Adventures in ice cream

Feb.27, 2011, filed under Food/drink

avatarI am, it has to be said, a bit of a foodie. I don’t talk about food on this blog nearly as much as one might expect given the amount of time I spend thinking about it.

Some genetic quirk left me with a digestive system of the temperamental variety and my interest in food was born from the necessity of dealing with its quirks and foibles. I have a range of variable sensitivities and intolerances, as well as synaesthesia, which together mean I am often uninterested in eating. When food can make you sick for no apparent reason it is easy to develop negative associations with it. Meals can also be awkward when a food, because of its texture, tastes of something that is entirely unrelated to the food’s actual flavour. Especially when it’s not always possible to tell which one is which.

Except for celery. Celery is evil by nature.

Taking an interest in ingredients and preparation isn’t a hobby or a hankering after a future career — I have not contemplated entering Masterchef, not seriously anyway — it’s a survival requirement. If I didn’t care about my food, I wouldn’t bother. Some days it feels like I’ve got some sort of multiple personality disorder, with the other personality occupying the brain in my gut and pissed off about not getting much of a say in anything other than what happens after I swallow (please do pipe down at the back).

For my birthday last year one of my friends, knowing that I have an intermittent sensitivity to dairy but a liking for ice cream, bought me an ice cream maker and a book of vegan ice cream recipes. The first one we tried was a bit of disaster — Frood wanted grapefruit ice cream, and I foolishly agreed to give it a go even though the belly brain (henceforth to be known as RB2) was yelling blue bloody murder and threatening strike action and rebellion and talking about a military coup, while my synaesthesia was building flavour blocks and looking at the resultant abomination like it was the dessert equivalent of the Ryugyong Hotel. Impatience and exuberance with the orange liqueur got the better of me and we ended up with an oddly sepia-toned, crystalline concoction that tasted of hot newspaper ink and air freshener.

The ice cream machine went back into the freezer. At least the alcoholic jellies worked.

Next we tried one of the recipes that came with the machine, which was for raspberry yoghurt ice cream. Although it grumbled somewhat about the combination of fruit and animal fats/proteins, RB2 agreed that the Lactobacillus in the yoghurt went some way to ameliorating the crime and didn’t kick up too much of a fuss, but did caution me not to make a habit of it. This caution turned into a final warning the next time we had raspberry yoghurt ice cream.

Last night we had friends round for dinner. They brought with them some Sake obtained from an artisan winery in Canada, and had requested some of the raw food sushi I had mentioned to them on an earlier occasion.

(My raw food sushi is not really raw. I mean, raw sushi rice wouldn’t be nice. It would be crunchy and wouldn’t stick together. The miso soup I did last night wasn’t raw, nor was the drenched radish, and the tofu wasn’t a raw food either. If I’m fully honest I have to allow that one of the sushi rolls was filled with a chilli, garlic and hot smoked paprika roasted butternut squash, which is neither raw nor traditional. But the other ingredients were a mix of home-grown sprouts, avocado, grated raw carrot and freshly-squeezed ginger juice, so mostly raw. Other than the thin egg omelette. Which was neither raw nor vegan. But it was optional.)

I was in the mood to try making vegan ice cream again, and having friends round for dinner, which I do very rarely, is a great excuse to make dessert. RB2 can be more tolerant when roped in for ideas and the synaesthesia is very useful when it comes to putting flavours together, because when flavours have shape it’s easier to see what goes together and what doesn’t — hence I really should have paid attention when neither agreed on grapefruit. I had some plums and we were having Japanese food, so the obvious thing to do was use Oriental spices to flavour some stewed plums.

The recipe book uses a mixture of soy milk, soy cream, sugar, vanilla extract and arrowroot to form the base for almost all of the recipes, which made for an easy adaptation as there was nothing directly equivalent in there.

The base I made with 2 cups soy milk, 1 pot (250ml) soy cream, a scant third of a cup sugar, 1 tablespoon (15ml) vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons (30ml) arrowroot. It was only supposed to be 1.5 cups soy milk, but I forgot to reduce the arrowroot to suit and ended up with this horrible gelatinous disaster-in-the-making, requiring swift dilution and vigorous whisking to rescue it. The whisking had an added benefit — the resulting texture was light and airy and beautiful, like a zabaione, and I shall be whisking it in future for that reason.

The half-dozen plums I washed, stoned, cut into quarters and stewed in approx. 2 tablespoons of lemon juice with barely a quarter cup of sugar, a little salt, a cinnamon stick, two 5p coin sized pieces of raw ginger and a whole star anise. I passed the result through a sieve after removing the spices and refrigerated everything for several hours.

When it came time to make the ice cream I folded the plum mix into the base and then poured as much of it as would fit into the ice cream maker. Twenty minutes later we had a gorgeous, soft, crystal-free, perfectly smooth and silky, fragrant ice cream.

I don’t think that fruit mixture would have worked so well on a dairy base. Although plums are a soft, round fruit, they have a sharp, almost metallic tang of a flavour that can be reminiscent of rhubarb or other more brittle fruits. This flavour is mellowed by stewing in fat and sugar, making it a suitable eiderdown for comforting pastry, but the spice and the lemon and absence of fat enhanced it. I would not have wanted to put that in the oleaginous, vanilla-scented softness of dairy ice cream. It would have been like taking sandpaper to silk. Nor would I have wanted to go the other way and make a sorbet: there was still some of the round mellowness of the plum (a word that has the same shape as the flavour of the very ripe fruit) in there and a sorbet is bright and brittle and sparkly. That would have been like serving champagne in a leather tankard. Just plain weird.

Vegan ice cream is not, as Wheeler Del Torro claims, indistinguishable from dairy. I wouldn’t be overly keen on a straight vanilla and I’m almost 100% certain that I would not want to make vegan chocolate ice cream (although carob might work. The powdery undernotes would tie the two together quite nicely). On the other hand, there are flavours I can see myself making with a vegan base that I wouldn’t make using a dairy one, particularly using spices that have or combine to make a pointier texture than I think dairy cream can take.

And RB2? Belly brain is complaining about something. I’m not going to accept it was the ice cream, because I want to try more of that, and any new food that makes me say “more please!” is to be treasured. Even Frood said it was nommy and he has no reason not to eat proper ice cream.

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