It's been a year since I last described a cooking experiment!
I decided to deconstruct vanilla ice cream. Ice cream is basically cream, sugar and flavoring (plus eggs, if making French-style rather than Philadelphia). The cold temperature requires high concentrations of flavoring, compared to room-temperature desserts and vanilla is both expensive and hard to work with, which is why everyone uses extract or artificial vanillin. I had an idea on how to make a frozen dessert in a new way. I'm not giving all the specifics - wouldn't want anyone stealing my recipe.
Vanilla beans have hundreds of flavoring components, the most important being vanillin and bourbonal, neither of which is water-soluble, which is why they get extracted with alcohol. The beans themselves are very hard when dried andthe cell walls are tough enough that extraction takes a long time. One way to break the cell walls is by repeated freezing and thawing; unfortunately, alcohol freezes only at extremely low temperatures. Vanillin is soluble in oils and fats, however, and saturated fats solidify at refrigerator temperatures or higher. Heavy whipping cream is 50% fat by volume, so it makes a very good solvent, as well as being a component of ice cream. So, one covers the vanilla bean with cream, freezes it, thaws it, decants the cream and repeats at least twice. The cream is pooled and later whipped until firm.
There are additional flavors which are soluble only in hot water, which is used in the next step. The vanilla bean is added to water, granulated sugar and corn syrup, heated to 238 degrees (soft ball stage) and rapidly cooled to make fondant - for the uninitiated, fondant is what makes the centers of cream-filled bon bons. After cooling, the bean is removed and crushed with a mortar and pestle in the presence of a small amount of alcohol to remove the last flavors (80 proof grain alcohol can be found among vodkas in liquor stores).
After aging, the fondant is warmed slightly so it can be molded into small cups. The cups are then filed level with the whipped cream and a few drops of alcohol extract. Two cups are pressed together to form a ball and the seam is wiped away by finger or warmed spatula. The balls are then frozen until ready to serve.
Upon eating, one first encounters a sweet but firm shell. Then one discovers the soft cream interior. The flavors blend in one's mouth and the vanilla flavor is both intense and complex.
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