FALL FLAVOUR RIFF
When your driveway starts to be covered with autumn leaves and you almost want a sweater in the crisp mornings, you can finally taste ideas that belong with cooler weather. Warm spices, caramelized root vegetables, hot drinks in a mug to wrap your hands around. One of those flavours that has stuck with me is how cinnamon and chile can add a backbone of flavour to chocolate. Depending on the chile you choose, and how strong you want them, you can even get a smoky, earthiness.
Usually I can wait until there is frosty weather to even consider hot chocolate, but I kept coming across my package of stoneground chocolate from Rancho Gordo, made in Mexico in traditional discs, almost too deliciously rich to have as a beverage, but beckoning me to follow the flavours.
My ice cream hobby was hitting empty – the freezer had no more summer flavours of passionfruit, green tea & ginger or even the lush gelato that hinted at vanilla without even a bean scraping. We had finally created space, and the modest ice cream maker insert for my small-batch habit was frozen and ready to serve.
Because I like to make my own affogatos, I did at first consider another batch of coffee flavoured ice cream – the recipe I use from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz soaks the whole coffee beans in the custard for a wonderful extraction. Then I considered cinnamon, to match fall flavours, and decided that somehow I would like to incorporate the stoneground chocolate with its grainy texture and rough sweetness. I took a look at several of my cookbooks by Rick Bayless, and saw where adding chopped chocolate might work added to a cinnamon ice cream, near the end of the freezing cycle.
Armed with these ideas, I started my batch with a quart of half & half and a reduced amount of sugar, steeping it with a couple of cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans which had been slit open to release the flecks of flavour, and several pieces of orange zest. I steeped those until the half & half mixture was just about steaming, then tempering my egg yolks, I made the custard. As I took the custard off the heat, I stirred in the first disk of chocolate, chopped fairly fine, and the custard took on the look of a bowl of soul, chai or hot cocoa. Straining thru a course mesh removed any eggy bits that would ruin the custard texture as well as the orange zest, cinnamon sticks and vanilla beans, and I chilled this overnight in the refrigerator. The next morning, I set the batch freezing for about 15-20 minutes, adding a second disk of the chocolate at the end, this time more roughly chopped so there would be a variety of pieces of chocolate in the finished ice cream. Unlike chocolate chips or even a stracciatella, this chocolate would have more of a satisfying crumbly, cookie-like texture rather than a solid hardness.
Because the chocolate itself is sweet, the reduced sugar in the custard allows the piloncillo (unrefined sugar) and cinnamon of the chocolate disks or tablets to come through.
4 cups of half & half (or a combination of whole milk and cream)
2/3 cup sugar
2 or 3 half-inch wide strips of orange zest, about 3″ long each (use a vegetable peeler)
two 3” cinnamon sticks
2 vanilla beans, slit lengthwise
½ – 1 teaspoon Ancho chile (or New Mexico red chile or Chipotle chile powder if you are brave)
one 3-oz. disk of stoneground chocolate, preferably from Rancho Gordo
5 egg yolks
optional: a second 3-oz. disk of stoneground chocolate
gently heat the half & half with the sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then add the orange zest, cinnamon, chile and vanilla and continue heating until just below scalding. You should see steam coming off the mixture. Remove from the heat.
Lightly beat the egg yolks with a fork or whisk in a medium size bowl, then temper the eggs by ladling in a small stream of the hot milk mixture while continuing to whisk the eggs. Continue to do so until almost all the milk or half and half has been whisked together with the eggs. Pour this mixture back into the pan you heated the dairy mixture in, and continue stirring or whisking over low heat until a custard forms, coating the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat.
Stir in the first disk of chocolate, which you have chopped, and continue stirring to thoroughly combine and melt. There will be solid flecks, not to worry. Pour custard mixture through a strainer to capture any overcooked eggy bits, leaving those behind.
Chill thoroughly (several hours or overnight), and then freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. Shortly before the batch is completed, while the ice cream is still quite soft, add the second disk of more roughly chopped chocolate (optional). Run the machine just until this is combined, then turn it off and remove the ice cream and freeze it for several hours before serving.
Best served in small quantities!