Monday, May 17, 2010

Almost Burnt Sugar Ice Cream

I've been holding out. I made this ice cream over a week ago. I also haven't posted in over a week. That is because I haven't been home to eat. I have been at various graduation parties or at work. Now, at 2 in the morning, I can't sleep so I'm eating the ice cream straight from the container. Cause dairy totally makes you sleepy... yeah that's why I'm eating it.

Anyways, the following is (for me at least) a super sentimental (it's the right time of the year) and rather long post that you may feel free to skip as it doesn't really talk about food. Food description starts in the 2nd to last paragraph. Also? There *should* be pictures by 12 hours from now.

My Aunt Fran was one of the most amazing people I have ever met. She was caring, dedicated, hard working, and extremely loving. At 20, she married her high school sweet heart, much to her parent's chagrin. They were convinced it couldn't last because they were too you. My grandparents were wrong though, because my aunt and uncle were married for 30 years.

As Director of Athletics at a local community college, she single-handedly revitalized their athletics program. Her standard uniform anywhere was: shorts, polo shirt, hair in a ponytail, and a visor. Convenient if she wanted to hit a bucket of balls after work.

When I decided I wanted to play volleyball in 5th grade, she stopped by my house after work to make sure I had the correct form. She would know since she had both played and coached at the collegiate level. She was also the person I called when I needed help again in 8th grade, and in 10th grade when I switched to water polo.

Despite her athletic exterior, for holidays and gatherings, she was Martha Stewart. Perfectly set tables and flower arrangements were signatures of her parties. So was chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate. There were bowls of M&M's scattered throughout the house, and her fudge was ledgen-wait for it-dary.

I would like to think that there is a lot of aunt Fran in me. My love of sports, chocolate, and oddly enough my handwriting are reminiscent of her. (My mom used to order strawberry ice cream instead of chocolate at Baskin Robins. Sacrilege. Everyone knows you order the Peanut Butter and Chocolate).

My freshmen year of high school she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After having several surgeries, and extensive chemo and radiation, doctors thought they had caught it all. Even when she was too sick to work, she did. The next year, when she probably would have been more comfortable sitting at home, she came and sat on cold metal bleachers to watch me play in my first water polo tournament.

My junior year of high school, the cancer came back. This time in her liver and spine. It was inoperable and it was only a matter of time and comfort. Within 2 months, it was apparent that the time was coming. I visited her almost everyday for the last two weeks. When she wasn't eating, I would bake chocolate cookies, hoping that the smell would make her happy. On one of her last trips downstairs, she saw me thumbing through a cookbook her best friend had given her. The book was an autographed copy of Pure Chocolate by Fran Bigelow. It had never been used, and she gave it to me. It is the second most important cookbook I own, the first being a copy of The Joy of Cooking that she inscribed and gave to me for Christmas.

Since she passed away in 2005, I have never had an problem using the Joy of Cooking, but Pure Chocolate remained uncooked from. What if the recipes don't work? What if it's too hard? It sat on my shelf. Flipping through it one day, I noticed a completely chocolate free recipe. It wasn't the recipe my aunt would have chosen, but it made it easier for me to test the waters (so to speak).

I really liked this ice cream. I did have a slight issue with the directions, but it was minor. The recipe results in a thick, creamy ice cream that is not the saccharine sweet of most caramel ice creams. There is bitterness and depth. A sprinkle of sea salt over the top of a scoop really make the flavors sing.

 (Dots on the right are the correct color, dots on the left are too light)

I can't wait to make more recipes from the book, and while I may never eat fudge again, her legacy lives on, and I am so very proud to be a small part of it.

Almost Burnt Sugar Ice Cream
From Pure Chocolate by Fran Bigelow

1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
2 cups (1 pint) whole milk
2 cups (1 pint) heavy cream
1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar
8 large egg yolks

In a heavy sauce pan, combine the first 3 ingredients. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until it comes to a simmer. Remove the vanilla beans. Discard (or do what I did and make vanilla sugar). Reduce heat to low.

Place sugar in a small pan (light colored if you have it). Turn heat to medium, and do not stir. Wait until the sugar on the sides and bottom begins to melt. Once you can see melted sugar, very gently begin to stir. (If the sugar clumps, lower heat and do not stir. It will melt again. I promise.) Now here is where it gets a little challenging. You are playing chicken with the sugar. The closer it gets to burning the more flavor it has, but if it burns, you have to start over. Having a white plate nearby to do test drops on makes it easier to judge, especially if you are using a dark bottomed pan. You're sugar will smoke. You want it too. You also want it to be the color of a dark penny which requires a lot of smoke. See David for a more comprehensive tutorial.

Slowly pour the caramel into the cream mixture, stirring until completely smooth. Remove from heat.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Slowly pour in 1 1/2 cups of the cream mixture, stirring constantly. Pour egg mix back into the cream mixture.

Return the cream to medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken and coat the back of the spoon. Remove from heat and run through a sieve into a bowl. (Nothing worse than scrambled eggs in your ice cream).

Cover the custard with plastic wrap touching the top so it doesn't get that gross skin, and chill for 8 hours, or over night. Freeze in an ice cream maker according the the manufacturer's directions.

On a completely irrelevent note, I'm still an Amazon Affiliate. I have no idea if I'm supposed to tell you that, but I don't want to get in trouble for not mentioning it. 


  1. Very poignant. You made me cry.

  2. Sorry Mom. I guess I should have given you a better warning.

  3. Dear Deanna, thank you for sharing this beautiful story. I'm all teary and I didn't even know her, but she sounds lovely and inspiring. So glad you were brave enough to try a new recipe. It sounds lovely - especially with the salt. :-) Have a beautiful day - and I'm so glad you're back. :-)

  4. Deanna, this was a beautiful post. Absolutely touching and it is clear that she meant a lot to you :)

  5. This was a fantastic story; I loved the bit about you baking cookies for her just so she could smell them. This ice cream sounds delicious as well; if only I had an ice cream maker!

  6. I love your story... who cares about food photos when you paint such a strong picture of your aunt... I can almost see her.

  7. thanks for sharing such a wonderful story about you Aunt...I'm sure she would have loved your ice cream