Vanilla Basil Ice Cream with Pomegranate

Christmas is just a few days away! I’m so excited: this year I’m traveling up to Owen Sound, ON to see my boyfriend for the first time in the six months we’ve been separated for school. I’ve been to his home town before, but usually after a grueling 12-hour drive. Now I normally love road trips – and it’s a good thing, since I doubt I’d arrive in Owen Sound with my sanity if I didn’t – but this year I’m taking the train! I love train rides and am so jealous of the more compact countries I’ve visited who rely so heavily on them (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and especially Japan). I’m looking forward to napping, reading, and working on grad school applications while a train does the work for me this time around.

What comes to mind when you think of the Holiday Season? Lights? Snow? Peppermint hot chocolate? There are so many images, tastes, and sounds that are associated with the Holidays. I love most of those nostalgic norms, but have a few of my own that I doubt make it onto other folks’ lists. For example, one of my favorite Christmas treats that I look forward to every year is pomegranate. Yes, that’s pomegranate: the fruit, haha. I can’t remember how the tradition started, but many years ago I got a pomegranate in my stocking and was thrilled (pomegranate is my favorite fruit). Since then the trend has grown to include my two brothers and the three of us can be found stained maroon and munching on pomegranate seeds come Christmas morning.

I have been wanting to try basil ice cream for years. I can’t remember when I first heard of it but the idea sort of lodged itself in the back of my mind and it was one of the first things I thought of when I first got my ice cream maker. I wasn’t quite daring enough to try making basil-flavored ice cream until now, but with the absolutely delicious success of my Lemon Ginger Ice Cream (as well as other less exciting varieties I haven’t posted) I felt confident enough to try. I have no idea what I was so worried about – the process is ridiculously simple and the flavors develop richly all on their own. Now I DID fail horribly in my first round of custard (see Beezer’s Notes), but I’ll admit it was due entirely to me being an airhead and nothing to do with the difficulty of the recipe.

Vanilla Basil Ice Cream with Pomegranate

(adapted from Gourmet’s recipe on epicurious.com)

Ingredients:

2     C   whole milk (I mixed 1½ C of my 1% with ½ C heavy cream)

3     T   chopped fresh basil

½   C   vanilla sugar*

4   large egg yolks

½   C   well-chilled heavy cream

pinch of salt

1 ripe pomegranate fruit

* Note: Vanilla sugar is easy enough to make and store yourself: just place 1 whole vanilla bean in a small container, fill with regular granular sugar, seal airtight, and let sit. The sugar will absorb the vanilla flavoring in about a week. See Purple Foodie’s Vanilla Bean Sugar post on how to make superb vanilla sugar in which whole beans are ground up and added to the sugar itself!

Procedure:

  1. Bring milk, basil, ¼ Cup sugar, and salt to boil over medium heat while stirring in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Remove from heat and let steep for 30 minutes. Use an immersion blender or transfer to upright blender and blend until basil is finely ground – about 1 minute.
  2. While basil is steeping, beat together egg yolks and remaining ¼ Cup sugar until thick and pale – about 1 minute. Once milk mixture has steeped, add it in a slow stream to yolk/sugar mixture beating continuously until both are thoroughly combined. Pour custard base back into the saucepan and return to medium heat.
  3. Stir custard base occasionally and cook until mixture reaches 175°F on a thermometer and can coat the back of a spoon. DO NOT LET BOIL. I was juggling multiple tasks the first time I attempted the custard and it boiled for just a second, but was still doomed: it immediately turned into green scrambled eggs. Not. Pretty. Go slow and be watchful!
  4. Once 175°F has been reached, immediately remove custard from heat and pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a small metal or glass bowl. Place this small bowl into a larger bowl partly filled with ice water and stir until the custard becomes cold – 10 to 15 minutes.
  5. Stir cream into the custard and chill in the ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  6. Empty ice cream into an airtight container, seal, and freeze to harden which takes at least 2 hours.
  7. When ready to serve, free about ½ Cup of pomegranate seeds per ice cream serving by slicing the fruit into quarters, then inverting the concave slices in a bowl of water to help ease the small seeds free without bursting their juicy coverings. I discovered this trick after posting this recipe and so the photo of my “murder scene” cutting board remains. Glad I learned a cleaner, more efficient way.
  8. Serve ice cream with fresh pomegranate and enjoy!

Beezer’s Notes:

I definitely want to mention that my favorite sundaes are those with hot fudge and pomegranate seeds. I’m sure that’s a bit weird, but I just love how the hot gooey fudge, cold smooth ice cream, and fresh tangy pomegranate blends together. I also really enjoy how the seeds burst with juice and give way to chewy centers – I seem to eat my sundaes slower and enjoy them more whenever I add pomegranate. Give it a shot!

Also, along with my green scrambled egg disaster from my first attempt at the custard (watch that milk!!) I was totally off my game and separated egg whites initially instead of yolks. Correcting my error (and then once more with the spoiled custard) left me with 12 egg whites to deal with. I hate, hate, hate wasting food so I decided the best way to use up massive amounts of egg whites is meringue.

Cookies would take too long to bake, so I blind-baked a plain meringue crust similar to the one used in my Double-Layer Ice Cream Pie post. I filled the shell halfway with most of the soft basil ice cream (directly from the maker) and topped it off with whipped cream. The result was a pretty tasty ice cream pie with a delicious crunchy-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside meringue crust. The only drawbacks were the texture of the frozen whipped cream – now I know – and the fact that the crust was practically glued to the glass dish despite its liberal buttering before-hand. Future goals will be to figure out how to keep a meringue crust from sticking because it’s quickly becoming a favorite of mine. Any suggestions?

Overall Enjoyment: ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

Applesauce Cupcakes with Vanilla Cinnamon Buttercream

 

I had my very first bite of buttercream on a trip to New York City a few months back. Unlike my previous trips to NYC, this one was rather spontaneous: my father is a pilot and happened to have a layover in Manhattan for a weekend. He invited my brother and I up to stay with him and explore the city. Now, as many times as I’ve been to the Big Apple I’ve had the poor luck of 1) never being free when the Met was open and 2) never going to a fantastic bakery. I determined this time around to check both off my list.

We went through the beautiful and thoroughly amazing Egyptian exhibit at the Met our first day there. They had the expected artifacts – a decorated sarcophagus, large and small busts, carvings of animals – but they also had full walls of hieroglyphics, pottery and glassware, and incredibly detailed jewelry. I haven’t watched a Discovery Channel special in years (no t.v.), but I really don’t remember ever hearing about the Egyptians wonderful work with glass.

We also made it to two incredible bakeries in between The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway (!!) and shopping outings with a local friend. First, my friend took us to Two Little Red Hens bakery where their blackout cupcake made me want to pack up and move to the city right then and there. No joke, this cupcake is heaven and hell in a pretty papery cup: if I lived even remotely close to them I would be drawn to them like a moth to a flame and would probably have a heart attack by the time I’m 40 since I would have no power to stop the indulgence. I’m warning you, this cupcake’s dangerous, haha!

The second bakery we visited was one I had heard a lot about: the Magnolia Bakery was packed when we arrived in the early afternoon. We ordered lemonades, a few cupcakes, and their famous banana pudding. Their banana pudding is nearly as dangerous as the blackout cupcake at Two Little Red Hens, but I did manage to put the spoon down eventually. The cupcakes were delicious as well, but entirely different animals from the previous ones; they were light, airy, smallish cakes with generous swirls of buttercream on top (see? I’d get back on topic eventually). Unfortunately my camera’s battery died right as I was trying to capture proof of my visit, so I’m sorry for the lack of a photo. You’ll have to make do with this one of a cookie at Dean & Deluca’s instead


Anyway, my first introduction to buttercream was a happy memory and so when I decided I wanted to make Deb’s applesauce cake a few months later – but yet didn’t want to shuffle to the store for the cream cheese required in the frosting – I came up with the crazy notion that I’d give buttercream a try since all the ingredients were already at my fingertips. Now, in retrospect (and after eating my creations) I highly suggest the ORIGINAL cream cheese frosting for these babies. I wouldn’t call my experiment a failure, per say, as both components were very tasty….but they simply do not go well together. I’ll explain below in Beezer’s Notes, but please just trust me on this. I’ll provide the recipes for both cupcakes and buttercream since that is what I’ve learned, but in the future I hope to make them with equally complimentary counterparts for each.


Applesauce Cupcakes with Vanilla Cinnamon Buttercream

(adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Ingredients:

For the Cupcakes…

2   C   AP flour

2   t   baking powder

1/2   t   baking soda

1/2   t   salt

3/4   t   cinnamon

1/2   t   ground ginger

1/8   t   ground cloves

1   stick unsalted butter, softened

1   C   packed light brown sugar

1   t   vanilla extract

2   large eggs

1½   C   unsweetened applesauce

For the Buttercream Frosting…

1   C   sugar

4   large egg whites

26   T   butter, softened (3 sticks + 2 T)

2   t   vanilla extract

1/2   t   ground cinnamon

Procedure:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and butter 2 jumbo non-stick muffin tins. I didn’t bother with paper cups since I was right in guessing that the heavy cake batter doesn’t rise all that much, but feel free to use them in lieu of greasing if you’d prefer.
  2. Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in a bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla until pale and fluffy – about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each, before adding in the applesauce.
  3. At low speed slowly blend in the flour mixture until just combined. Deb warned the batter will look a little lumpy and mine certainly did, but she’s also right that it will turn out delicious and smooth once baked.
  4. Pour batter into cupcake pans and bake for 15 – 20 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Let the cupcakes cool for at least 15 minutes before turning them out to cool completely on a rack.
  5. While cupcakes are cooling, beat up the buttercream: whisk egg whites and sugar together in a double-boiler or (if you’re like me) in a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Keep heating and occasionally whisking until you can’t feel any sugar granules when you rub the mixture between your fingers.
  6. Transfer the egg mix to a stand mixer and whip on High until it has turned white and just about doubled in size. Add the vanilla and whip until fully incorporated. Finally, add 1 stick of butter at a time, whipping well between each. Continue whipping (it does take some time!) until the frosting has pulled together and develops a smooth sheen, about 5 minutes. Also, while I haven’t tried, I’m sure this can also be done using a hand-held electric beater and a LOT of patience. Has anyone succeeded this way?
  7. Top the cooled cupcakes with the buttercream frosting. Top with ground or freshly grated cinnamon if desired. Will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge.

Beezer’s Notes:

I can’t call these cupcakes a failure even if they were somewhat unsatisfying. It wasn’t their fault. The cake was exceptionally moist and full of spiced flavor. It had a similar consistency to banana bread and I could easily convince myself that this could count as one of my fruit servings for the day. The buttercream was just about as impressive, it had a sleek shine to it and a wonderfully light billowy texture. The flavor of the buttercream was easily overpowered by the cupcake, though, and the two so completely opposite densities made eating the cupcakes a little awkward.

In the future I would love to make these cupcakes again. They are the perfect size and have a hearty structure for carting them around to potlucks and parties. I will definitely choose a more robust frosting, though, to better compliment the dense cake. Having a light sweet frosting with a fruit cake was also a bit odd as the zing of the more traditional cream cheese frosting seems to bring out the fruity flavors more. There was one commenter on Deb’s buttercream post who subbed it for cream cheese frosting on a carrot cake and loved it, so this confirms my suspicions that it may not have only been the densities at play here. Carrot cake is more savory than apple and the sweet buttercream may have balanced it well in that case. With this apple recipe, though, I’m going to try cream cheese next.

Overall Enjoyment: ♥    ♥    ♥

%d bloggers like this: