for 4 minutes. Take the pan off the burner and slowly whisk in the cornstarch slurry, whisking constantly. Return the pan to the burner and bring back to a boil, again over medium-high heat, now stirring continually with a rubber spatula. Cook until slightly thickened; this will take about 1 minute. Take the pan off the heat.

Pour the hot milk mixture slowly into the bowl with the mascarpone and cream cheese, whisking until it's quite smooth. Pour all of this into the Ziploc bag, seal it, and place it into the bowl of ice water. Leave the bag in there until the liquid in it feels pretty cold, at least half an hour. Add more ice to the bowl as needed.

Follow the directions for your own ice cream freezer, churning the ice cream until it's thick. (I use the ice cream attachment for my KitchenAid mixer and my ice cream took at least 20 minutes to thicken.)

 Get out your roasted cherries and a spoon. As you pack the thickened ice cream into one or two storage containers (I used two pint-size glass containers that have plastic fitted lids), spoon some of the cherries in frequently; don't stir/mix them in, simply layer them.

Cover the containers securely. Chill them in the coldest part of your freezer for at least 4 hours, until the ice cream is as firm as you'd like (I ended up letting mine chill overnight, but I did check it after only 4 hours and, relatively speaking, it was probably firm enough to serve).

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