Monday, March 23, 2015

Flying (Drunken) Fig Ice Cream

Was able to capture a glimpse of the ice cream before it was ravenously devoured.
"Wow, this ice cream is especially boozy," observed my roommate after an excellent brunch at Ohio City's The Flying Fig. She was full, but I insisted: "you have to try this ice cream."

Chef/Owner Karen Small was sitting nearby at the bar.

"You have to get the recipe," urged my roommate.

"Alright, alright," I said and went to make, uh, small talk with the chef (could I have said "chit-chat"? Everyone reading knows I mean "small talk," and it is a mere coincidence that is also the chef's name. No pun intended.)

Despite her diminutive stature (sorry, when it rains it pours), Chef Small has had a huge impact on my personal culinary development, on the careers of several friends of mine and on the rebounding Cleveland restaurant scene as a whole.

We run through updates about mutual friends before I garner the courage to blurt out, "so, I gotta steal that fig ice cream recipe."

"To be honest I don't have the exact recipe off hand," said Small. I don't find this surprising, as I know at least a couple of her former kitchen acolytes would write in sometimes hard to decipher shorthand the recipes and other musings of Chef Small.

Chef Jill Vedaa, former sous chef at The Flying Fig, would share recipes with me with the caveat that measurements were approximate at best. As long as we're being totally open, that is pretty much how recipes on this very blog are developed – at least by myself. 99% Bittersweet, having worked in the mysterious realm of pastry and baking, is much more precise. Still, I feel like someone can read a recipe I wrote and produce something similar to what it describes. Whenever I find more serious errors, I correct them immediately and make an inline note so that the reader is aware that I changed something.

I'll leave precision to the bakers, Alton Brown and the molecular gastronomy crowd. Small's soulful and personable cooking is much more my speed.

"I use heavy cream and whole milk, about a half pint each, and six whole eggs per quart of ice cream," said Small, "and I take dried figs and soak them in brandy. Basically make a crème Anglaise then add the figs."

That was close enough for me to come up with a working estimate, plus a few personal touches to make it my own.

--

Drunken Fig Ice Cream (with a little help from Bixby's Best Pure Maple Syrup):

  • 1/2 pint of good quality heavy cream.
  • 1/2 pint of good quality whole milk.
  • 6 whole eggs.
  • 1 tsp good vanilla extract.
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg.
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter.
  • 2-3 dashes of old-fashioned bitters.
  • 1 dash orange bitters.
  • 1 cup dried black figs, soaked in good brandy for 1 week.
  • 1/4 cup reserved soaking brandy.
  • 1/2 cup Bixby's Best™ Pure Maple Syrup (or some other, lesser brand... grade "B" amber only).
  • Pinch of salt.

Mix eggs, milk, cream, vanilla, nutmeg, butter, salt and bitters in a saucier over medium heat beating gently with a balloon whisk.

Heat for about 15-20 minutes until the mixture begins to tighten up, like the consistency of cold cream. Remove from heat and cool for several minutes still whisking to prevent any egg from curdling. Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.

At. Least. 12. Hours.

At this point it's probably necessary to tell you that you need an ice cream maker. Mine is the Kitchen-Aid™ variety which comes with a mechanical base and an insulated sleeve that contains water and glycerine designed to stay cold outside of the freezer.

The sleeve you will want to also have chilled for at least 12 hours, preferably several days.

If you do not have this device it's not too late: perhaps the general store down on Main Street has an olde-tymey bucket rig (you fill a wooden bucket with ice and rock salt, then you insert a metal container with a lid and a hand-crack that agitates the cream mixture immersed in the ice).

I've also seen pint-sized "manual" ice cream makers fashioned as soccer balls which you put a container of custard in the center, then surround with ice and rock salt, and kick around for 20-30 minutes until the custard is frozen.

I neither have the time, coordination or shoes for all that mess, so I use a pre-chilled sleeve that spins as a stationary agitator moves the custard around.

Before getting started you will want to extract about a cup and some change of figs and quarter them. Add in the brandy and maple syrup.

Start the ice cream machine and slowly pour in the custard. After about 10 minutes, when it begins to freeze, add the figs in batches every few minutes until the custard is mostly frozen but still soft.

If you want now is the time to fold in nuts, toffee, nuts and toffee, bacon, crumpled blue cheese, whatever.

Spoon this mixture into containers and allow them to set up in the freezer for at least 2 hours (preferably 6) before serving.

...Except for that cup of ice cream you siphoned off, you animal. It's okay, I did too.

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The Flying Fig
2523 Market Avenue
Cleveland, OH
216-241-4243 (is it weird I know this number by heart? I dated the garde manger chef, that's why.)