David Leibovitz

Baked Alaska: Daring Baker's Challenge August 2010

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alaska or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.

I really enjoyed Elissa's choice of challenge this month. Baked Alaska. I've never eaten it, or really even seen it. It fell into the category of "Floating Islands" or "Turkish Delight", impossibly romantic notions of desserts that I also have neither made or eaten. Their names alone could comfort you during the darkest hours, a nursery tale feast all too easy to conjure when such a beautifully named sweet is involved.

This baking experience was the inaugural event in which I did not use any granulated white sugar when called for. When I was visiting with my Parents a week ago, we shopped at an Amish "Bulk Store". They sell all sorts of nuts, seeds, soap making supplies, flours, any other homesteading staple you could imagine. It's refreshing to shop in a simple environment, the size of one's living room. It kind of reminded me of the little hole-in-the-wall co-ops that used to pop up here and there before the era of "food shopping as art" concept stores emerged. While I can (and like to) be seduced by the best in floor displays, I loved this Amish Bulk Store, and my Mom and I decided to split 50 pounds of raw sugar.

We divided it into 14 quart size canning jars each, and when I returned I weighed a cup to see the difference from granulated sugar. A regular cup of white sugar is about 8 ounces, and the raw sugar was about 6. When we asked various Amish women about the usage, some preferred to use more, and some less than the same amount of white sugar. I still have a lot of practice ahead of me, but I like the flavor so much better, that I'm sure it will be fun experimenting. (When I used the raw sugar recently for canning, I used a weight measure based on the 8 oz. per cup of granulated to keep with the result of the tested recipes.)

The brown butter pound cake recipe we were supposed to use did not work out for me. I made it according to the weight measures, and I don't think the conversion for the flour was proper. I had a rather flavorless, butter soaked cake that was on the leaden side. Since the cake is really just a thin layer on the bottom, I probably could have used it - but since these desserts were for Maeckel's birthday, I decided that I had to make it again. It was the correct choice!

The second time, I used a Cook's Illustrated recipe from my well worn copy of The Best Recipe. I altered it by first browning the butter, then weighing it and adding enough regular butter to bring it back up to 8 ounces. I also let the butter come fully to room temperature. I baked it up in a loaf pan, and it was delicious. I saved all the scraps from cutting out little circles for the bottom of my Alaskas, and on Lo's advice am going to make a peach ice cream (Alton Brown's Burnt Peach Ice Cream... or maybe I'll even give David Lebovitz's Peach Ice Cream a try), and add the bits of cake in.

Meanwhile, David L's salted caramel ice cream is probably the best ice cream I've ever made at home...

Instead of the recommended David Lebovitz vanilla ice cream, I made his salted butter caramel version. Other than a (by comparison) light recipe for vanilla ice cream, I have never made any Lebovitz ice creams in the past. I think by making this one recipe it is completely evident that he sure knows what he is talking about. This ice cream was so smooth and seductive, you could almost believe that it in no way could have a negative impact on your health. If an ice cream could be sexy, this would be the one.

If there could be a downside, it was that the ice cream was so soft that I knew that even a brief baking at 500 degrees was going to cause it to melt quickly into nothingness. I used this excuse to purchase a culinary torch. I got one from Superior Equipment and Supply, a restaurant supply that is actually walking distance from my house (lucky me...). I am now one of the people now getting perhaps a bit too excited that I can wield an 1100 degree flame in my hand! It worked really well, no messy ice cream, and even time to take pictures! I can't hardly wait to see what I can "torch" next...

Prior to torching.

The only thing more fun than taking out little plates of frozen desserts to torch, was eating them. They were delicious. The meringue pipings tasted like toasted marshmallows, the salted caramel ice cream was still firm and just a little melty, browned butter pound cake was a bit hard, but softened up nicely by the time we got to the end of the dessert. Just in time to taste all of the browned butter goodness and pretend that we didn't want to opt for seconds.

I will certainly be making this again! It's a great idea for dinner parties, since they are done up in advance and then only torched slightly before serving. If you use a hard set ice cream, I'd bet you may be able to get away with the namesake "Baked" part of the Alaska as well. A version I'd like to try on my next go would be in the s'mores realm - a base of homemade graham cracker, a bit of dark chocolate ice cream and this meringue toasted deeply: sounds completely addicting to me.

You can find the recipes for this month's challenge at the Daring Kitchen website... and be sure to pop over and take a look at 17 and Baking. Elissa has a beautiful site filled with great photography and delicious baked goods.

After I missed last month's challenge due to being so busy, it felt extra good to be obsessing again about a challenge for August. I'm so glad that I made the time to make this dessert. Thanks again to Elissa for a great challenge!

(Kinda makes you want to curl up and re-read the Chronicles of Narnia, doesn't it?)

The Best Ice Cream in The Whole World.

I should preface my remarks of The Best Ice Cream in The Whole World, since that is a pretty big blanket of a statement for me to declare. I am reminded when I see my Parents that when I like something, I frequently clarify them as being the best things in the whole world. Granted, most of them are foods or usually desserts, but as a lifelong ice cream connoisseur, I can assure you that at least in my mouth, this one takes the supreme title.

My story really begins back February, when Lo posted her family recipe for Chocolate Hazelnut Schaum Torte. (You can read all about it, and the contest it was entered in here.) I had eaten similar confections called Pavlovas or Sheet Meringues, but never had even heard of this German immigrant version. Of course the Burp! Kitchen added chocolate, which makes it the king of all egg foam cakes, hands down, in my book. I ate more of this cake in February and March than I ever have in my life (or as my Parents would confirm that I also often say: My Whole Life). I ate it first at Il Mito, where it was featured for a week on their menu - the profits of doing so benefiting the Hunger Task Force of Milwaukee. The next day, it so happened that I ate it at a lunch at MATC Cuisine dining, where it was fairly "squoodgy" in the center. Squoodginess is the hallmark of a great Schaum Torte according to my personal Schaum Torte Academy: Burp! Kitchen. After a week passed, I ate it again at a soup nite they hosted, and it was the best of the best I have ever eaten. Both achingly and angelically sweet, yet light, and yes, squoodgy. I finally knew why this term was used to describe it, since this simple to make egg foam cake is close to divine perfection when baked gently in a springform pan. I made my own for Easter, and figured I really shouldn't devour the entire thing myself (which I was certainly on the way to doing). I scooped out it's fluffy, mallowy middle and froze heaping tablespoons full on a sheet of parchment, to wait for the appropriate time to make it into an ice cream.

Don't you know, that in the course of a month in the freezer, the half of a Schaum Torte shockingly decreased in size? Partly, because the cold compressed it, and partly because I had to taste it, to make sure it wasn't going bad or anything.

Last week, I made the Daring Baker Challenge, which was kind of altered to better serve my dessert eating needs. It is currently nestled in the freezer, half-eaten, and waiting to be unearthed and served with a scoop of this delectable ice cream on the side. I was suspecting it needed just a little something... and this my friends is it. You'll have to check back on the 27th to read all about it.

Meanwhile, you can have a look at the ice cream:

Since Lo has really become my personal expert source for things exactly like ice cream (since she has made some pretty amazing ones), I asked her which plain vanilla ice cream was one of her favorites. She immediately emailed back that it was this one by David Leibovitz. I have read a bit of David's blog from time to time, but never have tried one of his ice creams. This one is my ideal ice cream: light, crystalline and easy melting. Devoid of egg, it is easy to put together and even easier to eat.

David Leibovitz's Vanilla Ice Cream
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk (I used 2%)
  • 3/4 c. sugar (I used a scant 1/2 cup)
  • pinch of salt
  • vanilla bean
  • 3/4 t. vanilla extract
Heat 1 cup of the cream with sugar, salt and vanilla bean (I used a leftover bean, so I used the whole pod, you can scrape out the seeds if you are using a new bean) over low heat until the sugar dissolves.

Remove from heat, and add remaining cream, milk and vanilla extract.

That's it! Cool it in the fridge - I left mine overnight - for 20 minutes if you like and then churn using whichever method you prefer. (Nigella Lawson has made a similar no-churn ice cream for those without ice cream makers: I would substitute some confectioner's sugar for granulated, and use only the heavy cream. Beat the cream to soft peaks, and freeze. Not really proper "ice cream", but delicious nonetheless and worth trying if you are in a hurry or without mechanization.)

The first spoonful reminded me of the time my family was invited to churn ice cream with our Amish neighbors. We brought ice, and they had everything else ready. We all took turns cranking the non-electric maker in the gentle, kerosene light of their home until this amazing, soft-set cream emerged. It was so good and vanilla-y and the ice crystals that marked my machined effort yesterday are exactly the same as this one I first tried nearly 20 years ago. I was half tempted to pop some popcorn, since this is how our Amish friends ate ice cream - piled high in soup bowls, served alongside equally big bowls of freshly popped and salted popcorn.

Of course, my ice cream wasn't finished in it's vanilla state, though it certainly could have been. When it was nearly done, I spooned in the remaining Schaum Torte (a little more than a cup). I could smell the little engine turning inside, making me remember how old my little appliance actually is. E sent me my ice cream maker for a Christmas present when I was living in Wilton, in the year 2000. Can I believe that this small kitchen appliance is a full ten years old? Can I also believe that one of my best friends could send me something that amazingly cool? Nope. I remember walking back to the Pie Shop Apartment with a huge box one cold December day, and opening it in GOP's company.

As I plugged it in yesterday, I was surprised at the flood of memories that returned to me and also noted that my Rise Against the Machines isn't going very well. I did hang the clothesline, and my ex-Navy Father-in-Law came to work some knot magic (knot tying is totally on my list of things to learn) on the lines, so that they will never go anywhere. I'd bet I could go to a chin up on those lines and bring down the pole before I'd snap the knot loose. But machines aside, I'm glad I got this batch of ice cream done without burning out the motor.

I felt like a drug addict: spooning cold dollops of this amazing ice cream into my mouth as fast as it was melting. I was hungry, but trying not to ruin my appetite by shoveling myself full of dessert in the late afternoon. I was half suspecting that like many things, the ice cream was at it's best right that moment, and freezing it would alter it for the worst. Fortunately, this isn't the case. I have a whole quart of this premium Schaum Torte Ice Cream languishing in my freezer, softly calling my name, and it is as soft-set as when I put it in there yesterday. Another thing for The List of Things I'll Never Buy Again: Ice Cream. Thank you very much Lo, and Mr. Leibovitz!