08 September 2010

Suffering in the name of thrift

I don't like to throw food away. I would be lying if I said that it was an extraordinarily rare occurrence in our home, but I don't like it. Often I will find myself with some peaches that have ripened to perfection on the twenty minute walk home from the market, or a bundle of chard that was carefully wrapped, then forgotten at the bottom of the crisper drawer. More often than not, I will carefully peel and pit and scrape out bad spots, then dump the food in the freezer to use later in smoothies or soup ... more often than I'd like, I find it a year later, freezer burnt beyond recognition under an ice pack.

So imagine my concern, a week or so ago, when I found myself with a bowl full of egg yolks in the fridge. I had sorbet in the freezer, and a tart in the fridge already ... and all I could think of was ice cream.

About ten minutes' walk from my old house at college is an ice cream parlor called Herrell's. We stopped in while I was visiting colleges in the heat of August, and it remained one of my favorite shops during my three years in Northampton. The flavors were always changing, and although I often stick with boring flavors like chocolate, I found myself yearning for new and different things whenever I went in.

I was always excited for the beginning of holiday season, and the introduction of Egg Nog Ice Cream - not a regular grocery-store item at the time. I was delighted when I walked in a few days before Valentine's Day my first year of college and discovered "Hearts & Flowers," a lavender and rose petal ice cream available for only a few short weeks. Banana ice cream, with fresh banana puréed and in chunks, made the best milkshake around.

My favorite - the flavor that I usually planned to order, that often found its way into my cup or cone even when I swore I would try something new - was Cinnamon-Nutmeg. It was rich, creamy, and devastatingly simple. No mix-ins, no hot fudge, no nuts on top - just a pale, nearly golden ice cream, flecked with the tiniest bits of spice.

cinnamon specks

Sitting at home, flipping through cookbooks (David Lebovitz, you are truly my downfall. Less than three months blogging and already I have three recipes inspired by this book?), I came upon a recipe for Cinnamon Ice Cream. A few tweaks made up a nice big batch of velvety, spicy, not-too-sweet ice cream. It is so good. So good that it transports me to my college days. So good that there is only this much left:

the dregs

I would serve this ice cream with poached fruit, with a cake or tart - and it would make fabulous ice cream sandwiches with oatmeal cookies. But I usually eat it plain.

Cinnamon-Nutmeg Ice Cream
Inspired by Herrell's and heavily adapted from The Perfect Scoop
Note: I read a lot about not reducing the fat level in ice cream because it will increase graininess. For me, I find it far more distastefull to find a thin layer of fat coating my spoon and palate (a phenomenon I can't avoid with a high ratio of cream), so I often use about a 2:1 ratio of whole milk to cream. A higher ratio of milk, without special equipment, tends to result in icy cream, but I have never had a problem with this ratio.

3 cups whole milk
1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
3 five-inch cinnamon sticks (I use Ceylon or "true" cinnamon), broken into several pieces each
1 whole nutmeg, roughly broken with a mallet or pestle
1 ½ cups heavy cream
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon, or half cinnamon and half ground nutmeg
8 large egg yolks

Combine the milk, sugar, salt, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, and one cup of the cream in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Heat until hot to the touch but not boiling. Cover, remove from heat and let steep about one hour.

Rewarm the milk mixture and remove the big chunks of cinnamon stick and nutmeg. Pour the remaining ½ cream into a large bowl and set in an ice bath and set aside. Whisk together the egg yolks in another bowl, then temper the yolks by slowly pouring in about half of the hot milk, whisking constantly. Return the yolk mixture to the saucepan and put the pan on medium heat. Add the ground spices (I usually taste before to determine how much of each) and stir constantly until thickened enough to coat the spoon.

Pour the hot mixture through a fine mesh sieve into the bowl with the cream. Stir until cool, then cover and chill thoroughly. Freeze in your favorite ice cream maker.

Makes 1 ½ quarts


  1. I'm afraid that I am like you--always with the best of intentions at the store. I consider myself a reformed impulse shopper, but when I see a unique ingredient or one that is an old, forgotten friend, I can't help but grab them and put them in my cart, hoping that I will be inspired at some point to actually use them up before they go badly. That's how I'm feeling about the 25 lbs of peaches sitting on our table right now. If I don't prep them and freeze them tonight, I will have a missed opportunity.

  2. 25 pounds! I can't commit to more than five pounds of peaches at a time :)

    One of these days, I'll post the story about my mom's family buying a full truckload of peaches each summer for preserving.

  3. David is pretty awesome. Did I ever tell you that I was nursing my then 9 day old baby at a food blogging conference and he was sitting next to me and may or may not have seen my boob when she decided to totally stop nursing and pull my shirt down? It was awesome.

  4. I too hate wasting food and am pretty vigilant about planning meals so I don't find soggy unrecognisable things at the bottom of the vege drawer but this ice-cream might make me abandon a tart and sorbet too...

  5. Damaris - I'm impressed that you went to a conference with a 9-day-old baby!

    Sasa - I try so hard ... unfortunately, I usually have so many ideas kicking around in my head that all it takes is one evening of "no, I'm not in the mood for that anymore" to throw me off. Also, I wouldn't want you to think that the other desserts went to waste ... I'm not above skipping dinner in favor of dessert once in a while!