Caucasian Plombir-Apricot-Baklava Sundae

I’m not the world’s biggest dessert eater, but lately I’ve been thinking about ice cream sundaes whenever I have a craving for sweets, probably because the excessive combination of ice cream, sauce, and crunchy bits is guaranteed to deliver the goods if only in terms of quantity and sugar. During a recent dinner at Alder, I finished my meal with a delicious carrot cake sundae (even though I don’t usually like carrot cake or white chocolate). This reminded me how great a sundae can be when it’s well done, which it rarely is. Indeed, it seems that in most restaurants one always ends up with either cheap or poorly formulated ice cream, Hershey’s-like syrup, or inadequate glassware.

So of course, this means it’s time for me to come up with my own Eastern Bloc version. I already had the plombir ice cream and the apricot sauce to get started, but I needed something crunchy. And chocolate. And more Food-Perestroika-worthy flavors! Baklava seemed like the perfect solution: it’s not something you’d expect in a sundae, it’s made with honey just like my plombir, and like the apricots it can be be found in the Caucasus (where there aren’t enough desserts in my opinion). For the chocolate sauce, I opted for a dark chocolate and black tea combination, on top of whipped cream laced with more honey. Honey, nuts, apricot, chocolate, black tea: the result is sweet, sour, bitter, not too alien yet not totally hackneyed, and quite addictive.

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Plombir, Russian Ice Cream

You might remember seeing plombir ice cream in some of my restaurant reviews, such as Mari Vanna and Ariana, and wondering what makes it different. Plombir takes its name from the French glace Plombières, a vanilla ice cream mixed with bits of candied fruits marinated in kirsch. However, it bears little resemblance to the original. As explained in Russian standard ГОСТ 31457-2012, plombir is defined by its nutrient composition, not its flavor. Indeed, for an ice cream to be called plombir, the fat content must be between 12% and 20%, and the sugar content 14% or above. There’s also a threshold for the total “dry substance” content, which, I assume, represents the total amount of solids: it must exceed 37-42%, depending on the fat content. In other words, it’s much richer than your typical ice cream, especially if you err on the side of the upper bounds.

Of course, I have my own set of ice cream formulas, courtesy of Frozen Desserts. Putting it all together, I chose a fat content on the higher side, and worked backwards to find the perfect sugar content, which still turned out to be equally massive — this is definitely no diet ice cream. Next came the question of flavor. Although one can be make a plombir with pretty much anything, the most typical flavors in my experience are vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, with vanilla leading by a wide margin. So I stuck to vanilla but I also added honey, to make all that sugar somewhat more flavorful. There are no alcohol-macerated candied fruits here, but in the Russian tradition, my plombir is topped with a preserve-like sauce laced with Armenian brandy (a soviet-inspired nod to the kirsch in glace Plombières), thus creating something that’s almost half plombir and half Plombières. You can use any fruit you like, and I’m presenting both an apricot-brandy sauce (its acidity helps cut the fatty richness of the ice cream), and a booze-free strawberry sauce (because a sauce made with ripe strawberries is always delicious). The key is to go easy on the sugar.

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Apricot Kernel Ice Cream

Every apricot pit conceals an intensely aromatic kernel. Eaten raw, this kernel is unpleasantly bitter, but once toasted its taste gets somewhat milder, reminiscent of almond. This should be no surprise, since it can contain up to 5% of amygdalin. In fact I just learned while writing this post that apricot kernels are sometimes used to make amaretto! I figured these potent nuts would be perfect for ice cream, as the cold tends to tone down the flavors.

You may wonder if you’re really going to have to spend your summer eating apricots, and then half of your fall breaking pits with a hammer, all so you can enjoy a cup of ice cream. An assholish chef once had me do just that for an entire evening, and it is indeed no fun — not to mention the many times when the hammer hits your fingers rather than the pit. Luckily, there’s a much simpler solution: buy the kernels by the pound at Apricot Power (love the name). Just don’t pay attention to their vitamin B17 mumbo jumbo: the claims aren’t backed up by any clinical evidence, and there is no such thing as vitamin B17.

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Sour Cream Ice Cream and Strawberry Preserves

I’m slightly ahead of the curve this time, giving you a preserves recipe before the strawberry season actually starts! This simple recipe produces outstanding results — these are simply the best strawberry preserves I’ve ever eaten. Make sure to pick the best berries you can find.  I typically check every single stand at the farmers’ market before making my decision. The sour cream ice cream with its slight acidity is a perfect match, a refreshing change from the usual plain vanilla.

I created the ice cream recipe using the invaluable information from Frozen Desserts by Caroline Liddell and Robin Weir. The calculation table you see below gives the composition in grams, followed by the percentage of each solid ingredient, which is the key to a balanced ice cream. The preserves recipe is adapted from Blue Ribbon Preserves by Linda Amendt.

Sour cream ice cream
Yields a bit less than 1 qt

16 oz sour cream
1 egg yolk
4.5 oz sugar
5.5 oz non-fat milk
0.8 oz non-fat milk powder
1/2 tsp lemon juice

  • Place the sour cream in the freezer until almost frozen.
  • In a bowl, whisk the egg yolk with half of the sugar. Place the rest of the sugar in a saucepan with the milk and milk powder, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Pour into the bowl while whisking, then place the bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk the custard until it coats the back of a spoon. Pass through a chinois into a container in a bowl of ice water, and let cool. Transfer the container to the freezer and wait until it is completely cold.
  • Mix the sour cream and custard in a bowl, then churn in an ice cream maker, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to the freezer for at least 2 hours before serving.
Ingredient Weight Fat MSNF Sugar Other solids
1 egg yolk 20 6.6 / / 3.4
4.5 oz sugar 128 / / 128 /
16 oz sour cream 453.5 75.5 45.5 / /
5.5 oz non-fat milk 156 / 13 / /
0.8 oz non-fat milk powder 22.7 / 19.1 / /
1/2 tsp lemon juice 2.5 / / / /
Total 782.7 82.1 77.6 128 3.4
Percentage 100% 10.5% 9.9% 16.4% 0.4%

Strawberry preserves
Yields 1 pint

12 oz (about 2 1/2 cups) hulled strawberries
1 tbsp lemon juice
5 g powdered pectin
10 oz sugar
1/2 tsp butter

  • Combine the strawberries and lemon juice in a saucepan, sprinkle the pectin and bring to a boil, stirring constantly (there is very little liquid at this point, this is normal). Boil for 1 minute and remove from heat. Mix in the sugar, and let rest for 4-5 hours.
  • Reheat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved. Add the butter, bring to a boil, and simmer for 7 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes.
  • Transfer to a sterilized pint jar, seal and process in a 200 F water bath for 15 minutes.
  • Let cool for 30 minutes, refrigerate upside-down for 1 1/2 hours, and flip.