Matt Errico and Gabrielle Carbone are wild about American ingredients. At their shop The Bent Spoon in Princeton, New Jersey , the couple produce "artisan ice cream"-organic cream and farm-fresh eggs churned with fruit plucked from local trees, vegetables and herbs gathered from farmers' markets, and other carefully sourced products. Daily changing flavors such as locally grown strawberry, peppermint with handmade candy canes, and Muscovado brown sugar and clove have attracted a loyal following of townies, professors, and students, who stop in to discuss ingredients and methods over the latest offerings.
"It's nice to connect with people about what they're eating and have them know where it came from," says Carbone, who studied as a pastry chef at the French Culinary Institute in New York . The two use an Italian freezer and gelato case, but when it comes to ingredients, they rival the Boss for Jersey pride.
Take, for example, a "secret garden" that they recently discovered, tucked away behind a local diner-turned-makeup store. "At least 50 years ago, someone pretty special-we cannot for the life of us figure out who-planted a pear tree and a Concord grape vine," says Carbone. "Every year, the fruit would go to waste, rotting on the vine, until this year, when the owner of the store called us to see if we wanted it." They did, of course, turning it into a silky Concord grape ice cream and a delicate pear sorbet.
An independent shop that uses the best American ingredients seemed like a perfect match for Independence Day, so we asked Carbone to come up with recipes for a Fourth of July celebration. She created a fresh, summery red, white, and blue cake featuring strawberry sorbet, lemon ice cream, and blueberry sorbet. She also shared her secrets for sourcing top-quality ingredients and producing smooth, velvety frozen treats.
Make Friends with a Farmer
For the best results, Carbone prefers organic products-"Strawberries are like little pesticide sponges," she declares-and recommends seeking out ingredients from farmers' markets, natural food stores or co-ops, and local orchards and dairies. This is especially important in simple recipes such as these, where ripe fruit and rich, fresh cream are the stars. "It's all about the flavor," she says, explaining that many supermarket foods lose their just-picked taste and texture in their long journey from the farm. She adds, "Knowing where your food comes from and what's in it is such an important connection, one that I think many people are missing today."
Know Your Berries
Look for berries that are brightly colored-the darkest ones are the ripest-and have a perfumed, fruity aroma. They should be somewhat firm, without brown, mushy spots. "If you can get your hands on a wild berry, do so," says Carbone. "There is such a difference in flavor."
Handle the berries very gently and try to use them within hours of picking or buying. Wash them gently under cool, running water and gently pat dry or air-dry on a cooling rack. Store extras in the refrigerator.
If you're making sorbets out of season, there's good news: Carbone says that frozen organic berries work well in these recipes. They'll have a mushy texture, but since everything will be blended, it won't be noticeable-flavor is the most important thing here. Carbone is a fan of several store-bought brands, especially Cascadian Farm. Or you can buy berries in season and freeze them for use later. Be sure they are clean, dry, and hulled, place them in zippered freezer bags, and freeze immediately after buying.
Enrich the Experience
Though not all ice creams are made with eggs in addition to the milk, Carbone prefers to add a whole egg, plus several yolks. The eggs and milk are cooked to create a custard base that gives the ice cream richness and silkiness. When making the custard, Carbone recommends using a candy thermometer. "I am a big fan of precision when it comes to temperature," she says. "It can make all the difference between a lumpy curdled base and a perfectly smooth, creamy one." Another key to avoiding curdling: a process called tempering. This prevents the eggs from coagulating in the heat, which would result in bits of "scrambled egg" floating throughout the custard. To temper the eggs, some of the hot milk is whisked into them, then the egg/milk mixture is whisked back into the rest of the hot milk. During these steps, it's important to keep whisking constantly, to avoid uneven heating. As an added safeguard, the finished custard is poured through a fine strainer to catch any bits of rogue cooked egg or membranes.
Keep Things Smooth
"The faster something freezes, the smaller the ice crystals," says Carbone. "Smaller ice crystals mean smoother texture." To achieve this quick freeze, the base should be extremely cold when added to the machine. Carbone recommends refrigerating the base for at least four hours, or even overnight, before churning it.
Her other secret for a velvety, creamy texture? "Fresh ice cream is amazing!" As soon as it's frozen solid, the texture gets less fluffy. "At the Bent Spoon we continuously make the ice cream and it's never deep-frozen," she says. At home, eating straight from the machine will replicate that delectable experience. But, though it won't quite match the lightness of freshly-made, stored ice cream can also be delicious, as long as it's wrapped tightly to prevent freezer burn and not allowed to melt first. "The reality is that it's pulled out, people eat it, what's not eaten gets a little melty and thrown back into the freezer," says Carbone. "Ice crystals then start forming! To me, that's the death of ice cream-right up there with onion absorption. The moral? Make everybody eat it all, or wrap and put away extras fast!"
Assemble with Speed
For the same reason, Carbone's number-one tip for assembling the ice cream cake is to do it quickly. It can be made in stages over a few days, but each time it's out of the freezer, work quickly to avoid melting, and recover it tightly with plastic wrap before refreezing. Besides that, "Just be creative and have fun!" says Corbone.
Megan O. Steintrager is a senior editor at Epicurious.com. She has worked as a writer and editor at Epicurious since the late '90s. Steintrager holds a master's in journalism from New York University with a concentration in Cultural Reporting and Criticism, and has taken numerous cooking classes at New York 's Institute for Culinary Education and the Natural Gourmet Institute for Food and Health. She has worked as a writer and editor for ConsumerReports.org, Restaurant Business magazine, and Spin.com, and has been published in Self, Brides, and Time Out New York, among other print and online publications.
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