Okay, we know it’s Hallowe’en, but, rather than a trick, we’re going to show you how to make a treat: Cinnamon Stick Ice Cream, based on the recipe at The French Laundry. Yes, the famous restaurant run by Thomas Keller. We’ll probably never get to eat there, but, thanks to Chef Keller’s books, including The French Laundry Cookbook, we can at least try to make something approaching what they’d serve.
As you probably noticed, we like to make up frozen treats from time to time, but it took us a long time to get there. as with a lot of things, we hemmed and hawed about buying an ice cream attachment for our KitchenAid mixer. Would we use it enough? Would it make good ice cream? Or would we use it once, then have it collect dust? Well, after several years of debate (yes, years), we bought one and have never looked back. Now we make ice cream, or sorbet, at least once a month. In fact, the ice cream freezer bowl is stored in our freezer pretty much all the time, so we can churn up a batch when ever we feel like it. So, if you are, as we were, hesitating about buying a churn, we say don’t wait. Just buy it and start churning out ice cream far superior to anything you can buy.
We will note that we changed the original recipe, using half and half instead of milk — we had half and half that we needed to use — and scaled back the amounts by about 50%.
If you’re going to make your own ice cream, use the best ingredients you can. For u, that means we went out and bought Ceylon cinnamon sticks, we used egg yolks from real free-range hens, and organic half and half (the stuff without additives). We often use organic heavy cream, too. This time we didn’t — we have about a half gallon of other heavy cream sitting in the fridge.
Procedure in detail:
Simmer. Place the heavy cream, half and half, and the cinnamon stick in a saucepan over medium heat. While stirring often, bring the mixture to a low simmer — bubbles should just start to form around the edge of the pan. If you have a thermometer, the temperature of the cream mixture should be around 175°F.
Steep. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let steep for about 30 minutes. Now, scoop out the cinnamon stick. If you taste the mixture now, you’ll probably be disappointed. We tasted it and thought that it wouldn’t have enough flavor, but we went ahead, tasting as we worked, only to find out everything was fine.
Dissolve sugar. Add about half of the sugar to the cream mixture. We first measured the total amount of sugar we needed into a cup, then poured in about half. If you want, just measure in a quarter cup of sugar. Return the pan to medium heat, and, stirring often to dissolve the sugar, bring the mixture back to a very low simmer. If you want to use a thermometer, around 160°F will be about right. Once the cream mixture is hot, remove from the heat.
Whisk sugar and yolks. Place the yolks in a medium bowl. Add the remaining sugar (1/4 cup) and whisk until the sugar dissolves and the yolks thicken, about a minute.
Temper yolks. The tricky part: tempering the egg yolks. It’s not too difficult, but you need to add the hot liquid to the yolks, without cooking them. So, while whisking all the time, slowly, very slowly at first, drizzle in the hot cream mixture. As the hot liquid is added, the yolk mixture will become more liquid, and you can increase the amount. When all the cream mixture is added, return the custard mix to the pan.
Cook custard. This is the second, somewhat tricky part: cooking the custard. You want to heat the custard until the yolks cook, but not so hot that they curdle. Place the pan over medium heat, and, while stirring continuously, heat the custard mix until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. The change in thickness is sometimes subtle, so we prefer to use a thermometer and cook the custard to about 165°F. When cooked, immediately remove from heat.
Strain. Set up a strainer and slowly pour the custard through into a nonreactive container, preferably with a spout. The strainer will catch any pieces of yolk that curdled, as well as any small pieces of cinnamon stick left behind, making for a smooth, creamy, ice cream.
Chill. Cover with plastic wrap and place the custard mix in the refrigerator and chill overnight. Chilled custard churns faster, plus there’s time for the flavors to meld.
Churn. Set up your ice cream maker and churn the custard according to the manufacturer’s directions. Once churned, feel free to serve some up as soft serve, you know, just as a quality control check.
Pack. Pack the ice cream into an airtight container and store in the freezer.
As we expected, this ice cream is wonderful, with just enough cinnamon flavor to taste, but not so much that it overwhelms the flavors of the cream and yolks. You might think that it should have some vanilla flavoring — we initially thought so as we tasted along the way, but we were wrong — and we think that it wouldn’t really help. The vanilla would end up competing with the more delicate flavors of the cinnamon; you’d end up with a plain vanilla ice cream with a dash of cinnamon. By leaving out the vanilla, this ice cream is more subtle, and, if you didn’t know it was cinnamon stick ice cream, you might be hard-pressed to figure out the nuanced flavor. Definitely five stars.