- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Homemade ice cream and sorbet can be an everyday delight in your kitchen with today’s frozen-cylinder ice cream makers and all the other models now available.

This is an incredible change from earlier times. Churning ice cream was a Sunday ritual when I was growing up. The process then involved getting a block of ice at the local creamery, chopping it in a gunny sack and hooking up the freezer bucket to the big Hobart mixer to turn out half a gallon of vanilla bean, strawberry or peppermint stick ice cream. Today the process is vastly streamlined.

Through the years I have sampled stellar flavors from abroad: citrus and berry sorbets from Michelin three-star restaurants, fruit ices from Turkey, South Africa and Malaysia, ultra-creamy praline and chocolate delights in just-baked sugar cones in Scandinavia and indulgent gelati in liqueur flavors in layered cups in Italy. One luscious taste called for another.

Creating various flavors of ice cream and sorbet was a joy, as I tested my latest book on the subject, “Ice Creams and Sorbets” (Chronicle Books).

Here are some of the tips I found that bring success to frozen desserts.

If you are using a frozen-cylinder ice cream freezer, make certain the cylinder is frozen solid for at least 48 hours.

The basic ice cream or sorbet mixture should also be well chilled.

Even if you don’t have an ice cream freezer, you can still make many types of frozen dessert.

Ice cream that includes egg yolks often has a creamy texture.

The butterfat in heavy whipping cream also contributes to a rich and smooth consistency.

Gelato, the Italian-style ice cream, is characterized by intense flavor and a denser consistency than traditional ice cream because it contains less air. It is often served semi-frozen.

Sorbets are basically fruit purees enhanced by sugar syrup.

Ices, on the other hand, are typically made of flavored liquid and sugar.

Sorbets and ices may be frozen in a pan until just solid and then whipped to a frothy state with an electric mixer or food processor fitted with the metal blade. An ice cream maker is not essential for making sorbets and ices.

Granita is a coarsely textured ice that is made simply by stirring the mixture during the freezing process. It does not require a machine for preparation.

This technique is ideal for an espresso granita, which is popular topped with brandy and whipped cream for an authentic Italian touch. Granita is also fun created from a wine, such as shiraz, which lends a berry note to the base.

Various flavorings can enhance the frozen desserts. Lavender, rosemary, basil and other herbs can be used to flavor either a dessert or savory base.

Liqueur is also wonderful to lend pizazz to ice cream, but, because alcohol requires a lower freezing point and softens the product, it is essential to add the liqueur at the end of the churning process, when the ice cream is whipped up light and fluffy. At that point, you may add 3 to 4 tablespoons of your choice of liqueur. You will then need to continue churning for 5 to 10 minutes until the ice cream is light and fluffy again.

Among my favorite combinations are cognac with chocolate or coffee flavors, Grand Marnier or triple sec with vanilla bean, Calvados with apple sorbet, Frangelico with hazelnut, or amaretto with toasted almond.

Those who wish to make a lower-fat ice cream without eggs can base many combinations on this formula for coffee Cognac ice cream. (Note that both honey and the liqueur tend to produce a soft consistency.)

Place 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup honey in a quart container. Add 1 cup milk. Microwave until hot, about 1½ minutes. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Stir in 1 cup milk and 1 cup heavy whipping cream.

Enhance with a flavoring, such as 2 tablespoons coffee crystals dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water.

Chill thoroughly. Churn and flavor with 3 tablespoons Cognac once it is ready, then continue to churn until thickened again.

The gradual coarsening of texture during freezer storage is due to repeated partial thawing when serving or from fluctuations in the temperature of the freezer. The lower the average storage temperature of the freezer, the less change takes place.

If ice cream is firmly frozen when ready to serve, transfer it to the refrigerator for 20 minutes before scooping. Note that frozen desserts made with honey, corn syrup or alcohol will freeze to a softer consistency and may be soft enough to serve directly from the freezer.

Frozen desserts have more flavor if allowed to warm to at least 10 degrees before serving. Enjoy these flavors.

Mint chocolate chip ice cream

Water

2 cups half-and-half or milk

4 large egg yolks

½ cup sugar

1 cup heavy whipping cream

2 teaspoons peppermint extract

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, shredded (about 2/3 cup) (see note)

Cones for serving, optional

Prepare a large bowl or pan of ice water.

In top of a double boiler, heat half-and-half or milk over simmering water until steaming. Whisk egg yolks until blended, then whisk in sugar. Slowly whisk in some of hot half-and-half or milk and then pour yolk mixture into pan of half-and-half, stirring constantly to prevent curdling.

Stir and cook over simmering water until custard coats the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Immediately place custard pan in prepared ice bath and stir custard occasionally until it cools to room temperature. Transfer to a container and stir in cream and extract. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. When ice cream is almost frozen, add chocolate and churn until blended in, about 15 seconds. Transfer to a container, cover and freeze until firm, about 2 hours. Serve in cones, if desired. Makes about 1 quart.

Note: Use a high-quality bar of bittersweet chocolate to embellish this old-fashioned favorite. I like to use a chef’s knife for shredding the chocolate bar into neat morsels, but you could also grate it on the large holes of a box grater.

Or chop the chocolate to make larger chunks in the ice cream.

Lavender-honey ice cream

Water

2 cups half-and-half or milk

3 tablespoons fresh or dried lavender blossoms (see note)

3 large egg yolks

2/3 cup honey

1 cup heavy whipping cream

2 to 3 tablespoons honey liqueur or triple sec, optional (see note)

Prepare a large bowl or pan of ice water.

In top of a double boiler, heat half-and-half or milk and lavender over simmering water until steaming. Remove from heat and steep 10 minutes. Whisk egg yolks until blended, then whisk in honey.

Slowly whisk in some hot half-and-half or milk and then pour yolk mixture into pan of half-and-half, stirring constantly to prevent curdling. Stir and cook over simmering water until custard coats the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Immediately place custard pan in prepared ice bath and stir custard occasionally until it cools to room temperature.

Strain custard into a container and discard lavender. Stir in cream, cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. When ice cream is almost frozen, spoon in liqueur, if desired, and churn until blended, about 5 minutes more. Transfer to a container, cover and freeze until firm, about 2 hours. Makes about 1 quart.

Note: French lavender is the best varietal to use for cooking, since it lends a delightful aromatic perfume with a haunting undertone. Other lavender species have a more medicinal taste. Use either fresh or dried blossoms, stripped from the stem.

Note: Honey liqueur is a perfect complement, and it creates a softer texture.

Raspberry-citrus sorbet

This is an elegant sorbet — a brilliant ruby color and bursting with flavor — although a strawberry version is almost as good.

In the Italian tradition, I love to mingle tiny scoopfuls with several ice cream flavors.

Or serve it with a medley of fresh strawberries and raspberries.

4 cups (32 ounces) fresh or frozen raspberries

1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

3/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons Cointreau or other orange-flavored liqueur

Puree berries in a food processor or blender and push them through a fine-mesh sieve; discard seeds. Stir in orange and lemon juices and sugar until dissolved. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. When sorbet is almost frozen, spoon in liqueur and churn until blended in, about 1 minute more. Or to freeze without an ice cream maker, pour mixture into a 9-inch nonreactive square pan.

Cover with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and freeze just until solid, 2 to 3 hours.

Scrape out into an electric mixer bowl or food processor, spoon in the liqueur and process briefly until light and fluffy. Serve at once or transfer to a container, cover and freeze until firm, about 2 hours.

Makes about 1 quart.

Rosemary-lemon ice

This herbal scented ice instantly wakes up the palate with exclamatory “wows” when served as an intermezzo between courses. Or cut back on the rosemary,

if you wish, to pair it with another fruit sorbet for a summertime dessert.

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

3/4 cup sugar, divided

Water

4 4-inch sprigs rosemary, plus extra for garnish

3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Mash lemon zest with 1 teaspoon sugar to release the oils. Combine remaining sugar, 2 cups water and rosemary sprigs in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Cook until syrup is clear.

Remove from heat and stir in sugared lemon zest and juice. Let cool to room temperature. Transfer to a container, cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

Remove rosemary sprigs. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Or to freeze without an ice cream maker, pour mixture into a 9-inch nonreactive square pan.

Cover with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and freeze just until solid, 2 to 3 hours.

Scrape out into an electric mixer bowl or food processor and process briefly until light and fluffy.

Serve at once or transfer to a container, cover and freeze until firm, about 2 hours. Serve in small bowls or goblets with a small garnish of rosemary.

Makes about 1 quart.

Shiraz granita

The full-flavored shiraz (or syrah) wine imparts a mouthful of berrylike fruit to this icy refresher. Other dry red wines would work well, too.

Serve between courses, if you wish, or as a summertime dessert with biscotti.

When Bing cherries are in season, they are lovely as a garnish. Another time, adorn it with edible flowers such as unsprayed violets from the garden.

½ cup sugar

Water

2 cups dry red wine, such as shiraz, merlot or zinfandel

1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Pitted Bing cherries, edible flowers, mint or lemon balm sprigs for garnish

Combine sugar with ½ cup water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cook until syrup is clear.

Remove from heat and stir in wine and orange and lemon juices. Let cool to room temperature. Transfer to a container, cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

Pour into a 9-inch nonreactive square pan, cover with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and freeze until mixture is frozen 1 inch from the edge, about 1 hour.

Stir with a fork, scraping crystals from sides of pan into the liquid center. Repeat 2 or 3 times until the entire mass is set into small light crystals.

Serve at once or transfer to a container, cover and freeze.

To serve, spoon into chilled wine glasses, letting it mound on the surface. Garnish with cherries, flowers, mint or lemon balm.

Makes about 1½ pints.

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