Happy Leap Day! I usually don't make a big deal about this day, but I imagine for some people (especially people born on this day) it is pretty special. An extra day that we only see every four years. I like to imagine that some people use this day as an extra day in life to do something special for someone else. Or maybe to remind someone that they mean something to you. Or maybe just eat an extra bowl of ice cream:)
Today I made for you one of my favorite scoops of all time - Gravel Road. Created by Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, this flavor is a play on Rocky Road, but instead of chocolate ice cream Jeni makes a decadently sweet and salty caramel ice cream, and instead of adding plain 'ol almonds she adds smoked almonds from a local nut shop to add another dimension to the scoop.
During my last trip to Columbus, I stopped by Krema Nut Company and picked up a pack of smoked almonds just for the purpose of making this ice cream flavor. The nuts are great by themselves, but when you add them to the ice cream the sweet, salty, and smoky experience is mind-blowing (seriously). Enjoy!
Gravel Road Ice Cream
Recipe from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home
The base of this ice cream is surprisingly similar to Jeni's typical ice cream base, except for one very important step - caramelizing the sugar. Caramelization is a delicate process but do not let is scare you. Be patient, let the sugar get to the edge of burning and let is sit a little longer, and the results will yield a deep, complex burnt sugar flavor.
2 cups whole milk
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 ½ oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
2/3 cup cane sugar
1 cup smoked almonds, chopped
Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside. In a small bowl, mix 2 Tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch and set aside. In another large bowl, whisk the cream cheese and salt until smooth and set aside. Combine heavy cream and corn syrup in a cup with a spout. It is important that you prepare these steps before melting the sugar.
Place sugar in a large, deep saucepan and place over medium heat. Don't touch it. Allow the sugar to begin to melt, forming a layer of browning sugar at the bottom on the pan with unmelted sugar on top. Then and only then, begin to gently push the sugar around the pan, stirring to encourage the sugar to melt evenly. Continue stirring until the melted sugar is a deep caramel color and just starts to smoke (small bubbles with black smoke will start to form), wait a couple more seconds (if you can stand it) and then remove from heat. Immediately and carefully add about 1/4 cup of the cream/corn syrup mixture. Be careful – mixture will bubble and spit when adding cream to hot sugar; sugar will harden but when returned to heat will melt again. Continuing adding cream mixture until complete, stirring to combine.
Return to heat. Add remaining milk and bring mixture to a boil. Cook over moderate heat until the mixture begins to thicken and sugar dissolves, 4 minutes. Off the heat, gradually whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Return to a boil and cook over moderately high heat until the mixture is slightly thickened (draw a line on a spoon), about 1 minute.
Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Set the bowl in the ice water bath and let stand, stirring occasionally, until cold, about 20 minutes.
Once chilled, pour into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Place a small layer of smoked almonds on the bottom of a plastic ice cream container. Lightly spoon a layer of ice cream on top. Continue to alternate layers of almonds and ice cream until the container is full. Place a few remaining almonds on top. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the ice cream (to prevent ice crystals) and close with an airtight lid. Freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.