Whoa Nelly. I hope to all goodness that you had a better week than I did. You know those days when all you really want to do is have a mid-day meltdown, throw yourself face-first onto the bed and cry your face off like a two year old? Yeah that. For a few days last week that's pretty much what needed to be done. Work was stupid busy, and suddenly our glorious, gluten-free bread which is essentially the talk of the town - the stuff that I make every day - well it stopped being so glorious. In fact it was crap. It wasn't rising properly and was a hollow crater inside. Folks were coming far and wide for a slice and we weren't able to offer them any. In case you aren't aware - baking gluten free is a different animal. There's no bag of all-purpose flour to dip into and there you go, carry on with your recipe. Na-ah. Gluten free bread requires a carefully orchestrated symbiosis of flours and starches and gums and yeast and vinegar, and if one or more ingredients is defective, well you are in trouble. I was in the shit. After a couple of days of CSI: Gluten Free Baking Edition, we discovered the brown rice flour was stale. Yes, stale. It's lack of freshness destroyed the product and basically my soul. Everyone was so kind and supportive, but this bread is essential to the restaurant and if it flops, then that's not cool. The pressure I felt was my own, dumped onto these shoulders that can only carry so much. But holy Jesus, the relief I felt when a batch turned out absolutely perfect, made with fresh brown rice flour. I almost cried, yet again, but this time with joy instead of frustration. Oh the learning curve of cooking and baking with entirely new ingredients. As we discovered last week - it can be a steep one. But this was a good lesson for me - yes about the flour - but also how I need to chill the hell out.
So chill out I did. On a particularly bad afternoon I dove into Nigel Slater's Ripe. If you haven't read this book, I highly suggest taking a peek at it. Full of wonderful recipes devoted exclusively to fruit, it's a great resource to have on your bookshelf, already too heavy with cookbooks. On this particularly rotten day I had some strawberries on hand that were soon to go the way of my day. Quite over-ripe, but dead-red in the centre I knew they'd make something luscious. How about ice cream? And Nigel even states it's better if made without a machine. Good, because I don't have one. If I had an ice cream maker I don't know if my self-control could control itself.
The simple things are often the best things. Today you only need four ingredients, a stand mixer and a food processor to make ice cream. And you know what is in your ice cream. No stabilizers and preservatives and glucose/fructose. You don't want to eat that crap. You want to eat strawberries, balsamic vinegar, whipping cream and cane sugar. Right. So first things first. The recipe called for superfine sugar. I only had cane, and it's crystals are a little large so I used my trusty mortar and pestle to break them down, superfine style. I imagine a food processor or blender would do the same thing. The finer the sugar the better it will meld with the strawberries, in case you are wondering. Pour the sugar over the strawberries and let them stew in their own juices for about an hour. Leave em be, go about your day, check back in an hour then process them until smooth, being sure to scrape all of those lovely juices out of the bowl. Add 2 tsp balsamic vinegar to the strawberry purée - just a hint of something bright to add to the sweet berry flavour.
Next, whip some heavy cream, just until it softly peaks, but thick enough to lie in folds. Stir the whipped cream into the strawberry puree, ever so gently, until it's pretty and swirly. Try to leave large chunks of white, because you'll stir more later on. Pour into a freezer safe container. I used a glass loaf pan, but wish I had something with a lid. Keep that in mind. Also I'm a little vain and knew the white would show better in photos. But you probably don't care so much about that.
The waiting is the hardest part, Tom Petty once said. And he's right. We wait for lots of things: in line-ups at mediocre restaurants and movies; for the right lover; for the right time to tell; for the right time to go; for the right time to let go. But one of the best things to wait for is ice cream to freeze. There's a little work on your part in that you have to stir it every hour - gently - so the stuff in the middle gets pushed to the outside, moving the whole freezing process along faster. But it's only about 3 or 4 hours so it's not that big of a deal. It will be ready in time for your dinner party or your pity party with only you and your cats on the guest list.
Ta-da! Ice cream! It's a real thing! And you made it yourself! It's fresh and creamy, ripe with berry flavour and just a hint of balsamic. A miracle, really. Some finely chopped pistachios make it even more beautiful. I ate it consecutively for about 4 days, and it was balm for a battered spirit. That being said, the first day was best, as over the next day a few ice crystals sneaked under the plastic wrap and wreaked a little havoc. Or you could just eat it all in one sitting. Options, options. Also, it would be ideal to store the ice cream in a container with a tight-fitting lid. I've noted this for future reference because I will be making this ice cream again. I think a swirl of lemon or lime curd would be insane. How about raspberry purée, or rhubarb or heck, chocolate fudge? Now that I have the method down, I'm all into this homemade ice cream business. Operation chill out has begun, one ice cream flavour at a time...
...bowl by bowl.
Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream
1 pound (454 grams) fresh, ripe, organic strawberries
1/2 cup (100 grams) superfine sugar
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 1/4 cups (300ml) heavy cream
pistachios, finely chopped, for garnish
Rinse the berries, hull them and slice. Put in a bowl and sprinkle with sugar. Let stand 1 hour. Puree the strawberries in a food processor - scrap all of the bits including the juice into the bowl - and process until smooth. Pour into a large bowl and stir in the balsamic vinegar. Whip the cream into soft peaks. Stir the whipped cream into the strawberry puree - gently - leaving chunks of white. Pour into freezer safe container and freeze 3-4 hours, stirring every hour, bringing the outside edges to the middle. Remove from freezer about 20 minutes before you want to serve it. Makes enough for 4. Recipe from Nigel Slater's Ripe.