Friday, May 24, 2013

Jackie's maple syrup ice cream with walnuts and espresso

As if it is not clear by now, I love food. I love eating it, making it, shopping for it, talking about it and writing about it. I also love thinking about how memories of previous meals influence a recipe or cause a food idea to come together. So, how did it come to be that I am sharing with you a dessert for maple syrup ice cream with walnuts and espresso?

One of my favorite books ever, is Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. It is a wonderful memoir from a literature professor about living and teaching in Iran. In the book, the author describes eating one of her favorite desserts, ice cream with cold coffee and walnuts. Small details like this are part of what make it such a wonderful read.

Cold coffee with ice cream is a real treat. I first enjoyed it at a restaurant in India. Big scoops of creamy sweet vanilla ice cream was served in a tall highball glass, submerged in cold, smoky dark coffee. It was not blended up, but rather like a coffee version of a root beer float.

I grew up eating a lot of ice cream. My parents owned a pizza and ice cream parlor. Eating pizza and ice cream, for us, was not reserved for special occasions- it was a regular part of our lives. This became even more true once I was old enough to work summers in the restaurant. For breakfast, almost every day, I would have a slice of hot plain cheese pizza topped with a large slice of fresh tomato. In the late afternoons, when the restaurant would quiet down a bit, I would sometimes catch my Dad taking a break from the heat of the pizza ovens by taking a small scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and drizzling birch syrup over it. Birch syrup is like maple syrup, except it was made from local birch trees. The sticky dark birch syrup against the cool vanilla ice cream has a similar flavor profile as the cold coffee and ice cream. (Sadly, the birch syrup company went out of business a few years back. My husband and I, however, still have quite the stockpile of their syrups. In addition to their classic birch flavor, they also made syrups from local berries: cherry, blueberry, etc. High-bush cranberry is my husbands absolute favorite.)

For Christmas, my sister bought me a copy of The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook. It is a collection of recipes from the celebrated Tom Douglas Seattle bakery. (If you watched this past season of Top Chef Seattle, you saw quite a bit of Tom Douglas.) While perusing the book, I saw this recipe for maple syrup ice cream. It reminded me of my Dad's predilection for birch syrup and vanilla. It is quite possibly the easiest ice cream recipe ever (no eggs, no need to cook a custard base) and has all the wonderful flavors of smoky sweet maple syrup.

After I made the batch, I was thinking about how to best serve it. All alone or as a topping for another dessert? I decided to do a spin on espresso con affogato, the Italian dessert of dumping a shot of hot espresso over cold ice cream. This time, as a nod to Azar Nafisi, I topped the maple syrup ice cream with a bit of chopped walnuts first.

The resulting dessert would be a perfect end to a brunch or light dinner. Mostly, for me, the enjoyment of it is in pulling together, in a single bite, different strands or experiences in my life: time spent with my Dad in the restaurant, a trip to India, and a favorite book.

Recipe from Tom Douglas' Dahlia Bakery Cookbook (Jackie is Tom Douglas' wife)

Jackie's maple syrup ice cream

2 cups cold heavy cream
3/4 cup cold milk
1 1/4 cups pure maple syrup, preferably grade B
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1) Put the cream, milk, maple syrup, vanilla extract, and salt in a bowl and, using a whisk, mix lightly, just enough to combine everything well. Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions.

2) Transfer the ice cream to a container. Cover and freeze for a few hours or overnight, until the ice cream is firm.

My final step: rough chop a few walnuts and sprinkle over a few small scoops of ice cream. Fresh brew a shot of espresso or strong brewed coffee. Pour the hot coffee over the ice cream.

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