PREVIOUSLY, ON DINNER: The Grand Finale
You didn't really think it was over yet, did you? ;) I couldn't let you off the hook that easily.
In case you're just joining us, this is all going to seem remarkably out of context, so I would advise you to go back first here, then here, and finally here to figure out what the heck I'm talking about. Or, if all you care about is ice cream, read on!
Cakes without something creamy, fluffy, saucy or frosty always look a bit naked, don't they? Even when they're full of tasty things like lavender, orange and almond. But here's the tricky thing: with these strong flavors already vying for your attention, whatever goes with them has to complement, rather than compete. I suppose a dollop of whipped cream, or even the perennial favorite greek yogurt would have done the job... but I don't know, that all seems so ordinary. And really, I'm a sucker for ice cream. Ice cream is fantastic, because in addition to being one of the universe's all-time greatest hits, it always sparks intense admiration from guests, as if it were a feat of culinary alchemy to make. Nothing could actually be further from the truth.
Most of the time I start with a custard base when I make ice cream. While not strictly necessary, I love the rich eggy smoothness it gives. On the other hand, it's a bit fussy as you have to walk the fine line between curdled eggs and salmonella risk (the latter of which I admittedly don't take too many precautions against). It also takes a long time, because you have to start by heating ingredients, and so before you can get them iced a long cooling period has to follow. The magic of this ice cream, then, is that neither does it contain eggs nor does it need to be cooked, but it is nonetheless incredibly rich and smooth, and the whole thing can be shoved in the freezer within ten minutes of removing the ingredients from the fridge. "And what if I don't have an ice cream maker?" you ask. Well, you don't need one. In fact, I don't have one either - well technically I do but it's in storage in Germany - and that doesn't stop me. The only thing that you have to do if you make ice cream without a machine is take the semifrozen mixture out of the freezer at regular intervals and stir it vigorously (or use a hand beater if you prefer) to break down the ice crystals. Granted, it's not quite as creamy as the churned kind, but it sure beats no ice cream.
The recipe, once again, comes from The Book*, but I actually deviated quite a bit. The original uses just ricotta, sugar, milk and cream. I suppose if you have really, really top quality sheep's milk ricotta that simple mixture would be flavorful enough, but my local Tesco ricotta doesn't really cut the mustard in that sense. If you have a source for it, by all means eliminate the bells and whistles. If, like me, your ricotta is somewhat less illustrious, I would highly recommend the addition of a bit more flavor like in the following recipe. One more thing - I do find that British supermarket ricotta is a cut above the American stuff sold in large plastic containers with pseudo-Italian names. If you're in the US, use it at your own risk. If you have any other soft unripened cheese at your disposal, however, whether it be a high quality farmer's cheese, cream cheese, even goat cheese - I would probably use that instead. Hmmm, goats cheese ice cream, any takers?
Ricotta and Honey Ice Cream
Source: Liberally adapted from Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons
500g (a little over 1 lb.) of the best ricotta you can find
2/3 cup (175ml) milk
1 cup (250ml) heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/3 cup (90ml) honey
powdered sugar, to taste (sifted)
Beat the ricotta, milk, honey, salt and lemon zest together until light and smooth. Beat the cream with two or three tablespoons of powdered sugar in a chilled bowl until soft peaks form. Fold into the ricotta mixture. Taste for sweetness: keeping in mind that when frozen the sweetness will be a little muted. Stir in either more honey (if you want that flavor more pronounced), or more powdered sugar. Pour into a freezer-safe container with a lid. Freeze until solid (at least 6 hours), removing the mixture every hour or so to beat it a bit and break up the ice crystals. Or, if you are one of the lucky ones, churn it in your ice cream maker. This is really nice with cakes, or with fruit, or with other ice creams, or with a big bowl and a spoon...
*See previous posts, if you really don't know!