The ice cream project: egg ice cream
In general, we might think of ice cream having two different kinds of appeal.
1. A cold, sweet, rich confection to make you feel good.
2. An uncanny flavor experience. Uncanny is Freud's way of capturing a paradoxical concept that means at once familiar and unfamiliar. In dreams, sometimes we have an experience of the uncanny in which something we recognize is present in an unexpected form or in which something we think of as strange is revealed to be something we know intimately. At once we feel comfort and alienation. This is what I think many of the avant-chefs I have blogged about before are after in their flavor/texture/temperature experiments. Perhaps if you say WOW when you eat their food (and I do mean you; I have never tasted it) it's because it tastes like something you have had a thousand times, and yet also tastes like nothing you have tried before. This is speculative, of course. What I know of this grub is second-hand.
The uncanny appeal of ice cream is that it presents a regular flavor, like sesame or Serrano chile, in a new guise, with a new temperature and texture. This kind of appeal need not be at odds with #1, though I suspect it sometimes is, especially in the case of very odd concoctions like Stilton or garlic ice cream, both of which exist at least in recipe form.
I stole the idea for egg ice cream from the chef of The Fat Duck in London, Heston Blumenthal, who makes a bacon and egg ice cream that captivates everyone who tries it. When I first heard about this I thought the egg part was just fanciful, since ice cream often contains eggs (my regular recipe calls for eight yolks per quart of dairy). But upon further research I learned that HB actually makes the ice cream taste especially eggy by using lots and lots of egg--24 yolks in Chef Heston's recipe--and by overcooking the custard. Ordinarily you stop cooking a custard at 170 F/77 C, but if you keep heating it up it will curdle and...curdled eggs are eggiest. HB heats his mixture to 85 C/185 F, which causes them to thicken considerably. Then he whizzes in a blender and passes the mixture through a sieve. The blender step might actually be to pulverize the bacon but I included it anyway.
The results are an ice cream that tastes only of egg and sugar, like the Platonic ideal of egginess. Chinese egg custard tarts are similar in flavor, completely different in texture and temperature. Making custard with a high proportion of yolks also ups the fat content and adds emulsifiers, which gives the ice cream a texture I do not hesitate to call sublime.
Egg ice cream
Yields about 1.5 pints.
2 cups/1 pint/480 mL half and half (which is half whole milk and half heavy/double cream, so substitute away)
4.5 oz./128 g sugar
9 yolks of large eggs
1. Heat the cream to a bare simmer in a saucepan.
2. Whisk yolks until pale and thick, then add sugar slowly, whisking continuously, and keep going until it has increased slightly in volume. Blumenthal says it should be white but I think he means pale.
3. Slowly whisk the warm cream into the eggs, then dump them back in the saucepan and heat, stirring, to 185 C. Keep them at this temp for 30 seconds, then pour into a blender and liquidize (or skip this step, see if I care). Chill, churn, freeze, eat.
Anticipating your questions...
Q: What would you serve this with?
A: A spoon.