Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Figs and Cream

B and I were introduced by our friends other B and J, while J and I were in medical school at Stanford and the Bs were working in San Diego. It's sort of a complicated story (made even more complicated by all the initials I'm using, for which I apologize). Our introduction involves the Fourth of July, fireworks, my parents' back patio, two dogs, a long bike ride, bad directions, apricot pie, and figs.

Here's the connect-the-dots version. Other B and J wanted to set the two of us up. J and I flew down to San Diego for the Fourth of July weekend, and had dinner at my parents' house. We ate al fresco on the back patio, and had an extravagant dinner involving, among countless earthly delights, figs baked with gorgonzola. Then we went to the local fireworks, where my B was supposed to meet us. Due to a longer-than-expected bike ride (he was training for an Ironman), my B missed the fireworks, so we all rendezvoused back at my parents' house for dessert (apricot pie). B almost didn't make it because I gave him the worst directions of all time, but he showed up and was almost bowled over by the two dogs and six people he hadn't ever met who all greeted him excitedly at the front door. I learned later that B didn't even like dessert very much (dessert in general, that is; the apricot pie was delicious). He was a good sport about it all, which is of course why he is now sitting on the couch next to me as I write this.

Obviously, J remembers the fateful meeting that she played a large part in coordinating, but perhaps the part she remembers most clearly involves the figs we ate with dinner. She didn't dwell on the love-at-first-sight part in her toast at our rehearsal dinner; no, she instead rhapsodized about the figs, which were a revelation that she still talks about.

Recently, J asked me how to cook with figs, which are in the midst of their brief but memorable fall season right now. As she asked me, I realized that at home I only eat figs prepared one way, and it's not a way that really even counts as cooking. I eat them sliced, sprinkled with a small amount of sugar, and doused with cream. It's a perfect (and perfectly simple) dessert.

Don't get me wrong; I've tried other fig-based recipes in the past. I made a fig-and-frangipane tart once that was delicious. The figs with blue cheese on the Fourth of July were, as you've been told, memorable. SS served beautiful figs with proscuitto on thick slices of Italian country bread at a party last month. I think it's telling, however, that the one time we got figs in our CSA box this summer, we ate them sliced with cream.

It's a short step (in my ice cream-centric imagination, at least) from figs and cream to frozen figs and cream. That's right: fig ice cream!

I've made this ice cream twice, and it's everything I hoped it would be. Seasonal, fresh, and ever-so-figgy. I would buy two pints of figs when you want to make the ice cream, so that you can have extra to slice on top for serving. I love David Lebovitz's description of allowing the cooked figs to become "jammy," but I've modified his recipe significantly to incorporate a traditional ice cream custard. I think a custard adds depth and richness to an ice cream, and works particularly well with the figs.

When my parents were visiting recently, my dad had fig ice cream for dessert three nights in a row. (Part of this may have been related to the ice cream moratorium my mom has instituted at home as part of a diet.) J hasn't tasted this ice cream yet, though I'm sure she'll be clamoring for it once she and other B move back to the Bay Area next year.

And my B? Let's just say that I've worked my dessert magic on him over the years. He's not a complete dessert convert, but he does love ice cream. And figs. And therefore this ice cream. Enjoy!

Figs and Cream Ice Cream
Adapted from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop

Time: 15 minutes active, 4 hours total
Makes approximately 1 quart

20 small figs, approximately 1 pint
1/4 c. water
3/4 c. sugar, divided
zest of one lemon
1 1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. milk
1/2 t. salt
4 large egg yolks

First, prepare figs. Cut off stem ends, and then cut each fig into four pieces. Place fig pieces and water in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, lower the heat, and simmer for ten minutes, until figs are very soft. Uncover, add 1/4 cup of sugar and lemon zest (you can zest directly into the saucepan, and cook for another ten minutes or so, until jammy. Allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Then puree fig mixture in blender.

Meanwhile, add the cream, milk, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup of sugar to another medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and turn off heat once mixture has boiled and cream is scalded. Whisk cream mixture into egg yolks in a medium-sized bowl. Add cream and yolk mixture back to saucepan, and bring to 170 to 175 degrees on a candy thermometer, stirring constantly. Mix cooled fig mixture into yolk mixture.

Chill ice cream custard for at least 1 hour in refrigerator. Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Place ice cream in freezer to harden for at least 2 hours before serving, preferably overnight.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Blackberries are a fruit I enjoy. But sun-warmed blackberries, picked by the roadside in Sonoma County on a day with blue sky and a few picturesque clouds? Wow. Those blackberries are indescribably delicious.

B and I have been on a couple of blackberry-picking expeditions recently, with excellent results. Over Labor Day weekend, we took my visiting parents to our favorite stretch on the Bohemian Highway near Freestone because we figured eight hands would be better than four. Here's my mom, nearly lost in the thicket of blackberries, picking to her heart's content.

(We also stopped at a fantastic bakery in Freestone that A introduced us to. Get the cheesy, sourdough, hearty fougasse bread. It's a wonderful treat, especially when fresh and warm out of the oven, before or after a bike ride on the rolling hills in this area—though truthfully, some of the hills are more like steep mountains. B can handle them much better than I can.)

The ripe, uber-black blackberries were easy to come by. Here's just one of many sprays of berries.

When we saw a similar, heavily-laden branch last year when we were cycling with A&K, K picked off one of the "raspberries" and was shocked at how tart it tasted.

It turns out that eight hands are better than four, and we ended up with a ton of blackberries. The first order of business when we got home in the evening was making jam. My mom and I went a little nuts with the home-preserving business while she was visiting; we made pickles, nectarine preserves, applesauce, and three kinds of blackberry-based jam (straight-up, fig-blackberry, and blackberry-fig). When we were making jam, the house smelled fruity and jammy and inviting, but I would advise care in the timing of the pickle-making process: even with the windows open, it smelled potently of vinegar in here for at least a day and a half following the completion of canning.

But the jam! The glorious blackberry jam! The jam was the reason that we (really, I) dragged my parents up to Freestone and put them to work picking. Without getting too poetic, it tastes like summer. A stolen spoonful is delicious, but what it works best with is scones.

Especially scones like these that have a hint of orange zest spicing up each bite, scones that beg to be served with a tangy concoction of cream cheese and sour cream and then topped with a generous helping of blackberry jam. This dairy concoction which ties together the scone and the jam, in the original recipe from Sunset magazine in the 70s, is called "fake Devonshire cream." Even though I lived in England for a year after college, eating more than my fair share of scones including some in Devonshire itself, I'm not sure what Devonshire cream is supposed to taste like. Perhaps they mean the ubiquitous-in-Devonshire clotted cream? If that's the case, the fake cream is not at all like clotted cream, which is much more similar to butter. Regardless, both go beautifully with scones. The difference is that you can make the fake variety in seconds—but good luck finding clotted cream on this side of the pond!

The scones are perfect for breakfast, but B and I also ate a lot of them as afternoon snacks. (Apparently, I really like afternoon snacks.) The jam would be lovely in these cookies, or on toast, or in a PB&J. Enjoy the jam or the scones or both!

Scones with Devonshire Cream
Adapted from Sunset, June 1975

Makes: 12 scones
Time: 10 minutes active, 25 minutes total

For the scones:
2 c. flour
1 T. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
2 T. sugar
zest of one orange
1/4 c. (half-stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-in pieces
1 slightly beaten egg
2/3 c. buttermilk

For Devon cream:
6 oz. light cream cheese
6 T. sour cream
2 t. sugar

First, make the scones. Preheat oven to 400. Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and zest. Cut butter into flour mixture, until mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in egg and buttermilk and mix quickly. Turn mixture onto lightly-floured board. Split into two parts, and pat each into a round about six inches in diameter. Cut each round into six wedges. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned.

While the scones are baking, mix together the cream cheese, sour cream, and sugar. Serve the scones warm with Devon cream and jam.

Blackberry Jam
From the Sure-Jell pectin box

Time: 30 minutes active and total
Makes: 9 cups

4 pints blackberries, rinsed
1 box pectin
1 t. butter (optional)
7 cups sugar

Crush the berries with a potato masher. Place berries and pectin in a large (6 or 8 quart) heavy pot on the stove and bring to a boil. Add butter to reduce foaming, if using. When mixture is at a full rolling boil, add sugar. Return to a full rolling boil, and boil for another minute. Ladle hot mixture into prepared jars. Process for 10 minutes.