Sunday, December 5, 2010

Guinness Gingerbread with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

I've made this Guinness Gingerbread, from Nigella Lawson's latest cookbook Kitchen, twice in the past week and with good reason. It's fantastic! Sweet, but not too sweet, with lots of spice and a wonderfully moist texture. It's a perfect dessert for the holidays, but I've been having it with my morning coffee at work. Decadent, I suppose, but that's what the Christmas season is for, right?

It's also gloriously easy to make -- simply melt and mix the butter, sugar, Guinness, and spices on the stove, mix in the dry ingredients, then add some sour cream and eggs, pour into a 9-inch pan, and bake!

With my parents over for dinner this weekend, I knew I wanted to make the gingerbread, and I thought some whipped cream or vanilla ice cream would be a welcome addition. I pondered going out and buying a pint of Haagen-Dazs, but given that my sister bought me the ice cream maker attachment for my new stand mixer, why wait to make a batch of homemade?

I opted for a simple vanilla bean ice cream from the book Sweet Scoops, by Shelly Kaldunski, and I couldn't have been more pleased with the results. In fact, I think I'm spoiled now for all store-bought ice cream. This was the silkiest, richest, most divine ice cream imagineable. I had no idea vanilla ice cream could be so flavourful, and though it complemented the cake it would have been heavenly all on its own.

I realize that making homemade ice cream all the time is unrealistic -- which given the fat-laden ingredients (2 cups half-and-half, 1.5 cups heavy cream, 8 egg yolks!) is probably a good thing. But I'm most definitely going to be keeping the freezer bowl chilled for the next opportunity that arises. If you're an ice cream junkie, as I am, consider putting an ice cream maker on your Christmas list. It's every bit worth it.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

2 cups half-and-half
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise, seeds scraped
8 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspooon salt

In heavy saucepan combine half-and-half, cream, and vanilla bean pod and seeds. Warm over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture barely comes to a simmer, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a heatproof bowl, combine egg yolks, sugar and salt. Whisk vigorously until the mixture lightens in colour and doubles in volume, about 2 minutes.

Remove cream mixture from the heat. Whisking constantly, slowly pour about 1 cup of the warm cream mixture into the egg mixture and whisk until smooth. Pour the resulting egg-cream mixture back into the saucepan, whisking constantly, and place over medium heat. Using a wooden spoon, stir until the mixture forms a custard thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 1-2 minutes. (I found this took closer to 5 minutes for me.) Do not let it boil.

Meanwhile, set up an ice bath in a large bowl and nest a smaller heatproof bowl inside. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into the smaller bowl. Discard the vanilla bean. Stir the custard occasionally until cool. Remove the bowl from the ice bath and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until very cold, at least 4 hours or up to 3 days.

Pour the cold custard into an ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer's instructions. Spoon the ice cream into a freezer-safe container and place parchment or waxed paper directly on the surface. Cover tightly and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours or up to 3 days.

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts.

Source: Sweet Scoops, Shelly Kaldunski, Weldon Owen Publishing, 2009.