Sometimes I think I should have called my blog “Best Idea/Worst Idea Olympics.”
If left alone with my brain, that is all I do. “Is this the best idea? Or the worst idea?”
Sometimes with life stuff. But mostly with food stuff.
In this instance, I decided I needed to make a “bartender’s handshake” ice cream flavor. A bartender’s handshake, at least in some parts (uh, just San Francisco as far as I know), is a shot of Fernet-Branca, followed by a ginger beer or ginger ale chaser.
Fernet-Branca, if you’re unfamiliar, is . . . kind of a beast. An herbal, potent, bitter, medicinal (in a good way), wake-up-all-your-senses beast.
Government name: Italian amaro, an herbal liqueur. But I like my description too.
I also like this particular idea–a lot. It turned out well, you see. Mellowed with brown sugar, the Fernet ice cream base flavor is mellow, elusive, intriguing, nutty, and strange. Oddly enough, the flavor I would most closely associate it with is walnut. Random–and crazy good. The heavily gingered pear swirl is an extra touch of warming, gentle sweetness. This is a winner–for boozehounds, bartenders, and, uh, humans who have taste buds.
I know Jeni’s ice cream base recipe by heart now, down to every simmering minute! Sorry, calculus. I need this brain real estate for VERY IMPORTANT THINGS.
Very important things include corn syrup. X + ice cream base = so very silky, therefore X = corn syrup. That’s good math right there. Take that, graphic calculator!
(I should note that I never hated math, or was particularly terrible at it. I just always resented being told that it was more important than artsy things.)
Holy tangent (and cosine, and sine)… Let me shut up about math now, before I give us all nightmares. Remember typing “boobs” into regular ol’ calculators? Fun times.
But let’s discuss pears instead. Bosc pears are the brownest, the sweetest, and the best for cooking down to a soft, delicious, fragrant mass. There is lots of brown sugar in here too, natch. We’ll puree this and add a bit of vodka to keep it from freezing too hard–theoretically, any kind of alcohol would work too, including more Fernet. I was afraid of overpowering everything with it, but if you feel adventurous (or REALLY love amaro), I think you should try it and let me know how it goes.
In that first photo at the very top of my post, I splashed a little Fernet atop for funsies. I thought it would look cool, but you know what? I loved the way a little drizzle of the liqueur tasted on there, too. Highly recommended! Food photo vanity, now with substance.
I know San Francisco bartenders are a small market, but seriously–make this for one of them and you might have a friend for life. Or make it for yourself and be your own best friend. Shake your own hand! Give yourself a high-five too. Cheers!
- 1/4 cup Fernet-Branca
- 2 cups whole milk
- 4 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
- 2 cups diced Bosc pears (about 1 1/2 pears)
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon vodka
- Bring the Fernet-Branca to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook for 5 minutes or so, until reduced by about half (I know this is a "duh," but keep a close eye on it in case of flare-ups. Probably won't happen, but you never know).
- Combine 1/4 cup of the milk and the cornstarch until smooth and set aside. In a large saucepan, whisk together remaining milk and the cream along with the sugar, corn syrup, Fernet reduction, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 4 minutes, then stir in cornstarch mixture. Return to a boil and cook, stirring, until thickened, about 2 minutes.
- Pour 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture into a small bowl with the cream cheese and whisk until completely smooth, then whisk this into the rest of the milk mixture. Cover and chill thoroughly.
- To make the swirl, combine everything but the vodka over medium-high heat and cook, stirring, until thickened, 5-8 minutes. Let cool, then process in a food processor or blender until smooth. Stir in vodka and chill thoroughly.
- When both mixtures are completely chilled, churn ice cream according to manufacturer instructions, then alternate layers of ice cream and pear mixture in a storage container before freezing. Makes a quart.