Thursday, October 25, 2007

Chocolate Cakes with Red Beet Ice Cream and Toasted Walnut Sauce

When my brother and I were little, we spent many a Saturday night with our grandparents or our grandmother and inevitably, as we'd take a break from playing cards with them or putting together a jigsaw puzzle, we'd eat ice cream with pretzels on the side. Sometimes it was chocolate ice cream, sometimes cherry... and every so often, we'd have peach ice cream, which is a miracle unto itself. But what made it taste so good was the preztel. There's just something about breaking off a piece of pretzel and scraping a bite of ice cream onto it. The combination of those tastes and textures that I loved back then I still crave today. Whether it's eating ice cream in a pretzel cone, or having a dish of pretzels nearby, I need that combination. I tried a variation with peanuts and Marcona almonds once, and it wasn't the same. Ice cream and pretzels -- now that's magic.

I knew I'd love this dish because on paper it looked like a fantastic combination of crunch and salt and sweet and creamy all on one plate. Anything made with bittersweet chocolate I knew I'd love, but beet ice cream? How could you not love that? I'm starting to drool and I don't want to short out my Mac, so let me get to the goods here, folks. I've kept you waiting long enough, I know.

The first thing I did was prepare the ice cream. The French Laundry Cookbook instructs the user to put a few beets through a juicer and proceed accordingly. I borrowed a friend's juicer for this dish, and when I plugged it in, it popped and sparked and promptly died. Luckily, I already had a bottle of beet juice in the pantry, so I used that instead, and thus skipped the whole adding of the pulp section later in the directions. Here's how I made the ice cream: I reduced 2 cups of beet juice over low heat until I had about a quarter-cup left. I removed it from the heat, covered it, and put it in the refrigerator. Next, I combined the milk and cream in a saucepan with a splash of beet juice (instead of pulp), brought it to a simmer, covered it, turned off the burner, and let it sit for 30 minutes.

I then strained the liquid, measured three cups of it (pitched the rest), and put it back in the saucepan. I added some sugar, and brought it up to a simmmer, dissolving the sugar by stirring as it was cooking.

In a separate bowl, I whisked 8 egg yolks (I thought about using 6 instead, but went with the full 8 and I'm glad I did) with the rest of the sugar. I then spooned in some of the hot milky beety mixture to temper the yolks and sugar, then poured the yolk mixture back into the saucepan where I kept it over low heat, stirring until it had thickened a bit more.

I poured the mixture through a strainer into a bowl sitting in an ice bath. I let the mixture come to room temperature before putting it in the refrigerator overnight, along with the beet juice reduction.

The next morning, I poured the beet reduction into the custard mixture, stirred to incorporate it and put it in my ice cream maker for about 25 minutes until it was ready to be scooped into a container and put in the freezer for a few hours:

You guys, this ice cream is soooooooo good. I'd be content to eat it on its own, so I'm glad this recipe made enough for me to have leftovers.

The next thing I did was make the walnut syrup and candied walnuts. I roasted the walnuts in the oven for about 15 minutes:

Then, I rubbed off their skins, which I found a strangely satisfying task. I had already made the poaching liquid (to see how that is made, click here), so I brought it to a boil, then added the walnuts and let them cook until the liquid had reduced:

I poured the walnuts and syrup through a strainer and put the syrup in the refrigerator for plating later. I placed the poached walnuts on a parchment-lined baking sheet, salted them liberally, and toasted them in the oven for about 35 minutes. When they were crunchy, I took them out of the oven and let them cool, then put them in a container to save them for plating:

Next, it was time to make the chocolate cakes, since they needed about two hours to cool after baking and I was on a deadline. The oven was already preheated from making the walnuts, so I prepped 10 4oz. souffle molds by spraying them with some nonstick cooking spray. You'll see in one of the later photos that my souffle molds were really more of a custard mold. I couldn't justify spending the money on buying more equipment when I already had something I thought would work just as well.

To start, I melted 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate and 8T butter in a bowl over a pot of hot water. I removed the bowl from the heat and let it come to room temperature. In the meantime, I whisked 3 eggs with some sugar over that same pot of hot water, then placed the bowl on my mixer stand and whipped it until the eggs had cooled and tripled in volume:

I folded in the melted chocolate/butter mixture as well as a quarter-cup of heavy cream, which I'd whisked until it had soft peaks. I spooned this mixture into the ten molds and put them in a roasting pan in a warm water bath:

These guys went into a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes, after which time I laid a sheet of aluminum foil over top and let them back for another 20-25 minutes, until the tops were shiny and the cakes set. I took them out of the oven and out of the waterbath and let them cool in their molds on a baking rack for about two hours.

We're in the homestretch, and the only thing I had left to do was make the beet chips. I love beet chips, and I keep forgetting how easy it is to make them at home, and I'm happy to be reminded of it through this dish.

I took three small-ish beets, peeled them, and sliced them thin with my mandoline:

I dusted each one with flour and put them in batches of about 20 into a pot of 275-degree canola oil. Each batch took about 5-7 minutes to cook until they stopped bubbling and were crisp.

I drained them on paper towels (still the ugly floral ones, which is why there is no photo of them), salted them, and got the dishes ready for plating.

Here's the final dish: a spoonful of walnut syrup, topped with the chocolate cake, which sits next to a scoop of beet ice cream and some candied walnuts, topped with a little bit of confectioners sugar, then topped with beet chips.

I can hear you asking, "Carol, that looks delicious, but, dude, why is there potting soil on the plate?" Yeah. The cakes completely fell apart and I had to dig them out of the molds with a spoon to get them on the plate. Pastry is not my forté, as you are clearly learning if you've been a longtime reader of this blog. I need some pastry lessons - STAT! But let's talk about how this tasted... there are no words. Well, that's not entirely true; I could use words like delicious. Sumptuous. Magnificent. Beet-tastic. Salty. Sweet. Crispy. Creamy. Magical.

I love when a dessert mixes textures, tastes and temperatures successfully and blows you away. What I also love about this dessert is that I could have served any of these elements separately and they could've stood alone and been delicious. But when you mix them, they are more powerful and make you linger at the table a little longer to see if anyone doesn't finish theirs so you can swoop in and clean that plate yourself.

I'd make this dessert again in a heartbeat. And, now that I have some extra beet ice cream in the freezer, I'm heading out to the market in a few minutes to pick up some pretzels to go with it. Anybody up for cards?

Up Next: Braised Breast of Veal with Yellow Corn Polenta Cakes, Glazed Vegetables, and Sweet Garlic

Beets from Glenville Hollow Farms
Organic Valley cream and milk
Eggs from Smith Meadows Farm
Walnuts from TPSS Co-op
Bogle Chardonnay
Scharffen Berger chocolate
365 organic butter
Biotta beet juice

Music to Cook By: This is almost embarassing to admit, but -- Stephanie Mills: Greatest Hits. I can totally hear you laughing at me. Shutty! "I Feel Good" and "Feel the Fire" (her duet with Teddy Pendergrass) are just awesome. And "Home"? Love it. It reminds me of college, but I'm not sure why. I know I went through a bigtime Anita Baker phase back in the day, and I recall listening to Stephanie Mills on WPGC here in DC, but I can't tell you why I started downloading her stuff and listening to her again. I'm glad I did, though.


Anonymous said...

Okay, so which is better: beet ice cream or Graeter's Black Raspberry Chip? Buckeye Blitz?

And I'm disappointed to see a lack of somewhat gore-ish photos of beet juice all over the kitchen. Oh, wait.....that'd be in MY kitchen.


Jake said...

This dish sounds very good, but to be honest I'm pretty much drooling just from the name of the braised veal dish you've got on deck. It sounds simple and delicious.

Hillary said...

Wow, sounds great. I'm on ice cream hiatus right now :( but when I'm back in business -- a few pounds lighter -- I'm definitely giving this one a try. I share the concerns about pastry, though...not my thing.

Pretzels & ice cream! Back in the day there was an ice cream parlor on Roosevelt Ave. somewhere before the Rte. 30 intersection (name sadly escapes me). After Sat. soccer practice my dad would take me there for a hot fudge sundae served with...two pretzels. Soooo good (the best "yellow" vanilla ice cream, too). Haven't thought of that place in years, nor have I run into that combo since I left PA.

Carol Blymire said...

Spoonie: I gotta say, the best ice cream is David Lebovitz's chocolate from "A Perfect Scoop." The beet ice cream is a strong #2, not to be outdone by Graeters Buckeye Blitz (which I'm now craving, thankyouverymuch).

Holler: Methinks you're thinking of Beck's ice cream. Yum. Do you really think pretzels and ice cream is a PA thing?

Casey said...

What a lovely memory jolt this pretzels & ice cream gave me. For part of my high school years I lived with my grandparents. We always ate dinner at 5:30 and thus were hungry again by the time the late evening news came on. My grandfather would go to the kitchen and fix a tray of individual bowls of ice cream and a big bowl of ice cream.
And,yes, it was in PA--suburban Philadelphia.

Another great post. It's such a treat to check in here and find a new post.

michael, claudia and sierra said...

just spectacular. truly wonderful. another winner. congrats.

Wawa said...

Long time lurker checking in here to say...I'm also a pretzel and ice cream eater originally from eastern PA. I don't know if the combo is a specifically PA thing, but the pretzels certainly are a big deal there, and there's no shortage of ice cream so maybe it's just natural.

I'm not sure I'm into the idea of beet ice cream, but it certainly came out a lovely color.

Hillary said...

Diner girl -- Beck's! That was it! Good stuff. I really think it *is* one of those quirky PA Dutch things, but maybe also Ohio? I should make a list of regional foods, things I certainly used to take for granted.

Bought "A Perfect Scoop," it looks great...can't wait to try in a few months. And beets!

Cher said...

How embarrassing is it that I've been enjoying your French Laundry adventures for the longest time, and yet the thing that gets me to comment is Stephanie Mills greatest hits?
(Don't answer that. I love me some Stephanie and I don't care who knows it.)

I feel about beets the way you feel about soft-shell crabs. Yet this lovely ice cream tempts me to no end with its beautiful color and promise of creamy delight.
Were there any non-beet lovers among the taste testers? Anyone run screaming for the hills?

Erin said...

This sounds absolutely amazing! I'm finally into beets (after traumatizing childhood experiences with borscht) and this would be quite the celebration of the beet. Re: pretzels and ice cream, not sure if this counts but Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby has chocolate-covered peanut butter-filled pretzels in it. OMG, so good!

Anonymous said...

Beet-tastic! I love it! I don't think the pretzels with ice cream is unique to PA, or maybe it was such a great idea it spread rapidly to the Southern States, but it was one of the great tastes of my childhood.

Marilyn said...

Man, that looks good, even though I have no idea whether I'd like beet ice cream. Forgive me, I've only ever had German style pickled beets. What, you mean there are other ways to eat beets? And dang, now you've got MissOrchidgal wanting to make those chocolate cakes. But she has to wait for Santa to deliver the French Laundry Cookbook.

216 Cottage St. said...

This is awesome. Just saw your post under mine on ruhlman's blog.

What a great blog you have. I'm addicted...immediately.

Anonymous said...

My own variation (self-invented) was wheat thins with Haagen-Dazs, usually rum raisin. Of course the wheat thins are full of high fructose corn syrup, so there's a sweetness beneath the salt that is completely pernicious. In drug language, the salt and sweet seem to potentiate each other...

I agree with Jake, the upcoming veal breast sounds deLISHus!

Carol Blymire said...

Cher: Yes, there were a few beet-haters in the tasting crew, and they loved the ice cream.

Erin: ChubbyHubby was invented by two women from my hometown, thus further reinforcing thinking that ice cream and pretzels together is a regional thing.

Marilyn/OG: You've got to roast some beets one night and then just toss them in a little olive oil, salt and pepper. It'll change the way you think about beets forever.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carol,
Love the blog and just recall that souffle molds get sugar'd don't they. Otherwise stuff doesn't rise and can stick. I think you oil and then toss granulated sugar on the mold then load them up. I don't think oil alone can get the same outcome. Just wondering.

My dad used to make spectacular freestone peach ice cream from our tree in the backyard with a hand crank mixer. It was his favorite. Thanks for the prick to my memory.

Mercedes said...

This hit just the right note with me:
1) I also love pretzels with my ice cream, the salt flecks are so perfect!
2) I also love beet ice cream. I made some this summer (click!), and when I raved about it people thought I was crazy, but everyone who tried it also liked it. When I read this I felt so vindicated. Beets and chocolate have a natural affinity, like beet chocolate cake, beet ice cream with chocolate chips or paired with chocolate sorbet. This may have inspired me to finally go out and buy that book!

Anonymous said...

Kinda makes you look at Dwight Schrute's beet farm on "The Office" in a whole different light, doesn't it? Maybe he's onto something....

Anonymous said...

Like all your readers I do like your blog which is very inspiring. Did your hero forget to mention flour for the cakes?


Carol Blymire said...

M: Flour. What a novel concept. Methinks that might be the missing ingredient (among a few other things). BTW, thanks for using the word "hero" in your comment because now I keep hearing Cameron say to Ferris after he rescues him from the pool, "Ferris Bueller, you're my heeerrro." So thanks for that.

Carol Blymire said...

M: Flour. What a novel concept. Methinks that might be the missing ingredient (among a few other things). BTW, thanks for using the word "hero" in your comment because now I keep hearing Cameron say to Ferris after he rescues him from the pool, "Ferris Bueller, you're my heeerrro." So thanks for that.

Anonymous said...

We got as far as Buchon, having waitlisted for FL both days of our visit to the US of A. Still recovering from ' International dialler distressed digits' to get that far. Probably didn't help that we were there Memorial Day weekend lmao ... I was just looking to buy the book to have a bash when I happened upon your 'ramblings', I mean it with love!Now I can't wait to mess up the kitchen ... love fom London.

Chef Luke said...

Great recipe,indeed.Beets taste of bitter chocolate on their own, so obviously the pairing is wonderful.Salt accentuates the flavors of most sweet foods, adding another dimension to the flavors present on the plate,so, yes, pretzels and ice cream are amazing. Kellers' Veloute of Bittersweet Chocolate,with a pinch of fleur de perfection. Anyway, next time you are making any ice cream, try adding a tiny bit of guar gum and xanthan gum just before the custard is churned.They improve the texture immeasurably.


Max said...

The best way to get baked things not to stick to pans, especially delicate tiny pans is to first butter the pan and add a T of flour shake it to cover every nook and cranny then dump the excess then cut a round of parchment paper and place it in the bottom of the pan. That should work.