Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ginger Plum Crumble

I've never understood "texture people." 

You know the ones. 

'Oh, I don't like tomatoes,' they say, with a wrinkle of the nose.

'Why not?' you gasp. 'Have you tried local, dry-farmed tomatoes? They taste like crack candy, so sweet and luscious. How could you not like them?' 

'Yeah...' they trail off, trying to come up with a logical response, their brains clearly addled from vitamin C deficiency. Finally they shrug, 'It's a texture thing.'
As a 'flavor person,' I have a hard time understanding how the texture of a food can cause one to dislike said food, assuming they find the flavor pleasing. But people have aversions to all kinds of comestibles for this reason: avocados, eggplant, mushrooms, sushi. I even know one fellow who refuses to touch anything creamy, eschewing even such heavenly substances as ice cream and burrata.

And yet a bite of this plum crumble threatened to turn me into a texture person, in a good way.
I've made, and eaten, many fruit crisps in my life; with a scoop of melty ice cream, they come in at the top of my personal dessert hierarchy, both to make and to eat. 

The crisp is one dessert where texture particularly counts: the fruit portion should be soft and juicy, but not soupy or overly-liquid. The crisp part should be buttery and delicate, but substantial enough to live up to its name. 
This recipe on Molly's blog from two years ago caught my eye, and despite its unconventional mixing method, I decided to make it because of its creds: Luisa gave it rave reviews, and Molly liked it so well that she put it on the menu at her hubby's restaurant. 

She describes the topping as 'cookie-like,' which I had a hard time imagining, but the description makes sense as, unlike most crisps, but like most cookies, it contains both egg and baking powder. 

It looked so simple that I decided to make it when my über-talented and angelic friend Stephen offered to come shoot me in my kitchen (photographically, that is). (This was probably the fastest recipe I've ever made for this site, as I didn't have to keep stopping to wash my hands and take pictures. Can I have a personal camera crew for my birthday, please?)
As for the unconventional mixing method: Plums are tossed with small amounts of sugar, flour, and candied ginger, then laid in a baking dish. The flour and sugar for the topping get rubbed with egg until sandy, then sprinkled over the plums. The butter is melted separately and then, get this, drizzled over the topping. It doesn't seem like it should work.
But then you pull the crisp from the oven, all bubbly and perfect-crisp-looking, and you use a spoon to crack through the topping. And you bite into the crunchiest crumble you've ever tasted. The topping is crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy where it dips down into the tender fruit, like a big ginger cookie, only rustic and pebbly. In fact, I've a mind to call this a 'plum crunch' rather than a crumble. Or maybe 'plum chrunchle.' But I'd fear my reputation. 
Plums and ginger make a stellar combination, the spice and heat of the ginger somehow heightening and softening, at the same time, the sweet tang of the plums. The flavors are all at once bright and comforting, new and familiar. The word 'zingy' leaps to mind.
I've baked this twice in the past week, not because I needed to adjust anything in the recipe, but just because I couldn't stop thinking about it and needed to have more. Also unlike most things that I bake, I didn't share it with anyone (excepting Jay), and though at first I regretted Stephen leaving before the crisp had finished its stint in the oven, I later rejoiced because it meant more crumble for me.

Also unlike most crisps, this one is just as good cold from the fridge; the ginger flavor comes forward, and the topping retains its crunch. It keeps surprisingly well for several days. I find it perfectly sweetened, and not at all inappropriate for breakfast with a big spoonful of plain yogurt.

I keep thinking of the crunchy texture of the topping, how pleasing it is to eat. 

I just pray I don't turn into a texture person for good. Because I really like tomatoes.

Plums and crumbles:
Rustic Plum and Almond Tart
Berry Crumble Pie
(Gluten-Free) Apple Crisple
Gluten-Free Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

One year ago:
Vanilla Brown Butter Peach Buckle

Ginger Plum Crumble

Adapted from Marion Burros via The Wednesday Chef and Orangette

Makes 8 servings

Because I like a high fruit-to-crisp ratio, I added more plums to the recipe, in the form of 4 elephant hearts in addition to the 12 sugar plums. The rest I made to the letter of Molly's adaptations. Molly says you can triple the recipe and bake the crumble in a 9x13" pan to feed a crowd (or maybe just yourself...) I like crisps served with something cold and creamy; plain yogurt or crème fraîche for breakfast, or sour cream, vanilla or yogurt-honey ice cream for dessert. For a gluten-free variation, use the topping from this Gluten-Free Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble.

The plum filling:
2 tablespoons lightly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons finely chopped candied ginger
1 3/4 pounds plums (12 Italian prune plums plus 4 elephant hearts), halved, pitted, elephant hearts halved again

The crunchy topping:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg, beaten well
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Position a rack in the center of your oven, and preheat the oven to 375°F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flavorings for the plums: brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, ginger, and candied ginger. Add the plums, and gently stir to coat. Arrange the plums in an ungreased, deep 9" pie plate or 10" solid tart pan.

In another medium bowl (or the same one, scraped fairly clean), combine the dry ingredients for the topping: the granulated sugar, flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Whisk to blend well. Add the egg. Using your hands, mix thoroughly, squeezing and tossing and pinching handfuls of the mixture, to produce moist little particles. Sprinkle evenly over the plums.

Use a spoon to drizzle the butter evenly all over the topping. Place the pan on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any wayward juices.

Place the crumble in the oven and bake for 35 - 45 minutes, until the top is golden-brown and the juices from the plums are bubbling. Cool slightly.

Serve the crumble warm or at room temperature, or even cold, with ice cream, crème fraîche, thick yogurt, or unsweetened whipped cream.

The crumble will keep in the fridge for a few days. Eat it cold, or re-warmed in a 300º oven before serving.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sweet Corn Grits with Berries and Honey

Berries and corn, corn and berries. That is all I want to eat right now. (And figs. And eggplant. And... Ok, basically I just want to walk around Rainbow's produce section with my mouth open, shoving everything I see into it.)

I told you about Jay's favorite breakfast, which had a nearly disastrous effect on my camera, so now I'm happy to share my own.

I once saw a recipe in a book for a sweet corn and berry coffeecake. It looked so good, with not only cornmeal in the batter, but sweet corn kernels, too. The berries tucked inside glistened like burgundy and crimson jewels, and the cake looked so moist and tender that it practically buckled beneath the weight of the abundant fruit.

I did not buy the book. That was a mistake.

Little did I know that the memory of that photograph would haunt me for the next three summers, as berries and corn paraded through the markets. The memory of the photograph would, but not, sadly, the memory of which book I saw it in.

So I did what any obsessed baker would: I googled. And though I found plenty of 'sweet corn berry coffeecakes,' none actually contained sweet corn.

A few of the recipes I found were based on one from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, one of my very favorite cookbooks, so I made it. But it wasn't as moist and tender as the one from the mystery book looked.

So I put the coffeecake from my mind, and began thinking of other ways to combine corn and berries. There was a sweet corn custard from another DM book, Local Flavors, or this sweet corn ice cream. But I wanted something more breakfast-y.

The other day at work, I watched as one of the prep cooks made tamales verdes by whizzing sweet corn kernels, water and cilantro in a blender, then stirring them into the masa harina, a finely ground meal made from corn treated with lime. I tasted the dough, which was sweet and toothsome, and then I imagined this breakfast.

I blended some corn kernels with half and half, then combined it with water and yellow grits, which I cooked on the stovetop until creamy-soft. I originally thought that maple syrup would go nicely with the new-world flavors, but when I tasted it with the grits, it gave them a harsh bitterness. Honey turned out to be a better accompaniment, bringing forth the sweetness of the corn. The heat from the grits warmed the berries - a blend of rasp, straw, black and blue that I had on hand from adventures in pie-land - and their delicate tang played off the cereal. A splash of cold cream brought it all together. My first bite practically made me swoon; it tasted like edible sunshine.

It is all I ever want to eat.

The flavors of summer, in a bowl.

Or at least, some of them.

Now off to the market to get some summer squash. And shell beans. And basil. And...

Breakfast time again:
Berry-Peach Oven Pancake
Corn and Scallion Griddle Cakes
Corn and Zucchini Crustless Skillet Quiche
Ricotta Pancakes with Summer Berries

One year ago:
Smoky Baba Ganouj

Sweet Corn Grits with Berries and Honey

Makes 3 - 4 servings

I recommend using organic yellow grits, which can be found in healthy foody stores. Blackberries are especially luscious here, but all summer berries pair well with sweet corn. Use a good honey, preferably local, raw, wildflower for the best flavor.

2 ears of sweet corn, shucked
3/4 cup half and half (or a combination of whole milk and heavy cream)
2 cups water
2/3 cup corn grits (see headnote)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey, plus more for serving
1 cup berries (see headnote)
heavy cream, half and half or whole milk, for serving

Hold an ear of corn upright in a shallow-ish, medium-sized bowl, and cut the kernals off, letting them fall into the bowl. (Try to avoid hitting the knife on the bowl, as it is bad for the knife, and jarring to your arm.) Reverse your knife, and scrape the milk from the corn cob. Repeat with the second ear of corn.

Combine the corn kernels and scrapings with the half and half in a blender, and puree until fairly smooth.

Pour the milky corn goop into a medium saucepan with the water and salt. Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, then whisk in the grits in a steady stream, stirring constantly. Bring the mixture to a low simmer, and cook, stirring continually, until the grits have thickened to your liking, and are soft and creamy to the bite, about 15 minutes.

Stir in 1 tablespoon of the honey. You can cover the pot at this point and let the grits sit until ready to eat, or serve immediately.

Spoon the grits into bowls, divide the berries among them, and top with a drizzle of honey and a splash of cream.

Extras can be kept in the fridge for up to several days, and reheat beautifully for breakfasts throughout the week.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Berry Crumble Pie, Sour Cream Ice Cream

Berry pies seem like a luxury. Berries are small. They take a LONG time to pick, should you be fortunate enough to come across an ample patch, unless you have small children to put to work. (All I have is this guy

who unfortunately [or rather, fortunately] lacks opposable thumbs.)

Sans berry patches/child labor, organic berries are expensive. So bojon gourmets often mix berries with other, bigger, cheaper fruits, such as apples, figs, peaches, and the elusive ice cream fruit.

The other day, however, I came across a sweet (literally) deal at a farmer's market. I don't often get to farmers markets. One becomes complacent when one receives a handsome boxful of produce every other week, and when one's awesome co-op carries farmers market-caliber produce, including specialties like pea shoots and squash blossoms.

But I'd heard about a fairly new market in Mission Bay, which is somewhat close to our Potrero Hill apartment, and Jay and I went to investigate. Or at least we tried. We spent a good while despondently driving around, looking for parking that was cheaper than the $20 event parking (Giants game that day), but found a spot on our way back home after having given up.

The market, being in a non-residential neighborhood with non-existent parking, contained mostly prepared foods stands. But when we were about to declare it a wash, we came upon a solitary organic stand with beautiful summer produce: pristine heads of lettuce, colorful squash, tiny beets, seascape strawberries, and dry-farmed tomatoes, which turned out the be as sweet as crack candy. (Do they make that? If they did, it would taste like those tomatoes.)

A second table was laden with pints upon pints of black and blueberries. Though this farm was not certified, I was assured that they used no pesticides on their fruit. I'm usually skeptical of this sort of thing, but I believed them because the berries looked organic, like something you might come upon on a path in the woods somewhere, and cajole/bribe/Tom Sawyer a small, pliable child into helping you pick.

So we bought ample (for bojon us) quantities of each, and, warm from the sun, the berries tasted like they were fresh off the brambles. I managed to save a few from the fate of being shoveled into my maw on the walk back to the car. Then I mixed them with the seascapes (and some raspberries from the aforementioned co-op) and baked them into this pie.

Ok, it sounds pretty cavalier, but I did my share of obsessively researching before I put it all together and into the oven. I felt as though I had only one chance to get it just right, since the farmer's market wouldn't occur for another week, and then I mightn't have found more berries/parking.

I worried about watery filling, and feared faulty crumble. But I must have done something right, because this pie turned out exactly as I had hoped: crisp crust, firm, bright-tasting filling with a bit of saucy ooze, and just the right amount of buttery streusel topping. In fact, it may be my favorite pie that I have ever made. Maybe even my favorite pie, ever.

For the crust, I used Martha's all-butter pate brisee, but fraisaged and with a bit of whole spelt flour. For the filling I followed Cooks' advice and used tapioca flour as a thickener, and lemon zest and juice and sugar for flavorings, to make the berries pop. For the crumble, well, I pretty much made it up.

I couldn't wait long enough to make, chill, spin and cure a french-style ice cream, so, inspired by Alice Medrich's recipe in Pure Dessert, I stirred together some sour cream, sugar, half and half and a splash of vanilla, and churned up a batch of sour cream ice cream. The clean tang of the ice cream complimented the warm pie, and the texture stayed creamy and pliant for a quite a while after being frozen.

I can't wait to make this pie again. So if you have any small children/berry patches, give me a call.

On second thought, maybe I'll try my luck at the farmer's market...

Berry patch:
Huckleberry Fig Crumble Tart
Berry Peach Oven Pancake
Huckleberry Chèvre Cheesecake Squares

One year ago:
Hibiscus Tequila Spritzers

Berry Crumble Pie

Makes one 9" pie, about 10 servings

To save a bit of time, measure out the ingredients for both the crust and the crumble at the same time - most of the ingredients are the same (just keep track of which bowl is which). Blueberries and blackberries (and their relatives) hold their shapes well when baked; straws and raspberries break down more, and may make for a watery pie if used exclusively. I used approximately the following: 2 cups blueberries, 1 1/2 cups blackberries, 1 1/2 cups strawberries, 1 cup raspberries. Huckleberries would make an excellent addition, too, as would boysens and ollalies.

If you can't find tapioca flour, you can whiz instant tapioca in a clean coffee grinder for about a minute until floury in texture, or use potato starch instead. Flour and cornstarch aren't ideal (says Cook's) but you can try them in a pinch.

All-butter crust:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole spelt (or whole wheat pastry) flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (8 tablespoons/1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, in 1/2" dice
about 4 tablespoons ice water

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole spelt (or whole wheat pastry) flour
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 ounces (3/4 stick/6 tablespoons) cold, unsalted butter, in 1/4" dice

6 cups of berries (see headnote)
zest and juice of 1 lemon
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons tapioca flour
big pinch of salt

To serve:
Sour Cream Ice Cream (recipe below)

Make the pie dough:
In a large bowl, stir together the flours, sugar and salt. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour, and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles sand with some pea-sized butter chunks. Drizzle the ice water over, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with a rubber spatula, until the dough will hold together when you give it a squeeze. Dump the dough out onto a counter, divide it roughly into 6 portions, and fraisage by dragging a portion of dough across the counter using the heel of your hand. Scrape up the dough, gently press it into a ball and flatten into a disc. Slip it into a plastic bag, and chill for at least an hour or up to 2 days.

Remove the dough from the fridge, unwrap, and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll out the dough into a 12" circle, dusting the dough lightly with flour as needed, rotating and flipping it to prevent it from sticking. Ease the dough into a 9" pie plate, fit it into the corners, and trim it to a 1" overhang. Fold the overhang under, and flute the crust by pressing it between the thumb of one hand and the index finger and thumb of the other hand.

Chill the crust for 20 minutes, then freeze it for 20 minutes.

Position a rack in the bottom of the oven and preheat to 400º.

Place the frozen crust on a rimmed baking sheet. Line it with a piece of parchment paper, and top with pie weights, dry beans, or clean pennies. (I keep my weights in a cheesecloth bag for easy handling.)

Bake the crust for 20 minutes, then remove the weights and parchment and bake until the bottom is dry, 10 minutes more. Let cool slightly.

While the pie dough is chilling, make the crumble:
In a medium bowl, combine the flours, sugars and salt. Add the butter and rub with your fingertips until the mixture resembles damp, clumpy sand. Chill while you roll out and bake the crust.

Make the filling, and assemble and bake the pie:
Reduce the oven temperature to 375º.

In a large bowl, combine the berries, lemon juice and zest. Whisk together the sugar, tapioca flour and salt in a small bowl, then sprinkle over the berries, and fold everything gently to combine. Dump the berries and their juices into the par-baked pie crust. Remove the crumble from the fridge, and sprinkle it evenly over the top; the fruit and crumble will mound slightly in the center.

Bake the pie (on the rimmed baking sheet for sure - it will ooze a lot of juice) for about 1 hour, until the crumble and crust are golden, and the fruit is bubbling thickly.

Cool the pie completely, ideally 2 - 4 hours, to set the filling. (I know, it may be best to leave the house for that time.) For the cleanest slices, chill the pie, cut and plate the slices, then let the slices come up to room temperature before eating, about 30 minutes. Serve with sour cream ice cream, below.

The pie is best the day it is made, when crust and crumble are crisp, but it will keep in the fridge for up to several days.

Sour Cream Ice Cream

Inspired by Pure Dessert

Makes about 1 pint

1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup half and half
splash vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sour cream and sugar to combine. Whisk in the half and half and vanilla extract, stirring to dissolve the sugar. (Chill for an hour or two if you have the time; the mixture will solidify a bit.) Process in an ice cream maker. The ice cream is firm enough to scoop when freshly churned, or can be cured in the freezer for several hours, and up to a month (though it is smoothest the first couple days after being churned).

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Corn and Scallion Griddle Cakes

I dropped my camera in breakfast.

It was messy.

The viewfinder and backside were covered in sour cream and salsa.

Jay swooped down like a super hero, grabbed the camera, and shoved it under the faucet, rinsing off the sauces.

It's his.

'Is it water-resistant?' I asked, feeling ridiculous.


The camera spent the following 2 days, opened up, basking in the sun. When the sun wasn't out (which was most of the time), it sat atop the stove.

The camera is not an SLR. It does not adjust the whites. Often, it makes my cookies look blue. It sometimes likes to focus on the rim of a cup or bowl, rather than the inner contents. The miniscule viewfinder poses challenges. It is 8 years old: by most standards, obsolete.

But during those two days, there was no camera I would have preferred.

'On a positive note,' Jay said, as I stared glumly at camera parts, 'that was the best breakfast I've eaten all year.'

This was high praise, as we have enjoyed meals at the revered Plow, as well as several stunners at home. But the odds were stacked in my favor. The cakes brimmed with fresh sweet corn, sauteed scallions, aged cheddar and crumbled goat cheese. We topped them with avocado-tomatillo salsa and other yummy things. They were satisfying without feeling heavy.

Feel free to double the recipe.

But I'd recommend leaving your camera out of it.

Sweet Corn and Roasted Poblano Chowder
Summer Vegetable Enchiladas
Summer Vegetable Skillet Quiche

One year ago:
(Gluten-Free) Coconut-Rum Congo Bars

Corn and Scallion Griddle Cakes

Adapted from Everyday Greens

Serves 2

Other cheeses could stand in for the chèvre and cheddar; queso fresco and jack, or smoked gouda, for instance. The herb component could similarly go in any direction, such as basil, chives, or parsley. Or perhaps a sweet version with ricotta, no herbs or scallions, and topped with berries or sauteed plums, crème fraîche and honey, would be nice. Feel free to double the recipe to feed a crowd, or hoard extras. 

1/2 tablespoon olive oil
3 scallions, white and green parts separated, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups of fresh corn kernels (from about 1 1/2 large ears of corn)
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 large egg, separated
1/4 cup half and half (or whole milk)
2 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)
2 ounces grated sharp cheddar (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
vegetable oil for cooking the cakes (such as sunflower oil)

For serving:
avocado-tomatillo salsa
a handful of cherry tomatoes, quartered
sour cream
slivered scallions

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the white scallion parts and the corn, and saute for a few minutes until tender. Let cool slightly.

In a large bowl, combine the sauteed scallion and corn with the green scallion, cilantro, egg yolk, half and half, cheeses, flour, baking powder and salt.

Place the egg white in a medium bowl with a pinch of salt and whip until firm peaks form. Gently fold the whipped whites into the batter.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and coat with a film of vegetable oil. Drop 1/4 cup portions of batter into the pan, and cook until browned on the bottom, 2-3 minutes. Flip and cook on the second side, 2-3 minutes longer.

Serve the pancakes with salsa, tomatoes, sour cream and scallions.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Lemon Verbena and Red Berry Shakes

Some people dream of tropical vacations on sunny beaches, but not me. I dream about the Loire Valley.

The closest to paradise that I have ever experienced (aside from Boundary Bay Brewery in Bellingham, Washington) was a B and B that my dad took me to many years ago. A British husband and French wife  ran the establishment, a converted mill with only four or five quaint rooms. Their backyard consisted of a stream, complete with the original watermill, which burbled into a small lake. Every evening, the 8 or 10 guests would gather by the lake with our aperitifs of choice. I was nineteen at the time, and thrilled to be included in this ritual. Martini blanche in hand, I daydreamed I could spend the rest of my life drinking white vermouth and schmoozing by the lake.

Until dinner time, that is. Then I was eager to head to the long, outdoor table set among the flowers.

The wife, with the help of one assistant, cooked breakfast and dinner each day. Breakfast consisted of fresh scones and baguettes with a trio of homemade jams, fresh fruit, and steamy mugs of cafe au lait.

Dinners were three or four courses of bliss, and there is one that I remember with particular vividness. It began with a salad - garden lettuces, simply dressed, roasted cherry tomatoes, their sweetness concentrated into tiny bursts of juice, and small bocconcini of mozzarella. For the entree: delicate lamb chops, grilled to perfection. But dessert was the coup de grace.

Three small scoops of ice cream nestled tiny, just-picked strawberries in a shallow bowl. But the ice cream wasn't just any ice cream: it was lemon verbena ice cream. It was perfectly smooth, dense and rich, perfumed with herbaceous lemony essence, the richness offset by the berries, still warm from the sun. I had never tasted lemon verbena before, and it started an obsession.

The husband showed me their giant lemon verbena shrub, the size of a five-foot-tall tree, which grew along the fence. He instructed me to rub a leaf. I did so, and it released the most tantalizing aroma.

I didn't experience lemon verbena again until several years ago, when I was ecstatic to find a plant at Rainbow. I put it on our two square feet of fire escape and watered it dutifully. It stood about 8 inches high, with tiny leaves, and I imagined it growing big and strong some day, like the person-sized tree in the Loire Valley, forever perfuming ice creams. I imagined all the treats I would make from its fragrant leaves: lemon verbena liqueur, panna cottas, pound cakes, sorbets, butter cookies, fools, trifles, jams, cockails, lemonade, sodas...

But, despite my best efforts, my 'tree' remained miniscule. It half-heartedly sprouted a few new leaves in the 6 months that I coddled it, but that was it.

In the winter, the leaves dropped off, and all that remained was a barren twig sticking up from the dirt. Somebody may or may not have thought it was dead and threw it away. My verbena dreams never came to fruition. (Leaf-ition?)

But now the lovely folks at Eatwell Farm are making my dreams come true. Every summer, they send us a few large bunches of the awesome herb. Some of it gets hung upside-down to dry, to provide us with tisane for the remainder of the year.

And some of it gets turned into ice cream.

After a few trials throughout the years, I've found that the delicate flavor of lemon verbena doesn't like to be heated much. Jerry Traunfeld gives a recipe in The Herbfarm Cookbook for an uncooked ice cream made by grinding the leaves with sugar and mixing it with cream and crème fraîche. This is delicious, but not quite the rich, smooth, french-style ice cream I recall from the Loire. So I steep the verbena in warm cream, then make a custard with half and half, sugar and egg yolks, and combine the two. The flavor is bright and herbaceous, like the ice cream of my memory.

When I blended some of the ice cream with fresh raspberries and strawberries the other day, I experienced paradise in a cup. I could drink this for every meal of the day and be perfectly happy.

If you see lemon verbena for sale at a farmer's market, snap it up; it dries beautifully if you can't get to it right away.

But if you can get to it right away, make a batch of ice cream, get some berries, and make yourself the most beguiling shake around for a cool-down during the remaining days of summer. (As I write, in fuzzy slippers, a sweater and scarf, it is a foggy 58º outside.)

And if you have a bit of outdoor space, plant some lemon verbena. Then give me a call in 10 years and I'll come make you ice cream. And a martini blanche, too.

Herbal Helpers:
Lemon Mascarpone Tart
Lemon Balm Ice Cream
Chocolate Mint Chip Ice Cream

One Year Ago:
Fig and Ginger Scones

Lemon Verbena Ice Cream

Makes about 1 quart

I love this ice cream blended into berry shakes, below, but it could also accompany roasted peaches or apricots. If you have extra lemon verbena, hang it upside-down to dry in a cool, dark place, then store in a jar and use it to make tisane.

If you prefer, you can make this ice cream with 1 cup of whole milk and 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream. Save the egg whites for making brown-butter financier cakes; they will keep in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for several months. For more information on making ice cream, see my post on Dreamy Vanilla Ice Cream.

2/3 cup lightly packed fresh lemon verbena leaves
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups half and half
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
pinch salt

In a small saucepan, heat the cream, swirling occasionally, until small bubbles appear around the sides of the pan. Remove from the heat, add the lemon verbena leaves and submerge them under the cream. Cover and steep for 20 minutes. Strain the cream through a fine-mesh sieve and into a quart-sized mason jar or other heat-proof container. Cover and set aside with the sieve handy.

Heat the half and half in a medium saucepan, swirling occasionally, until small bubbles appear around the sides of the pan. If you have an instant-read thermometer, have it handy.

Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl set on a damp towel to stabilize it. Add the sugar and salt, whisking to combine. Whisking constantly with one hand, pour the hot half and half very slowly into the yolks. (This is called tempering, and prevents the yolks from scrambling.) Pour the mixture back into the pot and set over a medium-low flame. Cook, stirring constantly with a heat-proof rubber spatula, scraping the sides and bottom of the pot, until the custard just begins to 'stick' (or form a thickened film) on the bottom of the pot (you may have to tilt the pan to see it), or registers 170º on an instant-read thermometer, about 5 minutes.

Immediately pour the custard through the strainer and into the container of infused cream, stir to combine, and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

Place the ice cream base in the freezer for 30 minutes to get it really cold, stirring it once or twice, then process in an ice cream maker. Scrape into a storage container, cover and 'cure' in the freezer for at least 2 hours for a firmer consistency.

Homemade ice cream is best eaten within the first few days of being made, but will keep for a month or two in the freezer.

Lemon Verbena Berry Shakes

Makes 2 dainty shakes

1 cup lemon verbena ice cream
1/2 cup each raspberries and strawberries
1/4 cup half and half

Blend all until smooth. Top with an extra berry or two. Drink right away.