Shortbread

Originally published December 1, 2013.

The triumph of Scottish baking on the old national lines.

-TF Henderson

 

Little shortbread cookiesShortbread is the primordial cookie.  It has only three ingredients: sugar, butter, and flour.  And I guess salt is a welcome addition.  Sometimes there’s caraway.  And there are a few variations like Ayrshire shortbread that include eggs and cream.  But usually it’s just sugar, butter, and flour, combined in a very simple ratio: 1:2:3.

In other words, butter makes up fully one third of the weight of the dough, so this is indeed a very short dough, “short” referring to fat’s ability to inhibit gluten development, creating a tender, brittle pastry.  Some classic recipes will even replace a portion of the wheat flour with rice flour or arrowroot starch, which is even lower in gluten.

The other important characteristic of classic shortbread is that the only moisture in the dough comes from the scant water-content of the butter.  In fact there is so little water that not all the starch in the flour will be able to absorb moisture and gelate, which explains shortbread’s crumbly texture.

Being a dry dough that doesn’t spread during baking, shortbread is particularly well-suited to being shaped before baking.  Dough made with fine sugar like caster or berry sugar spreads less during baking than that made with coarse sugar.

Traditional Shapes.  Shortbread dough has to be warmer than fridge temperature to be workable.  I typically leave it on the counter for an hour before rolling.  There are several traditional forms.

  • Shortbread is often pressed into molds.  Traditional images include all manner of Scots paraphernalia: thistles, heather, clover (“trefoil”)…
  • Long rectangles called fingers are common.
  • The most common shapes are round discs, usually notches along the perimeter with thumb and forefinger, or with the tines of a fork.  This is said to mimmic the sun’s rays, especially on Hogmanay, the Scots New Year.  The shortbread rounds can be sized for individual consumption, or made larger, and cut into wedges much like a pie, in which case the cookie is called petticoat tails.[1] See the picture below.
  • Shortbread doughs of all shapes are often “docked,” that is, perforated with the tines of a fork.

Baking

After shaping the cookies it’s best to hold them at fridge temperatures for at least fifteen minutes.  The colder the cookies are when they go into the oven, the better they will hold their shape during baking.

Different folks have different tastes, but generally baking is done so as not to brown the cookies too much.  For thinner, individual cookies I use a relatively high temperature, maybe 375°F.  For thicker version like petticoat tails I bake at 325°F to give the dough a chance to cook through before the exterior turns golden brown.

Other Traditions

Like haggis, shortbread is very much a festive dish, associated particularly with Christmas and Hogmanay.  In Shetland shortbread is part of a traditional wedding, where it’s called the bride’s bonn and is used in a “throwing of the girdle” type game.[2]

Petticoat Tails

 

Shortbread

Ingredients

  • 8 oz caster sugar (granulated works okay in a pinch…)
  • 16 oz butter, room temperature
  • 22 oz all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt

Procedure

  1. Using the paddle attachment, cream together the sugar, butter, and salt at high speed in the bowl of a stand mixer.  The mixture will lighten in colour and take on a light, fluffy aspect.  This should take about 6 minutes.  Be sure to periodically scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  2. Reduce the speed of the mixer to low and add the sifted flour.
  3. Transfer the crumbly dough to the counter and press it together with your hands.  At this point the dough can be wrapped and refrigerated or frozen.  It will last for a couple weeks in the fridge.
  4. Remove the dough from the fridge about an hour before you intend to roll it out.  It can be a little tricky getting the dough to the perfect temperature, at which it is just workable.  If the dough gets too warm it is hard to work with and doesn’t shape well.
  5. Roll out the dough and shape as desired.  Transfer cookies to a heavy bake sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  6. For thin, individual cookies, bake at 375°F until just turning golden brown, maybe 12 minutes, rotating the tray half way through baking.  For thicker styles like petticoat tails, bake at 325°F until just turning golden brown, maybe 16 minutes.

 

Dark Shortbread

Many would not consider the following cookie a shortbread, as shortbread is usually virginal white, but before refined white flour and sugar were common, shortbread often contained oats, whole wheat flour, and other “less refined” ingredients.  This is an original recipe I adapted from the shortbread recipe in the Culinary Institute of America’s Baking and Pastry, Second Edition.

Ingredients

  • 8 oz cake flour
  • 8 oz whole wheat flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 11 oz butter
  • 5 oz white sugar
  • 8 oz brown sugar

Procedure

  1. As for classic shortbread, above.

 

Notes and References

  1. Being a young man in the twenty-first century, I had to look up what a “petticoat” is.  Though apparently an archaic garment associated with European court fashion, a Google image search turned up some very racy pictures which did a good job of explaining the term to me.  A petticoat is an undergarment, usually in the form of a ruffled, voluminous skirt, worn under a gown or dress, meant to keep the woman warm and give body and shape to the gown or dress worn over top.  The bottom of the petticoat is usually exposed.  Along with corsets, it is also part of a classic cabaret get-up.
  2. McNeill, F. Marian.  The Scots Kitchen.  ©2010 The Estate of F. Marian McNeill.  Birlinn Ltd, Edinburgh, Scotland.  Page 242.  This is also where I learned about the different recipes and shapes, like Ayrshire shortbread and petticoat tails.  I love this book.  Thank you, Lizzie!

 

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Originally posted December 19, 2013.

 

A bowl of deglet noor datesI’ll start by saying that this isn’t a pudding in the North American sense: it’s not a spoonable custard like, say, butterscotch pudding.  Sticky toffee pudding is a cake with dates in the batter, covered in butterscotch sauce.  In Britain the word “pudding” refers to dessert, generally, or to specific preparations that usually take the form of a moist cake.  Figgy pudding and bread pudding are two examples.  This is a good article for more info on British puddings.

Anglophiles will excuse me if I refer to sticky toffee pudding as a cake for the remainder of this post.

Sticky toffee pudding is actually a great cake that is nearly fail-proof.  Between the dates and the high ratio of liquid in the batter, it’s impossible for the cake to be anything but moist.

Though the toffee is on the marquee, the dates give the cake a lot of its character.  Happily, Lisa and I receive a large shipment of dried fruit and nuts from a BC distributor around this time of year, just in time for Christmas, when we go a little crazy with baking and confectionary.  The hazelnuts go into fruitcake, the prunes, cranberries, and walnuts into sugar plums and crackers, and the dates into sticky toffee pudding.

The two most common types of dates are medjool and deglet noor.  In my experience medjool are larger, softer, and taste more like brown sugar, while deglet are smaller, firmer, and taste more like honey.  I prefer the darker flavour and jammy texture of medjool dates for sticky toffee pudding.

Originally sticky toffee pudding was steamed, but the batter is so slack you can bake it in a dry oven like any other cake and still produce an exceptionally moist dessert.

The toffee sauce is made from butter, brown sugar, and heavy cream, making it almost identical to butterscotch sauce.  In most recipes all the sauce ingredients are simply combined and simmered.  I think it’s best to make a true butterscotch sauce by withholding the cream at first and aggressively cooking the butter and sugar to develop complexity of flavour.

It’s a good idea to coat the cake with a bit of the sauce for the last few minutes of baking.  It creates an amazing, tacky coating.  Even better, fully bake the cake, remove it from the oven and cool to room temperature, then portion it into squares in the baking tray and pour warm toffee sauce over the tops and into the crevices.  Then return to the oven for 5 minutes.  Then pour more sauce over each piece just before serving.  Maximum stickiness.

Originally served with cold cream.  I like ice cream.

Sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream

 

Sticky Toffee Pudding
adapted from a recipe from Jack’s Grill (RIP)

The Cakey Bit

  • 180 g pitted Medjool dates
  • 300 g cold water
  • 4 g baking soda
  • 60 g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 180 g dark brown sugar
  • 100 g egg (2 large eggs)
  • 4 g vanilla extract
  • 180 g all-purpose flour
  • 6 g baking powder
  • 1 pinch kosher salt

The Saucey Bit

  1. Cover the dates with the cold water in a saucepan.  Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat and stir in the baking soda.  The mixture will foam up briefly as the alkaline soda interacts with the acidic dates.  Let stand until cooled to room temperature.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl every 2 minutes.
  3. Slowly add the date mixture to the creamed butter while mixing.  Mix until thoroughly combined.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time while mixing.  Add the vanilla, too.
  5. Sift together the flour and baking powder.  Add to the mixing bowl and mix until just combined.
  6. Bake the cake in a casserole in a 350ºF oven until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cake emerges clean, roughly 30 minutes.
  7. Remove the cake from the oven.  Let cool then cut cut the cake into squares.

 

To Serve

  1. Heat the butterscotch, then pour it over the cut cake.  Return cake to the oven and bake briefly to let the sauce set, about 5 minutes.
  2. To serve, remove individual squares and coat with even more sauce.  Consume with vanilla ice cream.

Candy Apples

Candy apples, rank and fileI really want to like candy apples.  They are so closely associated with fall and carnivals and country fairs, they seem like a fantastic way to celebrate our local apples.

In practice they are usually disappointing.  They are often died a garish red.  The candy coating is either adamantine, or it sticks to your teeth and threatens to pull out your molars.  And usually the fruit is so large that it cannot be eaten comfortably from the end of a stick.  You have to unhinge your jaw, which compromises your ability to break the adamantine candy coating.

In theory all these problems can be solved.

Let’s talk apples.  Any good eating-apple is a good candy-apple.  Firm, crisp, juicy.  Apples that may be a touch sour to eat out of hand can still make good candy apples.  As I hinted above, small apples are key.  I say 2.5″ in diameter at the most.  Edmonton is awash in many varieties of smaller apple that you can comfortably fit between your teeth.

As an aside, to make candy apples you have to use whole, intact apples; you can’t use segments or slices.  The skin of the apple acts as a moisture barrier between the flesh of the fruit and the hard candy.  If the hard candy comes into contact with moisture it starts to melt.  Candied slices of apple will deteriorate within 10 minutes of the sugar setting.

Candy coating.  Here we use white sugar, corn syrup to prevent crystallization, and a bit of water to slow down the caramelization.  The name of the game is hard crack.  The syrup needs to reach 310°F.  Any lower and the the candy will not be brittle, and will stick to the teeth.

Most candy apples are dyed an intense, impossible red.  Personally I think they look better without food colouring, as you can see the natural colour of the apple.  Edmonton-grown apples come in a shocking array of colours, from gecko green to straw yellow to lipstick red.

I know it’s a bit crafty, Pinterest-y, even Martha Stewart-y, but I love using twigs from an apple tree as the sticks for candy apples.

 

Candy Apples

Ingredients

  • 480 g granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup
  • 180 g water
  • 8-12 apples, firm, crispy specimens not more than 2.5″ across

Procedure

  1. Skewer each of the apples with a thick twig from an apple tree.  Line them up on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water in a heavy-bottomed stainless steel pot.  Stir briefly to moisten all the sugar.  Turn the heat to medium high.  Monitor the temperature of the syrup with a candy thermometer.
  3. As soon as the syrup temperature reaches 310°F, remove the pot from the stove.  Working quickly, dip each of the apples in the syrup, rolling the apple to ensure the entire surface is coated with the candy.
  4. Allow the syrup to cool and harden before serving.  Obviously.

Sour Cherry Pâte de Fruits

Originally published December 14, 2013.

 

Evans cherry gelsPâte de fruits, literally “fruit paste,” is a simple confection made of fruit, sugar, and pectin, though some recipes call for gelatin instead.

Pâtes de fruits have a very distinct texture.  They are firmer than a spreadable breakfast jelly, but without the persistent chew of a gummy bear or gummy worm or any other fauna from the gummy kingdom.  One of my chefs compared the texture to a medium ganache.

Another distinction between true pâte de fruits and inferior industrial candies is flavour.  They are very bright, pure expressions of the fruit from which they are made.  They tend to be tart, though well-balanced.

The chemistry behind pâtes de fruits is the same as that behind jellies (see this post).  We require three things to form good pectin bonds:

  • heat, to evaporate moisture and concentrate the pectin
  • acid (hydrogen ions), to neutralize the negative charge that repels pectin molecules
  • sugar, to draw in moisture and make room for the pectin molecules to get intimate

The only difference between a spreadable jelly and this jelly candy is the concentration of the above-listed ingredients.  The real trick is finding the right pectin content: too little and the paste will not cut into clean squares, too much and they will be very firm and have a slightly mealy texture on the tongue.

Estimating the required pectin quantity is especially hard if you are using fresh fruit.  Bakery supply shops carry fruit concentrates designed to be used in this type of confectionery, and each is carefully blended to have uniform characteristics across batches.  Fresh fruit, however, is not and cannot be controlled in this manner.  Pectin content varies from plant to plant and within the same plant as the fruit ripens.

I’ve been trying to make a great Evans cherry pâte de fruits for some time now.  For the Eat Alberta 2013 tasting board I set out to make a pâte de fruits with some of the Evans cherries left in my freezer from last season. I wanted to give folks a really clear idea of what our sour cherries taste like.  Since we were still three or four months away from having fresh cherries, I thought that jelly candy was the best way to do this.  To be completely honest they had too much pectin in them, so the texture was a bit too firm and mealy.  Interestingly, I let some of the candies leftover from Eat Alberta sit, covered, at room temperature for a few weeks, and the texture smoothed out and they were exactly the right consistency.  My working theory is that pectin bonds degrade over time.

Anyways, for my latest batch of Evans cherry jelly candies I used the recipe below and they turned out great.  As mentioned above, due to natural variations in pectin content, you might need to tweak the quantities for your cherries.

I have omitted extra acid such as citric acid solution from the recipe because I think that Evans cherries are plenty sour on their own.

I’ll share two more details before leaving you with the recipe.  First: boil the jelly very aggressively.  This preserves a lot of the flavour of the fresh fruit.  Second: when selecting a dish to pour the jelly into to set, pick one that is a size that will make your jelly candies about 1/2″ high.  Making the candies too flat makes them hard to pick up.

 

Evans Cherry Pâte de Fruits 

Ingredients

  •  600 g Evans cherry purée (pitted cherries run through the blender)
  • 170 g liquid pectin
  • 300 g white corn syrup
  • 600 g granulated sugar

Procedure

  1. Combine the cherry purée, the liquid pectin, and the corn syrup in a large pot.  Heat and stir to dissolve the pectin.
  2. Add the sugar and stir gently to dissolve.
  3. Crank the heat and boil aggressively until a candy thermometer reads 218°F.
  4. Immediately and quickly pour into a casserole.
  5. Allow to cool and stand at room temperature for 24 hours.
  6. Cut into squares or diamonds and roll in sugar.

 

Can you imagine if Edmonton restaurants started serving these when they brought you the cheque, instead of a mint?

Apple Strudel

Apple strudel, fresh from the oven.The most common form of strudel in North America is puff pastry filled with sticky jam or compote, the final product very similar to a turnover or a chausson.

The original strudel, the Viennese strudel, is a different beast entirely.

Austrian strudel is made with a simple dough consisting of flour, salt, water, and vegetable oil.  High protein flour is used, and the dough is mixed extensively so that there is intensive gluten development.  This allows the baker to stretch the dough until it is so thin it is almost transparent.  The expression in Austrian kitchens is that the dough should be thin enough that you could hold the dough over a newspaper and read the text through the dough.  In concept the dough is similar to phyllo, though the finished baked goods that the two doughs make differ greatly.

A dough that has been stretched so thin must be layered several times for the pastry to have any structure.  With phyllo, the baker stacks a few sheets of the dough, separating each with a layer of butter.  During baking the water content of the butter turns to steam and keep the layers of dough separate.  The butter also aids in the browning of the pastry.

With strudel a similar effect is created not by stacking sheets of dough, but by spreading butter over a single sheet and then rolling the sheet around itself a few times.  Since the dough is so delicate, the traditional method is to stretch the dough out on a table cloth, add the filling, then lift the tablecloth so that the filled pastry rolls away from the baker.

When prepared properly and eaten fresh, strudel is a very unique pastry.  I compare the preparation of the dough to phyllo, but the eating experience is completely different.  Baked phyllo is delicate like thinnly blown glass: it is brittle, and fractures if you press on it.  Strudel dough is delicate and slightly crisp, but also has a little bit of give to its structure.  It is firm and crisp but also slightly yielding and pliable.

How this preparation ended up as a puff pastry turnover, I have no idea.

 

Apple Strudel

Dough Ingredients

  • 225 g bread flour
  • 4 g kosher salt
  • 195 mL water
  • 35 mL canola oil
  • 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar

Filling Ingredients

  • 900 g apple, peeled, cored, quartered, and sliced into pieces not exceeding 1/4″ thickness
  • 240 g dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp rum
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 360 mL toasted breadcrumbs
  • 450 g unsalted butter, melted

Combine all of the dough ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Mix with a dough hook on high speed for 10 minutes.  This is a very slack dough.  It will pool on the bottom of the mixer bowl.  After mixing, cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for several hours, or overnight.

Once you are ready to stretch the dough, rub flour into a clean tablecloth.

Stretch the dough until it is extremely thin.  The recipe above should be able to be stretched into a sheet that is 2′ x 3′.  Most bakers use the back of their hand to do this.

Stretching traditional Austrian strudel dough by hand.

The stretched dough:

The fully stretched strudel dough

Brush the entire surface with melted butter, then generously sprinkle the toasted breadcrumbs.  The breadcrumbs help keep the layers of dough separate.  Lay out the apple mixture in a line along the 3′ edge closest to you.

Filling the strudel dough with toasted breadcrumbs and apples

Lift the edge of the tablecloth closest to you so that the apples fall away from you and roll themselves in dough multiple times.

The raw strudel, all rolled up.

Now you have to get this two foot long pastry onto a tray somehow.  You may need an extra set of hands to accomplish this.  You can curl or snake the strudel to fit it onto your bake sheet.

The rolled strudel on its baking tray, ready to be baked.

Bake at 425°F until the pastry is golden brown and crispy, and the apple filling is softened and started to leech sugary goodness onto the pan, about 30-40 minutes.  Dust with icing sugar.

The finished, whole strudel, ready to be cut.

Let stand to cool before cutting.  Service with whipped cream.

A piece of strudel awaiting whipped cream.

The Maple Continuum

We are all familiar with maple syrup.  And most of us know that maple trees don’t exude syrup, but sap, which is thin, clear, and only faintly sweet.  The liquid must be reduced to become syrup, and in fact it can be further reduced to become pure crystalline maple sugar.  So while we are all acquainted with a certain concentration of maple syrup – the one on grocery store shelves and brunch tables – there is actually a broad spectrum of products that can be made with maple.

Let’s look at the two extremes of the maple continuum.

 

A glass of cool, raw maple sap.

Chilled Maple Sap

An amazing but subtle tasting experience, one that I appreciate more in lean years when the sap run is meagre.  Maple sap smells and tastes of green, nutty vegetables like pea shoots, with the sliest suggestion of sweetness.  It’s a fantastic way to begin a spring meal.  At left is a photo, not particularly inspiring because the sap looks just like water, but I think it gives some idea as to how elegant maple sap can be.

I’m still thinking about the best name for this.  Raw sap?  Green sap?

Best served at the same temperature at which it comes out of the tree, roughly 5-7°C.  Enjoy in the presence of pussy willows and other just-spring novelties.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is…

Maple Sugar

When all the water content has been driven off by boiling, we have maple sugar.  If you grew up down east you will know maple sugar candies: a firm, crystalline maple fudge pressed into the shape of a maple leaf.  They are ubiquitious at sugar shacks, tacky trading posts, and airport souvenir shops.

Below is a picture of some homemade maple sugar candy.  I’d feel guilty if I didn’t admit that I made this candy mostly by accident: I over-reduced a pot of syrup, noticed that it was starting to crystallize, then stirred in a bunch of butter and poured it into a tray to cool and solidify.

Maple sugar candy

Between these two extremes are infinite possible concentrations of maple syrup.  I’ve used different grades of maple syrup in cocktails, soups, dressings, meat glazes, sauces, and desserts.  The way that I process and consume the maple sap usually corresponds to the seasonal yield.  In lean years when I get little sap, I am more likely to consume it in its raw or lightly cooked forms.  Years with voluminous flow are more likely to be drastically reduced.

Towards a Sour Cherry Tart

One of the greatest French bistro desserts is tarte au citron, or lemon tart: a rich, tangy curd set in a buttery French tart shell.  In furtherance to ending the tyranny of the lemon in our fair city, I’ve been experimenting with substituting citrus with our local sour cherries.

Background: Classic Fruit Curds

In pastry books there are usually two fruit curd recipes: one for lemon and lime, and another that can be used for almost any other kind of fruit.

Lemon has two traits that let it have its own style of curd: a yellow colour and a very intense acidity.  If you cook lemon juice with enough egg yolks and butter that it sets as a curd when cooled, not only will it have the bright yellow colour we associate with lemons, but the acidity of the lemon juice will cut through the fatty yolks and butter.  If you were to take a lemon curd recipe and substitute, say, blueberry juice for lemon, the fat in the curd would completely overwhelm the weak acidity of the berries, and it would make a tart with an off-putting grey-blue colour.  For this reason there is a second style of curd that is used for basically all types of fruit besides lemons and limes.  To keep a vibrant colour and acidity, the amount of butter and egg yolks must be reduced, which means that the curd must have an additional thickener, usually gelatin and egg whites.

Designing the Sour Cherry Tart

There are three things that I love about our local sour cherries:

  1. Acidity, obviously
  2. Intense, vibrant colours: eg. Evans cherries are the purest, happiest red, Carmine Jewel cherries are deep purple
  3. Distinctive aroma and flavour: eg. Evans cherries have a distinct aroma of almond extract.

An ideal cherry curd would preserve these three characteristics.

In my first experiment with sour cherry tarts I figured that the cherries were sour enough to stand up to the butter-and-yolk barrage of a classic lemon tart.  I simply substituted a strained Evans cherry purée into a class lemon curd recipe.

A slice of Evans cherry tartThe results were this:

  • The final curd was a drab, dusty, sad pink.  I had to add food colouring to make it presentable.
  • The fat of the curd completely blanketed the natural tartness of the cherries.  The final tart had no discernible acidity.
  • Similarly, the more delicate aromas of the cherry (almond) were clobbered and undetectable.  The tart did have a muted, generic cherry flavour.
  • The texture was okay.  Very buttery.  A bit stodgy.

For round two I used Carmine Jewel cherries, and instead of using only butter and egg yolks I used whole eggs and gelatin, with only a touch of butter.

Results:

  • The colour of the curd was fantastic.  Very close to that of the original cherry.  Honestly it reminded me of Beaujolais Nouveau: Purple with a fuchsia tint.
  • While the tart was not fully sour, it did have a pleasant, bright acidity.
  • Still none of the great aroma of the cherries

A slice of Carmine Jewel sour cherry tart

 

So at the very least I know what style of curd the tart needs to use.  One more iteration and I should have a working recipe.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

Ice Cream

Homemade ice cream ready for the freezer.The short version of this post goes like this: remember when we made crème anglaise?  That sauce made from milk, cream, and sugar, flavoured with vanilla and thickened with egg yolks, gently cooked on a double-boiler?  If you put that sauce into a well-chilled household ice cream churn, you can make pretty good ice cream.

The long version of this post is more like this:

There are two broad styles of ice cream: Philadelphia and French.  Philly ice cream typically contains only milk, cream, and sugar, while French ice cream also contains eggs.  In fact, the crème anglaise we made last week is very, very similar to some recipes for French ice cream mix.  The only difference is that traditionally French ice cream mix would be made with whole milk, without the addition of cream.  Even so, if you throw that sauce into a well-chilled household ice cream churn, you can make pretty good ice cream.

Let’s talk about why that is.  What are the characteristics of good ice cream?  Most folks expect ice cream to be very smooth.  The only exception to this statement is Lisa Zieminek, a chick who lives in Edmonton who likes her ice cream just a little bit crystalline.  She feels that homemade ice cream lower in egg yolk that is allowed to develop a slightly icy, granular texture feels colder on the tongue and therefore more satisfying.  Homemade ice cream high in fat and egg yolk, she continues, as well as commercial ice cream with artificial emulsifiers, both feel waxy on the tongue, and somehow not very cold.  Hers is a discriminating palate in ice cream, and men.

Anyways with the exception of that one person everyone prefers ice cream to be smooth.  The key to having very smooth ice cream is to prevent the formation of large ice crystals during the freezing process.  Fat in the mixture helps in this regard, and in French ice cream the proteins and emulsifiers in the egg yolks also lend a hand.

The texture of the final ice cream is only partly a result of the ingredients themselves: the freezing process is also critical.  Actually ice cream is frozen in two-stages, called churning and hardening.

Churning.  Churning is stirring the ice cream in a tub in which the walls have been super-chilled.  Traditionally this might have been a steel bucket placed in a salted ice bath.  Nowadays you can buy cheap ice cream makers that you put in your freezer to chill thoroughly before adding your mix.

The factors that will affect the consistency of the ice cream during churning:

  • How rapidly the mixture freezes.  The faster the mixture freezes, the smaller the ice crystals, and the smoother the final ice cream.  Both the mixture and the churn need to be thoroughly pre-chilled.  Continuous stirring speeds freezing by constantly exposing new parts of the mixture to the cold walls of the churn.
  • How much air is incorporated by stirring.  Constant stirring will also incorporate lots of air and make for a smooth ice cream with a light texture.  The volume of the ice cream can actually increase dramatically with constant stirring, mostly due to the incorporation of air.  (And possibly because water expands when it freezes?)  The percent of volume increase is called the overrun in ice-cream-speak.

Churning ice cream

Hardening.  Eventually the ice cream will become stiff and hard to stir.  At this point, though, the sweet treat isn’t actually done, because much of the water content is still liquid.  The mixture is then transferred to a freezer for some “quiescent freezing”, that is, freezing without churning.  As with the churning process, faster freezing will result in smaller ice crystals and a smoother mouthfeel.  I transfer my partially-frozen ice cream to a shallow, pre-chilled container and leave it uncovered in the freezer for a few hours.  The image at the top of this post shows the ice cream at this stage.  It looks and feels a bit like soft-serve.

After hardening the ice cream should be covered tightly and stored in the coldest part of the coldest freezer available to you.  Very cold temperatures will prevent oxidation of the fats and absorption of odours from freezer-mates.  Very cold temperatures will also ensure that the ice cream doesn’t partially melt when the freezer door is opened or when it has to sit on the counter for a few minutes.  If you melt the edges of your ice cream then return it to the freezer the part that re-freezes will be very coarse and crystalline.

I am thrilled to finally have some info on ice cream on Button Soup.  It is the supreme accompaniment to many of the dishes discussed on this site, notably: pouding chômeur, sour cherry pie, pie sticks, and a special dessert that we will discuss tomorrow.

 

Butterscotch

Homemade butterscotch sauceThe Origins of Butterscotch.  Though butterscotch is common in Scotland, the “scotch” in the name does not refer to that country.  In fact “scotch” is a very old English word for an etching, or scratch.  Another instance of this suffix is in “hopscotch”, the game in which children jump across etchings or chalk-marks on the ground.

Scotch is also an old style of candy.  To make scotches, sugar is boiled to hard crack, then flavoured and poured onto a buttered slab or dish.  Portioning the individual candies while the sugar is still hot would yield sloppy candies with stringy edges, so once the sugar is partially cooled, the candies are marked out by cutting lines partway down into the mass.  Once the sugar is fully cooled, the marked tablets can be gently tapped on the counter and broken into tidy pieces.[1]  Butterscotch was once made by boiling brown sugar with butter to hard crack and portioning the candies in this manner.

Butterscotch as flavour.  Nowadays in North America butterscotch, like caramel, is thought of more as a flavour than a specific candy or preparation.  I grew up, for instance, eating butterscotch pudding after school, and butterscotch ripple ice cream.  The flavour of true butterscotch is browned butter and caramelized brown sugar.  A touch of salt also helps.

 

Butterscotch

Master Ratio – 1:3:3 butter, dark brown sugar, heavy cream

Ingredients

  • 2 oz unsalted butter
  • 6 oz dark brown sugar
  • 6 oz heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

Procedure

  1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed stainless steel pot.  Add the brown sugar and turn the heat to medium-high.  As you stir, the sugar will go from looking like dry sand, to wet sand, and after a few minutes it will look like bubbling lava.  Cook until you can smell the browned butter and the caramelized sugar, the hallmark aromas of butterscotch!  This will take maybe 10 minutes.
  2. Whisk in the heavy cream.  It will boil vigorously when it hits the hot sugar-butter mix.
  3. Cool to room temperature and season.  Add the vanilla.

 

Notes and Refrences

  1. This process is described in the butterscotch recipe found here: McNeill, F. Marian.  The Scots Kitchen.  ©2010 The Estate of F. Marian McNeill.  Birlinn Ltd, Edinburgh, Scotland.  Page 242.

Bonus Post! Our House in Gingerbread

Raw gingerbread, ready for the oven.The last two posts have included the two most important recipes for making gingerbread houses: gingerbread and royal icing.

This season is only the second time I’ve made a gingerbread house, the first being in 2010 when Lisa and I made a gingerbread church with stained glass windows.  Thanks to the nimble index fingers of Pinterest, that has become one of the most popular posts on this site.

This year I made another house in the same style, only instead of a church, I modeled the building after the one that Lisa and I live in, in McKernan.

The structure is made from these gingerbread cookies, which are bound with this royal icing.

The shingles are sliced almonds, also affixed with royal icing.

The windows are “stained glass” made by the method described in this post.  Being a residence and not a church the windows are small and don’t have as warm and bright a glow. Oh well.

A gingerbread house, modeled after the house I live in

A gingerbread hosue