Autumn may be just a week and a half away, but there's no need yet to put away your shorts and pull the sweaters out of storage. We still have warm days ahead, including Indian summer's unexpected heat waves that may come as late as November.
So why not celebrate summer, at least a little bit, while it's still here? And what better way to do that than with ice cream?
To tell you the truth, I love ice cream year round. Rich, thick, wonderfully smooth and refreshing, good ice cream cools you off from the inside out. Yet, unless you eat it outdoors in a snowstorm, it's not so chilling that it feels like the wrong choice for a cold-weather dessert.
Apart from the pleasure it offers, one of my favorite things about ice cream is how easy it is to make and serve. Even when you prepare a classic version based on a custard mixture thickened and enriched with egg yolks like the recipe I share here, it's not very complicated or time-consuming. And the relatively inexpensive countertop electric ice cream machines you can easily find today do just about all the rest of the work for you, apart from scooping the ice cream into chilled bowls. (Be sure to take the ice cream from the freezer 15 to 20 minutes before serving time, so it can soften a bit for easier scooping.)
One of the most enjoyable things about making ice cream is having the chance to come up with flavors you like. I think cinnamon makes a great flavor choice for this time of year, because sweet spices seem so warmly autumnal, reminiscent of mulled wine and cider and all kinds of apple desserts. Steeping cinnamon sticks in the base mixture produces a distinctive flavor that's not too spicy, a glowing counterpoint to the ice cream's cool temperature; but, if you want to heat things up a bit more, stop the machine when the ice cream is very thick but not yet completely frozen, and scatter in some crushed cinnamon candies, to swirl in during the final minutes of freezing.
As an extra treat especially for chocolate lovers like me, I enjoy serving my ice cream with homemade hot fudge sauce. So I'm including one of my favorite recipes for that classic topping. It's a fairly straightforward mixture to which I've added a touch of instant coffee powder, which highlights the taste of the bittersweet chocolate without calling attention to itself. I've also given you the option of adding a splash of cognac or brandy, which turns the sauce into a special grownup treat, something extra to warm you up once summer is really and truly gone.
HOMEMADE CINNAMON ICE CREAM
Makes about 1-1/2 quarts
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk
2 cinnamon sticks
8 large cage-free egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
In a medium-sized heavy saucepan, combine the cream, milk and cinnamon sticks. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove the pan from the heat, cover and leave to steep for 20 minutes.
In a large mixing bowl, use a whisk or a rotary beater to beat the egg yolks until smooth. While continuing to beat the yolks, slowly pour in the sugar in a steady stream, and continue beating until thoroughly combined.
While still beating, slowly pour in the hot cream mixture. Then, pour the mixture from the bowl back into the saucepan.
Put the pan back on the stove over low heat. While stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, cook the mixture until it has thickened enough to coat the back of the spoon heavily, about 10 minutes.
Pour the mixture back into the bowl, removing the cinnamon sticks. Place the bowl inside a larger bowl partially filled with ice cubes and water. Leave to cool, stirring the mixture occasionally, until the mixture is cool to the touch.
Pour the mixture through a fine-meshed strainer into a clean bowl. Transfer the strained mixture to an ice-cream maker and freeze following the manufacturer's directions. Transfer the frozen ice cream into a one or more freezer containers, cover and store in the freezer until needed.
Before serving, let the ice cream soften at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes and then scoop into chilled bowls.
HOT FUDGE SAUCE
Makes about 4 1/2 cups (1.125 l)
15 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces, or bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1-1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1-1/2 tablespoons instant coffee powder
6 tablespoons cognac or brandy, optional
In a small stainless-steel bowl resting on the rim of a pan containing 1 to 2 inches barely simmering water (make sure that the bottom of the bowl doesn't actually touch the water), melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove the pan from the heat and leave the bowl of chocolate resting on top.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, stir together the sugar, corn syrup, water, cocoa powder, and instant coffee powder. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; then, reduce the heat and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent the mixture from burning on the bottom of the pan.
When the surface of the mixture in the pan is covered with bubbles, remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the melted chocolate.
Return the pan to low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, just until the mixture is as thick and sticky as you like, no more than 1 to 3 minutes longer. If you like, stir in the cognac or brandy.
Remove the pan from the heat and let the hot fudge cool slightly before spooning it over ice cream.