COLD COMFORT: Homemade strawberry coconut ice cream and lychee-lavender sorbet.
If you are an ice cream junkie, then this is your worst time of year. Every corner in the Old Port has an opportunity for you to get your fix, and blow your dough. But there is hope. So many top-notch frozen desserts can be made at home for much less than top dollar, with or without an ice-cream maker.
First things first: you need a good base to work from. A traditional “simple” base (one without eggs) consists of four basic ingredients: two cups of milk, one cup of cream, three-quarters of a cup of sugar, and a bit of vanilla extract. If you are looking for less fat impact, sub in a cup of nonfat yogurt for the cream. Place all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk vigorously for two minutes. Pour the mixture in the machine for 25 minutes. That’s it. All good things milky and icy come from this, or some close relative.
The most obvious non-dairy substitution is three cups of soy milk instead of the milk and cream. Or, to add back some of the butteriness lost by removing the dairy, make the recipe using one 13.5-ounce can of coconut milk, which falls slightly shy of a cup and three-quarters, then add a cup and a quarter of soy or rice milk. Both of these work extremely well, and will impress anyone, not just the lactose-intolerant, with their simplicity and deliciousness.
The top of the heap for ridiculously creamy texture and terrific flavor is avocado ice cream. In a blender, liquefy the milk mix and the insides of three ripe avocados, adding in the juice from half a lime, along with a bit of lime zest. Pour into the ice-cream maker and marvel at the fact that, on average, it takes 10 minutes less than normal ice creams to freeze, thanks to its thickness. While it’s freezing, I recommend taking bets on who among your guests will be swallowing their doubts as they help themselves to seconds.
For fresh fruit ice creams, a local strawberry variety can be made with this year’s bumper crop by blending a cup of fresh fruit with the milk mix, and straining the seeds before pouring in to the ice-cream maker.
Another winner is a Mexican coffee-style ice cream, made with the coconut mix, using brown sugar instead of white, and adding four tablespoons of espresso (or strong coffee left over from that morning's pot), a tablespoon of rum, and a generous sprinkling of cinnamon. Shave some dark chocolate over the top and it becomes even more decadent than before.
But what about sorbet? There are just as many sorbet recipes out there as there are ice cream recipes, but there seem to be fewer rules and guidelines. Some call for just juices, and some require a prepared simple syrup of equal parts sugar and water as the base. One secret ingredient of many sorbets is vodka. Two tablespoons of vodka in your sorbet keeps the ice “soft” and prevents big crystals from forming. Recently, I juiced half a watermelon, strained the pulp, and put it right in the machine. No sugar or other flavors were added, and it was delicious, light, refreshing and easy. I recommend a little trial and error using what you have around for ingredients. You’d be surprised how good that can of lychees in syrup in the back of your cupboard tastes as a sorbet.