Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I do remember

When I was studying abroad in Paris, the French couple I was staying with went away to their 'country house' nearly every weekend. This meant I was on my own from Friday afternoon onwards, till they returned home Sunday evening. Admittedly, I had mixed feelings about this routine - on the one hand, I rather liked having the apartment to myself, free to come and go and as I please, and eat what I wanted. On the other hand, I sort of wished they would hang out with me more. It was a little lonely. So I was pretty excited when they somehow decided one day I would go with them one of those weekends. I couldn't wait to see why they were so eager to leave Paris on such a regular basis. 

When we arrived at the house (near the town of Sens, if I remember correctly), I saw the appeal. It was a charming old house with tile and wood flooring, spacious and inviting, if a bit on the cold side. Madame set to work right away making a Nicoise-esque green salad, and it truly one of the best meals she ever made for me. Maybe it was because she was more relaxed there than she ever was in Paris, but everything she made a that country house tasted so much better. 

What I remember most about the food we had there was a lunch we had on Sunday at one of their friend's houses, just before heading back to Paris. It was another beautiful house just outside the village, with great big windows and a garden in front where we later had tea. The best part of it was they were so nice, this couple, with their adorable children. And so relaxed. I wasn't used to it, having been living with Madame and Monsieur. I wanted them to be my French family, though I felt guilty for thinking that.

It was a gorgeous Fall day, crisp and bright, and I was very hungry. I don't recall exactly what we ate (chicken, perhaps? - it was perfect, whatever it was), but I do remember that we had fresh walnut ice cream for dessert, with walnuts I helped shell myself. I remember being at their round wooden kitchen table cracking open the shells and digging out the precious nut meats, with the kids and some of the other adults helping too. They were local nuts for sure, and they were so fresh that some of them were still a little green. When we were done they folded them into a vanilla-y base, and voila. It was simple, but incredibly delicious. And very autumnal.

Ever since I started making ice cream at home, I've been fantasizing about that walnut ice cream. So when I saw I recipe maple walnut ice cream with wet walnuts in my copy of The Perfect Scoop, I knew I had to try it. Sure, it was a bit fancier than the one I had in France, but it sounded irresistable. The walnut is one of my all-time favorite nuts, and I go weak in the knees with the mere mention of maple syrup, so the two of them together pretty much sealed the deal. Furthermore, my mom had recently come home with a paper sack of in-the-shell walnuts from our local health food store.

Not long after the bag was set on the counter, I got out our nutcracker out and set to work. I have gotten used the process now, of separating the eggs and whisking in the warm milk. It came together in an hour or so, after which I put the bowl of the maple mixture into the refrigerator overnight. The next day, I churned the mixture till it was like very soft-soft serve. My mom, also a maple and walnut fanatic, fell in love with this ice cream, as did I. The 'grade B' syrup adds a complexity to the custard base that is really special, and the nuts studded throughout are an added bonus. We were licking the dasher fiendishly after I made this -- it is truly addictive. It is the color of pale gold, and to me it is just as precious. It's soft like the one I had in France, and melts quickly. Anyhow, it's a real treat at the end of a sunny day, a scoop (or two) in a small bowl. I think my dad would have liked this ice cream with pecans, as he loved pecan pie. I also imagine it would be even better some shortbread squares alongside, but really, it's just fine on its own, in its original form.


Maple Walnut Ice Cream
Adapted from David Lebovitz



Makes about 1 quart

- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 5 large egg yolks
- 3/4 cup dark amber (grade B) maple syrup
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Wet Walnuts (recipe follows)

Warm the milk and sugar in a medium saucepan (do not boil). Pour the cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top.
In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir into the cream to cool. Add the maple syrup, salt, vanilla, and stir until cool over an ice bath.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. During the last few minutes of churning, add the wet walnuts.


Wet Walnuts

- 1/2 cup dark amber maple syrup
- 1 1/2 cups walnuts, toasted and very coarsely chopped
- Big pinch of salt

Heat the maple syrup in a small skillet or saucepan until it just begins to come to a full boil. Stir in the walnuts, then cook until the liquid comes to a full boil once again. Stir the nuts for 10 seconds, then remove them from the heat and let cool completely. The nuts will still be wet and sticky when cooled.

If needed, chop the wet walnuts coarsely before adding them to ice cream.