A journey...

...to discover...

...the heart...

...and soul...

...of a baker.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Pie-Saster: The Recovery

Here's the thing about me and baking: I honestly can't let a bad experience go unaddressed. Or, rather, I always seem to take bad baking experiences as challenges to get back in the kitchen and do better. I know that if I just keep at it, I'll come up with something that will either be exactly what I'm going for or something that's good, and teaches me what I need to learn for the next time. For example, many years ago I blew through two attempts at an exceptionally delicate crust for a white chocolate and raspberry tart before I got it right. I mean, this crust was so light and fragile that if you were to sneeze on it, it would have exploded. The first attempt was a terrible lump. The second attempt actually exploded when I mishandled the tart pan! Okay, it was more like it fractured and crumbled before my eyes but that's a kind of small explosion, isn't it? The third time was indeed the charm and when I served that it, there wasn't a dry mouth in the house.

When I know in my heart that I can make a dessert, I just don't give up on it. Failing at it is frustrating but when I finally learn what I'm doing wrong, and what I'm doing right, and it all comes together, the end result is so satisfying! That's what this latest little "pie-saster" did.

To address problem of Splenda filling, I went back to The Great American Pie Book a week later, found some advice on making filling out of fresh cherries (which I've never done) and started over. I decided to use Rainier cherries because I'd never really seen them before and the fruit vendor said they were very sweet. It didn't take all that long for me to wash, cut and pit three pounds of these things. Two pounds for the pie, one pound for the cherry ice cream I promised to make for Michele.

Some cherries, some sugar, some flour
and a bottom crust ready to be filled.
This time around I used my buttermilk crust recipe, which put me ahead of the game, and a new (to me) technique for making a lattice top crust.

Lovely lattice!
Here's how things turned out:

Cooling on the rack!
 This was much better...

Rainier Cherry Pie, sliced.

...but it still wasn't as good as I knew it could be. For example, the lattice could use some work, and I really needed to experiment more with the filling because the cherries were a bit too hard for my taste and they needed something like a syrup reduction to help them hold together when the pie is cut. Also, this particular pie was good on the first day but it really didn't hold up after that. That was unfortunate because I love cherry pie! To bake one that couldn't hold up for more than a day or two just wouldn't do. I ate as much of it as I could, though, because I had to figure out what needed changing.

***

I think I'm going to have to put down The Great American Pie Book for a while. It's been inspiring in some respects but there's something about the techniques presented in it that I'm just not having much success duplicating right now. The crusts and fillings I've used based on the recipes, at least this time around, just don't match up with what I want from these pies. Don't get me wrong, it's still a good book but for this particular pie, it just isn't any use to me.

When Michele and I analyzed the  and she agreed with me that the Rainiers have a much more delicate flavor than Bing cherries and would be much better if I paired them with some other fruit. My first thought was that peaches would be perfect. Michele agreed, so few days later, I bought a pound of Rainiers and a pound of peaches and tried again.

A word about peaches in Manhattan: in my experience it's difficult to get good ones. The peaches I grew up eating in Texas were large, juicy and filled with flavor and scent. New York has a lot of great fruits and vegetables but peaches and plums don't seem to be among them. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I just can't seem to get consistently good peaches here.

This particular word on this particular topic ends.

The peaches I bought only had a slight aroma so I knew I'd have to seal them in the bag to let them ripen more and then I'd have to do a reduction on them to bring out more flavor. Now reductions aren't something I specialize in. In fact, I've never done one, but I wasn't going to let a little thing like that stop me. I mean, come on! I may be just a guy who bakes but I have enough cooking intuition to pull off a simple reduction. Or two, because the cherries would need it, too. Yes, I could simply find the right kind of cherry filling and get some peach filling to add to it but I was trying to teach myself something.

Actually, I was trying to teach myself several somethings at the same time: reduction(s), better lattice crust making, how to blanch peaches, and the best way to use Michele's rolling pin. I'm still used to the way my marble rolling pin worked and I'm a little sad that I gave it away when we moved in together. Well, you know how it is when you need to lighten the load a bit, right? I had a marble rolling pin and a larger marble slab than Michele had. Those alone would have added another $200 to the moving costs!

But I digress (often). Once I started pitting this batch of cherries, I felt as though this latest pie adventure was off to a good start. Odd but true. The tasks of pitting, blanching, slicing and reducing went so smoothly I was making and rolling crust almost before I realized it. I know this isn't true; allow a fellow a little hyperbole from time to time, okay? (Is it possible to have just a little hyperbole?)

Again with the digression! What I meant to say about the crust was that I added a little ginger to it. I knew it would taste good with the peach filling. This time around, the rolling went almost flawlessly, as did the cutting of the lattice strips. Perhaps I'll get Michele to take process pictures the next time I do a similar pie, just to show you the techniques I used. The only reason I'm thinking about doing so is this:

This time for sure!

And now here's something we hope you'll really like!
To quote Raul Julia's Gomez Addams: "Perfection achieved!" Everything came together exactly as I envisioned! This was probably the best pie I've ever made (and I've made some good pies). The mixture of the cherries and the peaches was just right, the reductions gave the filling the right intensity of flavor and thickness (with the help of a little cornstarch), and the slight ginger taste in the crust added a subtle touch. Michele had two slices and ate all the crust...and she really doesn't like crust! That's how good this pie was. I was smiling all night.

And that's how I recover from a pie-saster.

Currently listening to: Cirque Du Soleil - Alegria

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Pie-saster!

One of the things I promised when I started this blog was that I would talk about my failures as well as my successes. This post chronicles the former, a "pie-saster", if you will, that was several days in the making and had a particular impact on me with regards to my baking. I apologize for not having any pictures; I'll make sure I photograph all the baking projects that explode in my face from now on. It'll be educational. Besides, I'm sure there are many folks would love to see me with egg custard on my face. (Yes I went there!)

The story unfolds as follows: On July 14, after midnight, I attempted to make a cherry pie for Michele to take to her office pool party at her boss’ house in Jersey. After days of deliberation I finally decided I really didn’t want to go but wanted to give her something to take with her. I didn't feel so bad because at least one other husband wasn't going either. However, my delay in deciding led to the aforementioned "pie-saster" which counted for not one, but two, marks in the "F" column in a twenty-four hour period. That takes some doing!

First bad choice: I didn’t make time to get buttermilk, which I use in my preferred pie crust recipe. We were at a symphony concert in Central Park until 11 p.m. and I didn’t want to stop in at the 24-hour grocery on the way home. Instead I chose a recipe from my Great American Pie book. Simple recipe: flour, Crisco, water. That led to the second bad decision, which was choosing to follow the recipe and not chill the Crisco. My preferred recipe calls for chilled shortening. I didn’t have the time for that, anyway, so I just followed the book recipe. I mixed the dough and it hung together pretty well but it was difficult to roll out. It fell apart when I tried to put it in the pan and I had to piece it together and spread it out by hand. Already this pie was off to an auspicious start.

Then I poured in the filling.

Cue ominous music and fade to aside.

An aside: Earlier that day, I had purchased two cans of Comstock cherry filling, my favored brand, 21 ounces at $5 each. I used it when I made Mama's cherry cheesecake last month at home. Since I was going straight to Central Park to stake out our blanket territory, I didn't have time to drop the filling at home. So that meant I was carrying more than two pounds of cherry filling in my bag from work to the park (which involved quite a bit of tracking and backtracking before I got to the Great Lawn, where the performance was being held). From our chosen spot to another under a tree when it began raining. From under the tree to the open field to watch fireworks. From the open field back through the park (in the dark I might add) to the bus stop. And from our stop on 1st Avenue to home. That's a lot of cherry carrying.

Aside ends. Cue more ominous music and fade up to blog.

The filling was “No Sugar Added”. I thought that I’d be able to keep the pie from being too sweet that way. I’ve bought low sugar fillings before. I dumped both cans in and then dipped my finger in to taste. Ugh! Fake sugar! Sure enough, when I looked at the can it proclaimed, in a teeny-tiny logo at the bottom: “Made with Splenda.” Splenda?!? That should be illegal! Someone should be incarcerated for this travesty! At least be proud of the fact that you've put fake sugar in your product and display that fact prominently on the label. That way people who hate said fake sugar will have no problem passing it by on the shelves. Oy!

Well, that scratched the effort for the night. I dumped the filling and the crust, made another half crust and placed the dough in the refrigerator. I figured I’d get up the next morning, get to the store and purchase the right filling. I’d be able to bake the pie and have it cooled in time for Michele to take with her. I looked and looked and the only Comstock cherry filling they had was made with Splenda. I’ve never seen such a thing! So I ended up getting a brand I have never heard of (at $2.00 each for two 16-oz cans).

I rolled the bottom crust again, this time using my wax paper method for recalcitrant crusts, and it went into the pan okay. I rolled the top crust and then cut that into strips because I wanted to make a lattice crust. The strips were too fragile to pick up, so I re-rolled the dough, placed it on top of the pie, sealed it, cut steam vents and baked it.

Once it was done, I pulled it out of the oven and immediately the edges just started crumbling off. I put it on the marble to cool and tasted some of the crumbling crust. It was horrible! This was the worst pie I'd made since Astrodome Apple almost half my lifetime ago! No way was I sending that with Michele; I could never forgive myself. And neither would she because, if I haven't said it before, it was horrible! The filling wasn't bad but for me, it's all about the crust. A pie isn't a pie if the crust doesn't hold up.

In the end, I went out and bought a variety of cookies from Two Little Red Hens for her. (This is the bakery we would have used for our wedding cake but since they didn't deliver, we went with a different bakery and a different flavor cake.)

All told, this was a $14 – plus the cost of the wasted ingredients I already had on hand – series of mistakes. I will never make a pie without chilling the fat and using some chilled wet ingredient – water or buttermilk – in the future. And I am determined to never buy cherry pie filling ever again. If I can’t find real cherries, either in season or frozen, to make my own filling, I won’t make the cherry dessert.

I'm always going to make mistakes in my baking. I'm always going to have disasters and and accidents. What knowledge I gain from those mistakes is more important than the fact that I made the mistakes. Thus are lessons learned. Thus spake Bakerthustra!

Part II will soon ensue.

Currently listening to: Feist - My Moon My Man

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Ice Cream Sandwich Man Cometh - Fourth Installation

I was close. So very close. And my self-imposed deadline loomed. I had all the elements gathered in the apartment. The shipping box I found on Amazon arrived on the Friday, July 6. In fact, that was the catalyst that started this frenzied bout of creation. Once that box was in my hands, I had to get it filled and shipped as soon as possible. I'm a big believer in "production for use" (now there's an obscure reference if I've ever made one).

Before I put the sandwiches together, I needed a way to wrap them. No self respecting ice cream sandwich would be caught dead without proper dressing and I love figuring out packaging, so it wasn't too difficult for me to work this one out. Tin foil was the obvious answer to part of the problem. And wax paper was the other (along with some double-stick tape).

Wrapper workings.
A brief word about making stuff: I like to make stuff. I always have. My little sister, MonY, can attest to this fact because I made quite a few toys and games for us to play with when we were kids. I could make the Starship Enterprise, a prop plane for my Action Jackson doll, a bowling game or cars that used marbles for propulsion – or anything else I thought we needed – using nothing more than cardboard boxes, aluminum foil, glue or tape and discarded household objects. This little talent has served me well over the years. I should remind myself to tell you about the menus I made for Michele's birthday dinner (that - surprise! - became our engagement party) a couple of years ago. So, figuring out how to wrap homemade ice cream sandwiches was a snap.

Not-so-brief-as-I'd-like word ends.

I used the cutter to help define the dimensions I'd need for the wrappers. The individual foil sheets would be easier to handle and cut. The wax paper (adhered to the foil with double-stick tape) would help keep the cookies from sticking. I put together ten of these and I was ready to go!

Except I hadn't figured out how to combine the cookies and the ice cream into sandwiches. Trust me, I'd puzzled over this one since the day I decided it was time to start working on this project. Now everything was ready to go and the most important part of this whole process was still out of reach. I figured I'd solve the problem by the time I made the next batch of ice cream. I figured wrong, actually.

As I've mentioned before, the Cusinart's end product (and that of most other ice cream makers I've read about) is a kind of soft serve ice cream. You have to firm it up in the freezer. I figured I'd spread and shape the ice cream onto the cookies while it was soft, wrap them quickly and then put them in the freezer to finish. I had enough cookies from a previous test batch to give it a try. It almost worked. Almost. When I unwrapped the test, it was pretty solid but I hadn't been able to smooth the ice cream evenly between the cookies. Sandwich setback. Still, this was the test that led to altering the cookie recipe, so I have to put it in the "qualified success" column.

Clearly I needed a different plan...something that would make it easy for me to shape the ice cream and make the sandwiches. My eyes darted two and fro, taking in all the utensils, gadgets, cookware, pots and pans, trying to find anything that would work. That's when I spied it: my square, fluted tart pan with the removable bottom! Suddenly it all came together! I could see the whole process unfold in my mind's eye. It was so simple! It was kind of like this (only with a whole lot less bone shattering). Please observe:

First, make the ice cream.

Nothing like an ice bath for warm vanilla custard!
Almost ready.
Next, line the tart pan with plastic wrap, spoon in and smooth out the ice cream. Freeze it. Then remove the ice cream slab from the tart pan.

A slab o' ice cream.
Use the ultra-cool cutter to make precisely sized rectangles in the slab of ice cream.

How many can I get out of this slab?
One...two...
Four!
Quickly, before it becomes a great smooshy mess, lift the rectangles out of the slab...

Easy does it.
...and place them between two cookies.

It takes a steady hand...and a certain amount of crazy.
Admiral! There be ice cream sandwiches here!
Wrap the sandwiches.

Time to get dressed for the party!
Look for the Just A Guy Who Bakes Label.
Pop them in the freezer and I'm done! See? Simple! Oh. Did I forget to mention that I got "Just A Guy Who Bakes" stickers made? Allow me to rectify that oversight. I got "Just A Guy Who Bakes" stickers made! Yay me!

The only thing to do now was ship them. I had seven sandwiches in all, which I double wrapped in plastic and foil. These I placed in the insulated box with several frozen gel packs and bubble wrap. A morning trip to the post office and they were off.

Or were they? I watched the on-line tracking do nothing but say "Received electronic notification of package ready for shipping" (or some such) for the whole day and night. Doubts crept into my mind. I hadn't packed them tight enough. I hadn't put in enough frozen gel packs. I should have gotten dry ice. Wait! I'm trying to ship ice cream sandwiches from New York to Florida in the middle of a heatwave! Am I insane?!? Visions of the box sitting on the tarmac of a blisteringly hot runway, a milky puddle rapidly evaporating underneath it, clouded my mind as I finally fell asleep.

I woke up the next morning with a crick in my neck that didn't do anything but get worse and worse as the day progressed. I'd called my father the night before to tell him to expect the package and he said he'd let me know as soon as it arrived. I didn't tell him what I was sending because I wanted it to be a surprise. Hours passed and I didn't get a call. Morning turned to noon. Still no call.

Finally, at 2:30, my phone rang and my father said: "Well, I'm in possession of the package." I asked if anything had melted and he said he put the two foil-wrapped bundles in the refrigerator. I panicked! "Put it in the freezer right now!" I could hear the amusement in his voice as he complied with my hysterical request. "I told your Auntie Lois that you probably sent me some cheesecake..." "No, Daddy, not cheesecake. Ice cream sandwiches!"

The utter joy in his surprised laughter was worth every brain cell I burned up, every neck muscle I stressed out and ever dish I had to clean up in this whole crazy process. Success! He said that there was a little melting but they were still chilly to the touch when he'd opened the box so they should be okay once they refroze. When he called later that night to tell me he sampled one, he pronounced it delicious and I could finally sleep peacefully again.

It took a week and a half for my neck to stop hurting.

Currently listening to: Rickie Lee Jones - Woody And Dutch On The Slow Train To Peking 

And thanks to Michele for taking pictures of the sandwich assembly!

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Ice Cream Sandwich Man Cometh - Third Installation


I have more than a couple of cook books. But that's not such a big surprise now, is it? Some of them I got from one of the plethora of book clubs that popped up in the 80s, when books were analog-only. Some I got from book giveaways when I worked as a secretary for the ad sales department of a decorating magazine in the 90s. Others were gifts from friends and, in one case, the mother of my friend Steve. And I have access to even more cook books because Michele has her own stash as well. All of the cook books, varied as they are in cuisine, style and theme, have one thing in common: none of them have a cookie recipe that I could use for my ice cream sandwiches! Holy culinary conundrum, Cakeman! How is that even possible, I wondered. The answer was actually quite simple: no one had to make their own ice cream sandwiches in the past, so why bother creating a recipe for a cook book? By now, though, enough time has passed for people to have gotten nostalgic for them, and for the gourmands out there to have latched onto the idea of gussying them up and selling them for way too much money, so that there's now a demand for cookies appropriate for ice cream sandwiches.

Not wanting to spend more money on books I'm rapidly running out of room to store, and not having the time to drop into the nearest branch of the library (I fully intend to do so in search of cook books and history about a few dishes – and I'll definitely relate that visit here), I cast my net into the Internet Sea and pulled up a trove of recipes. Unfortunately, a great many of them were of the "Hey! Take those chocolate chip cookies you love to make and slap some ice cream between a couple of them then throw them in the freezer! Wah-laa!" variety. I was double-plus not interested in any of those. Undeterred, I kept sifting through the net (Net?) until I found these likely candidates:

Uno: Flamingobear

Zwo (southern German spelling and pronunciation, by-the-by): Country Living

Trois: Yankee Magazine and

Four: Smitten Kitchen

I didn't have time to test each one individually because I was on a tight schedule, remember? I needed the best recipe now!  Trouble was, all of them sounded good on paper, so how could I pick the right one? On paper, actually.

When in doubt, chart it out!
I made a table to compare ingredients and number of cookies each recipe made. The number of cookies actually made the difference. I thought I'd have the wherewithal to test two recipes at least once each, so I picked the two that made the most: Smitten Kitchen and Country Living. Coincidentally, they also had the same number of ingredients. Each would yield twelve ice cream sandwiches – enough to send to my father and have some left over for me. Nothing like making up process as you go along, right? (By the way, I may come back to the Flamingobear recipe. I kind of like the idea of sawing off cookie rounds from a dough log. We'll see.)

Having picked my two semi-finalists, I then had to test them. Well, first I had to procure two different kinds of cocoa powder, one of which was Dutch processed. I've used Dutch processed cocoa in recipes before but not for quite some time, so I didn't have any just laying about in my cupboard. Likewise I didn't have any regular cocoa powder since our latest encounter with inside the kitchen rain destroyed not one, but three boxes of the stuff (not to mention two boxes of chocolate milk mix, several packages of paper plates and cups, and, nearly, the box that holds one of my special cake pan sets).

Inside The Kitchen Rain explanation: We live on the second floor of our building. It's a lovely building. Not much of a view out out windows but we really like living here. Every so often, though, someone upstairs does something untoward with their dishwasher and we get a little indoor rain. Unfortunately for me that rain usually ends up in the cupboard in which I store some of my baking ingredients and bakeware. This time was the absolute worst because somewhere six floors up they fixed a water pipe and caused an overflow that flowed all the way to the basement. And right through my cupboard. Again. Sigh. 

End of explanation.

Again, I didn't have a lot of time to do my normal shopping excursions for these ingredients, so I relied on the neighborhood grocery stores to get the cocoa.

Cocoa face-off!
Rademaker, a brand I've never seen before, for the Smitten Kitchen recipe and Ghiradelli's for the Country Living recipe. I'll have to say, I like both of these (and Hershey's is forever banished from my kitchen). I'm looking forward to using them for my next hot cocoa binge!

The first test was going to be winner take all, so I was as careful as I could be to get each recipe as close to perfect as possible. Smitten Kitchen came out on top by a mile. The fact that the Country Living recipe barely held its shape, after being beautifully rendered with my custom cutter, and rose too much, obliterating my hard work at decorating the cookies meant it was completely unusable. Oh, and it was so fragile that it would never have stood up to the assembly process.

The Smitten Kitchen recipe behaved itself after being cut and decorated and baked up nice and solid and seemed like it would take the ice cream very well. The only problemd I had were getting the baking time right for my oven so that the cookies didn't singe around the edges and adjusting the ingredients for taste. Isn't that always the way? I found the cookie too salty and a little too heavy on the cocoa. A little less salt. A little more sugar. Just a tad less cocoa. Decrease the baking time by three minutes and they were perfect!

The cutter did me proud!
What turned out to be the hardest part was figuring out the process of cutting and lifting the cookies onto the cookie sheet with as little loss of shape as possible. I was still figuring it out when I made the final batch. I have to remember to write it down so that I won't have to re-learn it the next time I make these!

Note to Self: write down the cookie transfer process! Signed, Self.

And speaking of processes, the most important one, how to put the ice cream in the sandwich, still eluded me. I had to figure it out because the clock was ticking.

Third Installment Ends Here

Currently listening to: Al Jarreau – We Got By


Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Ice Cream Sandwich Man Cometh - Second Installation


The first component of this harebrained scheme I tested was the ice cream. The Cusininart came with a booklet that had quite a few recipes but on a whim I dropped into Barnes & Noble after an outing to the Union Square Green Market with Michele (I mentioned that here) to see if I could snag one of the bread making books I've been wishing for. I would have gotten one, too, if I hadn't seen the Williams-Sonoma Ice Cream book first.

Mmmmm.... Ice cream! Oh. And that's my cook book stand behind it.
One quick flip through it and I knew I'd found the right book for my ice cream projects. Most of the recipes are for one quart batches and that's a perfect size for our freezer to handle. As I said earlier, this is New York and space is at a premium...even in the freezer. The very first recipe was vanilla, obviously, and I made it without any alterations – heavy cream, whole milk, lots of eggs and vanilla bean.

A quick word about custards: I've made three different desserts in the past few months that are based on custard. I've never thought about how many of the desserts I had as a kid required custard. I think about that word and an image of movies in black & white flow through my mind because I've always associated the word, "custard," with a bygone era in our culinary history. You know, with people seated around a long dining table, cloth napkins and dozens of forks and spoons at each place setting. I always thought, my grandmother's egg custard pie to the contrary, that people just didn't have custard for dessert any more. Silly me!

Once the custard cooled, I poured it into the assembled Cuisinart (after chilling the freezing chamber overnight), and waited. Unlike the ice cream makers I remember from my childhood, though, the wait was only twenty minutes. The result was something very close to soft-serve, which I don't particularly care for, so I put it in the freezer to firm it up.

Mix it up! (Twenty minutes? That's all?!?)
After about an hour, I scooped out a sample. It was some of the best ice cream I've ever had! Amazingly delicious! And quite deadly. After having a small bowl,

Dish it up!
and making a milkshake with it,

Shake it up!
I realized that it was way too rich for my father. Heck, it was way too rich for me! I barely survived the encounter. I did, however, finish the batch over the next several days. Come on...I had to test how the ice cream held up over time, didn't I?

Now here's an example of decision-making in action: I knew I was creating these sandwiches to send to my father (and I'd make sure that there were enough for me to have a few myself). I also knew that I'd have a short window of opportunity to get it right. So, I bypassed the intermediate step I would normally have taken in altering the ingredients of the recipe (whole milk and half-and-half) and went straight for the version I was pretty sure would work best for him: two-percent milk and half-and-half. It was the right decision. It lost none of the genuine flavor (mainly because I kept the number of eggs the same) but cut the richness down substantially. This version was still amazing, it still made an incredible milkshake and it was still better than anything I've ever bought in the store – Blue Bell included.

If I haven't said it yet, I'll say it now. I absolutely love the Cuisinart! I'm looking forward to making a few different kinds of ice cream and then branching into sorbet and gelato. Williams-Sonoma Ice Cream has has a recipe for mint chocolate chip, too. Move over Baskin Robbins! And friend of Michele's gave her a recipe for pistachio ice cream that I'll make for her with lactose-free milk because she's lactose-intolerant (poor girl).

So. One problem solved (and a whole new obsession created). Now on to the next hurdle: The Cookie.

Installment Two Ends Here.

Currently listening to: The Whispers - It's A Love Thing

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Ice Cream Sandwich Man Cometh!

A couple of weeks ago I alluded to a secret project I was working on. I am now at liberty to divulge said secret, now that my father has received his box. Personally, I can't believe the end result of this 947 mile (as the crow flies) mad dash to send seven homemade ice cream sandwiches from NYC to Florida in the middle of a heatwave. I probably should have waited for cooler weather but I wanted to send a special treat to my father. I've been on pins and needles waiting for him to call to tell me if they arrived in any kind of edible shape. Apparently they did (they're in his freezer firming up even as I type) but he'll let me know definitively tonight. That being said, I think I can go ahead and post the beginning installment of this saga.

***

Months ago, when we were in the depths of a winter that wasn't terribly winter-like here in NYC, my father and I got to talking on the phone about ice cream. Actually, we were talking about our memories of ice cream – about our favorite brands (we both think Blue Bell is the best) and flavors (he loves strawberry but I'm, now, a vanilla kind of guy). I remember when he'd bring home a gallon and we'd be excited until we found out it was Neapolitan. Nothing ruins ice cream faster than having your favorite flavor butted up against one, or two, you don't like. My big sister, Karla, got the worst of it because she was the vanilla lover back then and little sister, Miss Kee, and I preferred chocolate. By the time Rob came along, I think my folks had given up on the concept of Neapolitan altogether. Besides, he and our mother were staunch chocolate fans, too.

From flavor and brand preferences, the conversation veered onto the topic ice cream sandwiches – which we both absolutely love. How cool is it to learn that you and your father like the same kind of ice cream sandwiches? How much more cool is it to realize that both of you lament the current crop of ice cream sandwich purveyors? Okay, so we're kind of curmudgeons when it comes to this, but.... Excuse me.

Hey! You kids get off my lawn!

Sorry about that.

As I was saying, we both love ice cream sandwiches and remember when the ice cream part wasn't some form of "soft serve" and the cookie part wasn't mushy and tasteless. I loved the way the cookie had a satisfying crunch (and didn't immediately stick to your fingers) but wasn't so hard that it squished the ice cream out from between the layers. I know part of that was the type of ice cream, and how frozen hard it was, though. The two elements combined for a brief summer trip to Nirvana. I don't know about my father, since this what a phone call, but I was certainly drooling over the idea of an ice cream sandwich by that time. I know, I know. Why didn't I just run right out and get one? Because it wasn't Ice Cream Sandwich Season, of course!

A Word About Food Idiosyncrasies: There are a few culinary experiences which I consider to have a "season". Ice cream sandwiches, milkshakes and Slurpees (Icees, for those of Texas extraction) all fall into the summer season. I'm less picky about hot chocolate in the summer, even though its season occurs in winter. If it's very good (say, from Café Henri) then I'll make an exception when I get a craving. 

That's the word – which I'm sure I'll revisit again in a later post.

And it was at that moment that I uttered the fateful words: "I'm going to figure out a way to make my own ice cream sandwiches." I seem to utter a lot of fateful words about trying to recreate desserts from my past, don't I? To paraphrase C3-P0: "It's my lot in life." Granted, there are much worse lots to have in life. However, since it wasn't even remotely ice cream season, the idea got shoved to the back burner of my ever simmering mind.

Slow-forward to a few weeks ago when I had my first milkshake of the season. The simmering pot started boiling over and I remembered the sandwiches.

"It's time," I said to Michele.

"Time for what?" she gamely asked.

"Time to start working on the ice cream sandwiches! I need to work out the cookie bit and the figure out how to wrap them and how to ship them to Daddy, and..."

"Are you going to make your own ice cream?"

Her question stopped my mouth right in it's tracks – which caused a three-lobe pile-up in my skull. Make. My. Own. Ice Cream? Now, remember, I am someone who, when faced with the option to take a route that is more authentic versus taking an easier way out in these baking endeavors, usually chooses the more authentic route even though it's more work (please note example of said preference via the "versus"). One of the few exceptions, as noted earlier, is zesting lemons for the ginger lemon cream cookies, and even that might change in the future. Honestly, it never occurred to me to make my own ice cream for this but once Michele put the idea out there, I couldn't get it out of my head.

The only problem was that we didn't have an ice cream maker and limited space to store one. We don't have one of those television New York apartments that comes with a four-car garage, a walk-in pantry and two huge bedrooms that any "Friend" with a job at some coffee shop or as an assistant chef can afford. In short, we're short on room here. Where would I even put such a machine? And what kind of machine would I get? The old-fashioned crank style was right out right off the bat. Too labor intensive and way too messy (rock salt and ice make for a drippy combination), if memory served me well enough. I didn't have that kind of time and we surely don't have that kind of storage space.

I needed a modern solution to a traditional problem. A quick consultation with Miss Google provided me with the most likely candidate, based on reviews from several different sites: the Cuisinart ICE 21.

Fits on the counter. Low messiness factor. Fits under the shelf.
Can I keep it, honey?
Not only was it a solidly rated machine but it would also fit in the space I had available under one of our shelves. Plus, since we had a gift card for Bed, Bath & Beyond (thanks, Karla), I could get it at half-price!I love when a plan comes together.

Still, for this particular plan to come together completely, I needed a few more items. Recipes for ice cream and the cookies between which to sandwich it, wrappers and a way to ship them to my father. Oh, and I needed a new cookie cutter because I didn't have one that would work for what I was imagining. Search as I might, I couldn't come up with a rectangular cutter of the right size, because I was actually going for a slightly larger size than a "standard" sandwich.

Enter CopperGifts.com. Their site came up when I started looking for custom cutters. They claimed they could do the job at a price, and shipping time, that met my needs, so that was that. This is what arrived in my kitchen a week or so later:

An ice cream sandwich cookie cutter to call my very own!
I love it! Those folks really know what they're doing! (Plus, I have to admit that getting something made specifically for me is kind of cool. It's like having my own special rubber stamp. And since I just happen to have my own special rubber stamp, I know from whence I speak.) The cutter has already successfully gone through three different cookie tests, and the actual batch that went to make the sandwiches I sent my father, and it's been a dream to use. The handle is useful, and fun, and the whole thing is light but sturdy.

I'll tell you how the tests turned out in the next post.

Installment One Ends Here.

Currently Listening To: Andreas Vollenweider, "Schajah Saretosh" and "Sena Stanjena?" - from Caverna Magica