When we lived in Texas, one of the things that signaled the arrival of summer was the appearance of peaches at the farmers market. In Oregon, we look for the arrival of cherries. Sweet. Red. Juicy.
For berry lovers, it’s heaven when summer arrives in Oregon and cherries, blueberries and marionberries flood the farmers markets and stores. People swarm to the fruit stands like fruit flies. But like all good things, you have to enjoy it while you can. The cherry and blueberry season is short, if sweet. Marionberries have much longer staying power and they’re much more abundant.
I got home from work late one night recently and was settling into bed when a tweet from a twitter friend @rickreallfarmer (Tiffany Marx) caught my attention. She was enjoying a late-night snack of homemade strawberry ice cream. Upon reading this, I could not sleep. I began salivating and headed down to the kitchen to see if there was any ice cream in the freezer. Instead I found cherries in the fridge and tweeted to @rickreallfarmer what she thought about cherry ice cream. She encouraged me to go for it and to top it off with toasted hazelnuts.
It took me a while to gather my courage to do it. Charles is the ice cream maker of the family and we’ve got two ice cream machines in the house. I got some quick coaching from him, found a recipe on epicurious.com to adapt and went from there. Making the custard for the ice cream was the trickiest part for me — it wasn’t really difficult as much as being a process that demands your focus and attention.
Also I had to bone up on toasting hazelnuts and removing their skins. Again, Charles is the expert on this and had a technique down and described to me what to do. Hint: It involves using a kitchen cloth with a rough weave. More details later.
Anyway, on a lazy Sunday off from work, I finally decided to do it. I haven’t been glued to the kitchen for most of the day in anticipation of a dessert I was making in a long time. But it paid off when the ice cream finally came out of the ice cream maker, settled overnight in the freezer to firm up, and we enjoyed it for dessert after dinner the next day. There were cherry-stained smiles all around the dinner table.
Cherries ‘n’ Cream Ice Cream with Toasted Hazelnuts
- 4 cups (960 ml.) fresh cherries, pitted and chopped coarsely
- 1¾ cup (420 ml.) sugar
- ¼ cup (60 ml.) cherry-flavored brandy (our favorite is one from Oregon, Clear Creek Distillery’s Kirschwasser)
- 2 cups (480 ml.) Half & Half
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) vanilla bean paste (our favorite is Nielsen-Massey, available at Williams-Sonoma)
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1 cup (240 ml.) chilled whipping cream
- 2 cups (480 ml.) hazelnuts
- Combine cherries, brandy and 1 cup (240 ml.) of the sugar in a heavy large saucepan. Toss to coat and let stand until juices form. Turn on heat and bring to a low simmer until liquid thickens slightly, about 10 minutes.
- Remove from heat and set aside.
- Begin making the custard for the ice cream by pouring Half & Half into a heavy medium saucepan. Add vanilla paste and bring to a low simmer, stirring until mixed. Turn off heat.
- In a bowl, whisk ¾ cup (180 ml.) sugar and the egg yolks until sugar is blended well. Gradually drizzle in the hot Half & Half
one ladle at a time while whisking the yolks. Do this until all of the Half & Half has been mixed into the yolks.
- Return the yolk mixture to the same saucepan and stir over low heat until the custard begins to thicken (about 4 minutes). Make sure you don’t let the mixture boil! Test by dipping a wooden spoon in the custard mixture and running your finger across the back of the spoon. If you finger leaves a path, it’s ready.
- Turn off heat and mix in whipping cream and stir until incorporated. Transfer to a stainless steel or glass bowl
as it will cool the mixture faster, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
- Using ice cream maker, process the mixture until almost firm, add the cherry mixture one cup at a time. Process until ice cream firms. Transfer to container, cover and freeze overnight.
- Preheat oven to 350 ºF (177 ºC) and toast hazelnuts 10-15 minutes until the skins crack and the nuts are golden.
- Pour the nuts onto a kitchen towel with a rough weave, wrap and let steam for 1 minute.
- Rub the nuts in the towel with your hand in a back-and-forth motion to loosen the skins.
- Open towel and pick out the nuts and discard the skins. Let the nuts cool completely and put them in a Ziploc bag until ready to use. Crush nuts and place them on top of ice cream before serving.