As winter fades and spring comes into the year with all of the promise and excitement we expect, it was time to take advantage of a special ingredient that won’t be with us for much longer. Jonathan Davis, the farmer at the Fullerton Arboretum has been tenderly caring for strawberries, and since their season is fading I knew my time was limited to make something really special with as many as I could get my hands on…
Now, to say that Jonathan’s strawberries are special is an understatement, because they transcend (in so many ways) what we have become accustomed to in the strawberry department. Strawberries these days leave so much to desire. They are as massive as ping-pong balls, have large, cavernous centers, can crunch like apples, and worst of all – are VOID of real flavor. Not so when a farmer takes a plot of land, amends the soil, plants heirloom varieties, and doesn’t lace them with chemicals. These were the strawberries of our desires. These displayed all the qualities we desire in the perfect mate: delicacy, tenderness, sweetness, and a true character!
As it was hot this past weekend, I thought that making ice cream for my nephews would be the perfect way to celebrate these strawberries – and it came out with everything I hoped. Above all, though, it came with a fresh, delicate quality that can only be achieved with something as marvelous as a home or farm raised fruit, basking in all of its natural glory.
So, if you can’t get a hold of strawberries like the ones I did, do not despair! Still make the ice cream! It will still be great! But if your neighbor has some nectarines this summer, or say some apricots or peaches or plums…. Follow the same guidelines and go to town. You’ll find that the effort is worthwhile and the results, well, irresistible.
Strawberry Crème Fraiche Ice Cream Recipe
Wild, or Alpine strawberries originated in France and have an amazingly intense, sweet aroma. Because they are grown without the influence of pesticides or other chemicals, they are extremely perishable. These are the strawberries of our childhood (or at least our childhood dreams), not the large, hollow, and low-flavor versions available at grocers today. In this recipe, the strawberries are muddled using a mortar and pestle versus blending – a technique that crushes and squeezes natural oils out of the strawberry versus “chopping” in a blender. This ice cream is best eaten within a day or two of making – though I bet it will disappear even faster.
2 tsp. vanilla bean paste
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
½ cup sugar (if using strawberries which aren’t as sweet, increase sugar to ¾ cup)
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
2 cups strawberries, divided
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 cup crème fraiche
Combine the vanilla bean paste, the cream, milk, ¼ cup of the sugar, and the salt in a saucepan and bring to a heavy simmer, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat and allow to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks. Using a ladle, slowly add 1 cup of the hot cream mixture to the egg yolks, whisking constantly. This slow process will “temper” the eggs and will produce a smooth custard. Add the yolk mixture back to the cream mixture and cook over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of your spoon. You will be able to draw a “line” through the custard on the back of the spoon with your finger, indicating that the custard has achieved sufficient thickness. Strain the custard through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl nestled into an ice bath. Stir often to cool the custard, about 30 minutes.
In a mortar and pestle, muddle a generous cup of strawberries with the remaining ¼ cup sugar and lemon juice. Use a circular and downward motion to coax the strawberries into submission, resulting in a nearly smooth, heavily fragrant puree. Pass this mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a medium bowl. Add the crème fraiche and whisk to combine into a smooth mixture. Add this mixture to the cooled custard. Slice the remaining strawberries into smallish chunks (about ¼ inch) and refrigerate, along with the strawberry custard. Chill both custard and strawberries for a minimum of 4 hours or up to overnight.
Freeze the custard in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Just before the ice cream is finally churned, add the remaining strawberry chunks. Decant the ice-cream to a container and freeze for 4 hours. The ice cream is now ready to enjoy!