Hey, hey now…it isn’t that kind of blog. What I mean is that the hubs and I had a quick three hours in New Orleans last week. Just the two of us. With ZERO children. This is forgotten territory for us, so we did what consenting adults do and promptly
found a secluded alley got wasted on hurricanes flashed for beads perused art galleries until we stumbled upon a lovely restaurant. I had the blackened fish and two glasses of chenin blanc, the latter of which is responsible for my forgetting the name of the place. I’m pretty sure all of this means that we are getting old maturing. Actually, I did pick up an allegedly Finnish rune from Marie Leveau’s House of Voodoo that promises to protect my health. You know, since we’re old.
Truthfully, it’s a city rich with history and its own unique and vibrant culture. So much of that is lost when we head down there to party heartily, but that’s ok. Letting your hair down and having a good time is certainly part of that culture! But it’s nice to see it through (mostly) sober eyes, too. That quickie left us hungry for a little more, and we are already fantasy-planning a weekend in the French Quarter. With ZERO kids.
One thing I really wanted to do was head over to Café Du Monde for a little beignet and café au lait. We didn’t. Partly due to time constraints and mostly (entirely) due to the fact that Café Du Monde’s beignets are a gluten fest that would have sabotaged the rest of my Louisiana jaunt. I had enjoyed them back in the day, though, and decided to perfect a gluten free version once we were home. Today’s ice cream was inspired by the coffee and chicory combo that is a Louisiana classic and popularly served at the Café. Together with a dish of beignets, they make a perfect trinity. Let’s put on some New Orleans jazz, turn it up, and get cooking!
Adapted from Melissa Clark’s fantastic Master Ice Cream Recipe.
What the heck is chicory, anyway? It’s the root of a plant with beautifully delicate periwinkle-colored daisies, and you’ve probably eaten its leaves – or more accurately, the leaves of its close cousin: the are the endive on your crudité platter. When roasted, ground up, and steeped, chicory root has a surprising coffee flavor. I first tried it on its own when my local health food store was giving out samples, offering that making the switch could help if you were trying to give up the hard stuff. Chicory “coffee” contains no caffeine, and does bring a little protein and fiber to the party. Historically, chicory was used primarily in France and during the US Civil War as a coffee substitute when actual coffee was unavailable or too expensive, and the coffee-chicory blend caught on once those times had passed. In the French-influenced areas around New Orleans, the tradition persisted, most commonly served as café au lait: half chicory-coffee and half boiled milk. Chicory-coffee blends are readily available in stores and online, but nothing beats having the real McCoy served to you in a hangover daze in the French Quarter (or so I’ve heard…)!
First things first: let’s make the custard base. This is the cornerstone of most of my cow milk ice creams. You can still make a delicious ice cream without the custard, but nothing beats the richness that it adds! In a medium sauce pan, bring your heavy cream, milk, sugar, salt, and coffee-chicory blend to a low simmer. You don’t really need to bring it to a full on boil, just enough to fully dissolve the sugar. If you’re using instant chicory-coffee here, you’ll want to dissolve that as well.
While it’s warming up, separate your egg yolks into a medium-large bowl, and whisk them up. When your hot liquid is ready, add a small bit to your yolks while whisking, then gradually and slowly add more and more while whisking until everything is combined into a lovely custard. Combining the hot stuff into the yolks slowly will bring up the egg temp very gradually. Going in hot and heavy will likely curdle it, and you’ll end up with scrambled eggs in your ice cream. If you’re using instant chicory-coffee, you can strain it through a fine mesh straight away. If you have ground beans on board, let it sit and steep for a bit. Less for a delicate flavor, and longer for more intensity, up to 30 minutes.
Pro tip: don’t press your custard through the mesh with your spatula. As tempting as it is, you may end up pushing through some chewy egg bits or anything else that hasn’t incorporated. Gently tap the strainer side to side and let the custard seep through for the very best texture!
For our recipe, I used 1/2c of Café Du Monde’s blend. This coffee and chicory comes only in a fine grind, and some of the grinds will come through the strainer and make for a heavily flavored ice cream. I strained mine twice, and loved the results. The strong coffee kick perfectly balances the sweet beignets! I also found that it was less bitter after my ice cream had been in the freezer overnight, so give those flavors time to mingle and marry up if it’s a bit strong for you straight out of the machine. If you absolutely prefer a more mild flavor, reduce amount of coffee and/or the steep time in the custard, or consider using 2Tbsp of instant chicory-coffee instead. If you’d like to custom make your own blend, roasted and dried chicory is available in many health food stores or online.
Cover and place it in the fridge to cool, preferably overnight. (While you’re at it, make sure your ice cream maker bowl is in the deep freeze if needed!) Some say you can get by with just a few hours of chill time, others insist that the flavors are better after a long crisp night in the fridge. I haven’t noticed a great deal of difference in the flavor department, though that may depend on the flavors you’re using – but I do know this: cold bowl + cold ingredients = better ice cream. The quicker it sets into ice cream, the fewer and smaller ice crystals you’ll have, and that means better flavor and way better texture.
When you’re sufficiently chilled out, run your custard through your machine according to its specs, and toss in some chocolate in the last 1-2 minutes of churning. I used 1.5oz roughly chopped dark chocolate, the good stuff. This ice cream deserves the best, and so do you. Merci and bon appetit!