Monday, October 23, 2006

Sweet Bay Ice Cream

As our eyes adjust to the subdued skies, greyed with autumn clouds, and the air nips at the tips of our ears and noses, our appetites begin to crave comforting flavors. Just as we cover our heads and wrap our bodies with warm and cozy, textile layers, we begin to wrap our desserts with comfortable layers of warm spices. Inhaling the aroma of spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove may not offer a radiant heat source, but none the less, it warms us.

My own desire for cinnamon scented warmth tempts me to add varying combinations of these spices to everything I make. Cinnamon dusted pears fill my Basque cake, a vanilla cream filled delight from the French Basque region. A caramelized cinnamon ice cream, made with a Herme technique of toasting sticks of cinnamon under slowly caramelizing sugar sits on the cakes side. An apple strudle carries the traditional "apple pie" flavors of cinnamon, allspice, and ginger. But enough will soon be enough, and I can't spend the entire autumn come winter cloaking my entire menu in these warm spices.

With the temptation to over use these common spices, I have been left to find an alternative, quickly. The question is posed, how can I add warmth to my autumn menu without reaching for these spices? I found an answer in a small, pale leaf called Bay.

This humble leaf, almost forgotten to stews and soups, has ancient roots in glory and prestige. The leaf of the common laurel tree, bay once crowned Greek and roman victors, Olympic athletes, and was given to scholars and poets ceremoniously upon receipt of earned honors. Modern victors now receive recognition through gold medals and oversized checks, and the bay leaf is left to crown small glory in our kitchens.

Too long held captive on the savory side of the kitchen, these green woody leaves have a pleasant, autumnal quality reminesent of tea, magnificent in desserts. Their distinct flavor is familiar to every palate, yet offers an unexpected surprise when featured in dessert. Deep and earthy, the flavor is best presented as a companion to rich, creamy desserts.

Infused into the cream for pumpkin pie, bay offers a elegant alternative to the combination of nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove so familiar that it has it's own container in the spice isle. It is also a beautiful flavoring for a custard like creme brulee or pot-de-creme, creme anglaise, and ice cream.

Sweet Bay Ice Cream

8 to 10 bay leaves
1 cup milk
2 cups cream
1/2 cup sugar
4 large egg yolks

1. Break the bay leaves and place them in a small, heavy bottomed sauce pan. Add the cream and milk, and bring this to a boil. Turn the heat to it's lowest setting, and leave this mixture to infuse for half an hour.

2. After the mixture is appropriately infused, remove from the heat and set aside.

3. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar to a thick ribbon. Slowly temper the cream with the eggs, adding a little bit at a time, whisking well between additions.

4. Return the custard to the sauce pan. Cook this over medium low heat, stirring constantly with a heat proof rubber spatula, until the mixture thickens.

5. Strain the custard into a bowl and chill. This can be done quickly in an ice bath, or overnight in the refrigerator, covered well.

6. Churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturers instructions.


Anonymous faustianbargain said...

very nice. the aroma is very evocative, indeed. also, i have always wanted to try a 'bouquet garni' ice cream(bay leaf and thyme).

bay leaf trivia. europeon bay leaf has to be discarded after the cooking process as it is not edible. otoh, indian bay leaf(same family. it is sold dry tho'...maybe there is a another name for it?) is edible.

October 23, 2006 8:40 PM  
Anonymous peabody said...

Bay is great with pumpkin. The Herb Farm makes a great Pumpkin Bay Tart.

October 25, 2006 10:54 AM  
Anonymous Jennifer said...

I think this sounds wonderful. Thanks for the idea.

October 25, 2006 12:17 PM  
Anonymous Malini said...

Will the flavor come through as strongly if dried bay leaf is used?

Eventhough the Indian variety of the bay leaf might be edible, it is not eaten, atleast not by Indians.

October 25, 2006 6:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Finally, a use for the enormous bag of bay leaves that my friend Giuliana gave me from her laurel tree in Italy! It's really a big bag. I could make peasoup every day for a year with it.


October 26, 2006 4:37 AM  
Anonymous Anita said...

I love your innovative use of the bay leaf! Btw, all the other desserts you mentioned sound too tempting - so glad it's fall indeed!

October 26, 2006 3:39 PM  
Anonymous faustianbargain said...

i am sorry, but malini is right. few people actually eat/chew on the bay leaf when it comes to indian cuisine. what i meant was that the europeon bay leaf needs to be fished out as soon as the cooking process is complete. indian bay leaf has oils(which can be extracted...the leaves are mainly used for extracting these oils for rather than for infusion) while europeon laurel bay doesnt. and thats only a guess. i can only assume that europeon laurel bay is considered 'toxic' or maybe it infuses a bitterness after a while. probably because indian bay does not really belong to the laurel family. it is easy to detect if you compare the leaves of the indian bay and europeon bay. indian bay leaf tends more towards cinnamon than laurel. entirely different from europeon bay leaf altho' it is also from the laurel family.

November 05, 2006 8:21 AM  

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