Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ice Cream for Breakfast

The other morning I was quite surprised when my sweet daughter asked for a strawberry ice cream cone for breakfast. What was even more surprising to me was my response. Somewhere between my brain and my mouth, and completely outside my control, my reply changed from the most obvious no, to yes. Yes? Did I actually just say that? I did, in fact, answer in the affirmative. As I looked over at her, her eyes widened in disbelief and a smile spread out across her face like so much warm sunshine through my kitchen window. Yes, I repeated, a strawberry ice cream cone would make a fine breakfast (especially since it was the homemade variety, which just oozes health and nutrition).

I have always had a soft spot for strawberry ice cream. I remember walking down to Thrifty's with my mom for a scoop on occasion, stopping to feed the neighbor's horses carrots on our route. My mother never let me have a sugar cone, only plain ones. It wasn't until I went out to ice cream with my future husband was I tasted the illicit variety. The name 'sugar cone' implies something sweet and over the top, kind of like adding insult to injury, I think. But in reality, I doubt if there is any more sugar in a sugar cone, than in a plain one. But there is certainly a textural difference. Plain cones are light and fluffy and get soggy if you don't eat ice cream quick enough. While sugar cones have more crunch, and are a nice toasty brown which gives them a cookie-like flavor. And they remain crisp, right down to the last bite, even when ice cream has wedged itself into the very tip.

During the summer in Cape Cod, we frequent an ice cream parlor that's in a converted farmhouse. It has a wide front porch and lawn where Adirondack chairs are set out so that folks might sit and enjoy their cones and watch the children frolic about after seemingly inhaling their own desserts. Evenings are lovely there, warm still, and breezy, marred only slightly by all manner of buzzing and biting creatures. I love that all their ice cream is made on site and is named after Cape Cod towns and points of interest like Dennis Double Chocolate and Chappaquiddick Chocolate Chip. We always let the kids order regular-sized scoops, and always on sugar cones. It's the only kind of cone my kids know. (Edited to add that my eldest son reminded me that frosty soft-serve ice cream always comes on plain cones. Right, I forgot about that.)

Making ice cream isn't really as complicated as you might think, and as long as you have an electric machine, it will be churned and frozen in twenty minutes. You won't even have a blister to show for it. Back in the day, when I was a kid, we used to have one of those old wooden crank ice cream makers. We kept it in an outside closet that stored our pool chemicals and spare ping pong paddles and balls. It was only trudged out once a year, around the Fourth of July holiday, and was a task delegated to the children. At least the cranking part. My mom would make the custard in the kitchen, then send us outside with the rock-salt and ice filled barrel to crank and crank away. We never tired of it because we knew that the delectable results were well worth our efforts. Plus, it was really fun.

Last summer I tried to make ice cream in one of those ice cream making balls. I thought it would be fun for the children to roll it around on the grass outside, and it only takes twenty minutes or so to transform from milky vanilla flavored custard to frozen delight. But after only a few short moments, the children tired of the task and left me to roll the orb around by myself. It wasn't the entertaining activity I had imagined, nor were the results as good as I remember from my hand-cranking days. The bits of grass on the outside of the ball had somehow invaded the ice cream, along with a smidgen of rock salt. Grassy and salty ice cream wasn't exactly what I had in mind. But if it was a flavor at the Cape Cod Creamery, I might call it Marsh Madness. It has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

I make ice cream often in my new-fangled electric maker. I especially like this strawberry ice cream recipe because it requires only 4 ingredients-cream, milk, sugar and strawberries. No custard making is necessary and it comes together in a snap. If you heat the milk and cream with the sugar until just before the boiling point then let it cool, it makes for a creamier version, but honestly, I have just whisked super-fine sugar into the cold milk and cream and dumped it immediately in the frozen bowl of my ice-cream maker with fine results. Just let it sit out on the counter for about 15 minutes before you want to serve it and it will be perfectly scoopable and smooth. The recipe is adapted from one by Susan Branch, who literally hand-writes and illustrates lovely little cookbooks. I own them all and you should too-they're available in my bookstore.

Strawberry Ice Cream

2 C heavy cream
2 C whole milk
1 1/4 C sugar
1 pint of strawberries, hulled and chopped

Heat the cream and milk together until just before the boiling point. Stir in 3/4 C sugar, pour into a bowl and refrigerate until cold. Meanwhile, puree or mash strawberries and remaining 1/2 C sugar together and add to the cream when it's cold. Pour into the bowl of a frozen ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturers directions. Ice cream will be soft set. Pour into a freezer safe container and freeze until firm (at least a few hours).

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