A Good Appetite: Homemade ice cream with jammy fruit, syrupy caramel and enough tangy custard to savor between the sweet bits. Recipe: Rhubarb Ice Cream with a Caramel Swirl
Some ice cream is perfectly smooth, with nary a nut or chocolate fleck to distract your tongue from its voluptuous texture. Then there is ice cream akin to a sundae in a pint container: so full of nutty brittles, veins of fudge and chunks of cookie or brownie that the ice cream itself becomes pretty much secondary.
This rhubarb caramel ice cream strikes a balance between the two: chock-full of sweet bits, but with enough satiny frozen custard to savor between the chunks.
To keep the rhubarb from freezing into tooth-breaking fruity ice cubes, I stewed it with plenty of sugar, turning it into a syrupy compote. The high sugar content keeps the fruit soft. The technique works with any summer fruit, although it’s especially nice with rhubarb, or gooseberries for that matter, both of which need a lot of sugar to tame their squint-inducing acid content. But you can substitute strawberries, apricots, cherries, peaches or plums as the summer fruit season progresses, adjusting the sugar depending upon the sweetness of the fruit.
The compote should taste just a bit cloying on the stove; that’s how you will know you’ve added enough sugar. Honey works as a sweetener, too, and can add a deep, rich, earthy character — think apricot honey ice cream and swoon.
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As if the rhubarb compote were not enough to flavor the ice cream, I also layered in sticky caramel. Here’s a rule about caramel: The darker you let the sugar cook, the more complex the resulting caramel. I like to let the sugar caramelize until it’s a rich, deep brown with a reddish cast, the color of an Irish setter or the red oak trim of my kitchen windows. What you don’t want is black, which equals burned, which equals bitter. Simmer it slowly and check the hue by dripping some onto a white plate.
With all that syrupy caramel and jammy fruit, I wanted an ice cream base with a contrasting tang, so I used sour cream in place of some of the heavy cream. Yogurt, buttermilk, creme fraiche, cream cheese or even quark would give you a similar brightness. Or for something on the sweeter, gentler side of the spectrum, go ahead and use all heavy cream. You can’t go wrong with the combination of rhubarb, caramel and ice cream.
RHUBARB ICE CREAM WITH A CARAMEL SWIRL
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes plus steeping, chilling, churning and freezing
Yield: 1 scant quart
1 ½ cups whole milk
1 ¾ cup plus 6 tablespoons sugar
Pinch fine sea salt
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
4 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 ½ cups sour cream
¾ pound rhubarb, cut into ½-inch dice
½ cup heavy cream
1. In a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, whisk together the milk, ¾ cup sugar, the salt, vanilla bean seeds and pod. Simmer gently until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and steep 30 minutes. Discard vanilla pod and return mixture to a bare simmer.
2. Place the yolks in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in hot milk mixture. Scrape the custard back into the pot and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Whisk in sour cream. Chill at least 3 hours or overnight.
3. In a saucepan, combine the rhubarb with 1 cup sugar. Simmer until rhubarb is just tender and has begun releasing its juices, but has not started to fall apart, 4 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer rhubarb to a bowl. Continue to simmer the juices until syrupy, 5 to 10 minutes more. Pour the syrup over the rhubarb. Cool completely.
4. In a clean, dry and preferably nonstick skillet, sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over medium heat. When it begins to melt and lightly color, sprinkle in 2 more tablespoons and start swirling pan to help evenly distribute sugar. Add the final 2 tablespoons and cook, swirling pan until all the sugar has melted. Let cook, swirling occasionally, until the sugar syrup caramelizes and turns dark brown. Pour in the cream and 2 tablespoons water (stand back; it may splatter). Simmer, stirring with a heatproof rubber spatula until smooth. Cool completely.
5. Pour the chilled custard base into an ice cream machine and process according to manufacturer’s instructions. Add rhubarb compote for the last minute of churning.
6. Scrape a quarter of the caramel into a freezer-proof quart container. Top with a quarter of the ice cream. Repeat layering until all the caramel and ice cream has been used, ending with the ice cream. Freeze until firm for at least 2 hours and up to 1 week.