It is possible that we are just wee bit crazy over cherries. We love the darned things, and it is nothing for us to sit and consume an entire pound between the two of us.
I don’t cook with sweet cherries a whole lot, because cooking them tends to kill some of the flavor and sweetness. Cooking is generally reserved for tart or sour cherries. Those can a little difficult to find in the supermarket, but they do grow around here, so a couple years ago, we planted a tree. This year it has something like 8 tiny cherries on it, which are going to make a very small pie indeed, assuming the birds don’t get them before we do. We also planted some sweet cherries, but our luck with those has not been great.
The first sweet cherry tree we planted 3 years ago, appeared to be dead last summer, and only the fact that we were so busy accounted for the fact that we didn’t dig it up. This spring, when a single branch sprouted out of the side of the little twig that has passed for a trunk, and filled out nicely with leaves, we were like “Yay!”. Just to be safe though, we planted another sweet cherry tree this spring, and it pushed out a bunch of cheery looking leaves right before a hard frost came – it has since lost its cheery aspect and looks rather dismal right now. And, oh yeah – the first one got attacked by aphids and all of its leaves fell off. So, now, we are like “Boo!”
Sigh. Perhaps we are not meant to grow sweet cherries. I expect we will keep trying, but in the meantime we spend a ridiculous amount of money on fresh ones. In fact, when it comes to cherries, as our hands hover over another bag that costs roughly the same as planting a new tree, we remind each other that we can get them for only a short time each year, and we love them, and they are very good for you – blah blah blah. Really we don’t care about any of that – we just want more cherries. Fortunately, the cherries for this ice cream never get cooked at all, which means they keep every bit of their sweet, juicy flavor. Also fortunate is that this is the time of year when they are the very cheapest in the store, so now is definitely time to make this!
- Sweet cherries
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon vodka or cherry liqueur [optional]
- 3 cups half and half
- 1 whole vanilla bean [about 6 inches long]
- 3 eggs, room temperature
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- First, pit and coarsely chop sweet cherries, until you have a heaping cup. I try to mix them up a bit as far as ripeness, for some flavor contrast, avoiding any that are soft or over-ripe. Mix in 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar, plus the vodka or liqueur, if you are using it, and set in the fridge. The alcohol is not for flavor, so much as it is to keep the cherries from freezing rock hard. The sugar helps some with this, and the alcohol, though miniscule in any single serving will be present, as it does not get cooked out at all, so leave it out it out if you prefer.
- Put the half and half in a roomy saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, and scrape down the insides to get out all of the seeds. Add the seeds and the pods to the cream, and bring it up to slow boil. Reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for about 30 minutes.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until very thick and a bit pale in color.
- Remove the vanilla bean pod from the cream, and measure out about a cup of the cream. Very gradually, beat this cup of cream into the eggs, and sugar, whisking constantly. Then, add that back to the rest of the cream in the saucepan, whisking all the while. [trust me, this sounds much more complicated than it actually is - the keys are not to rush it, and to keep whisking] Bring the mixture back up to a slow simmer, continuing to whisk it, and cook until it coats the back of a spoon. This means that when you dip a spoon in the mixture, and run a finger across the back of it, a well defined line remains.
- Strain the custard base, cover with plastic wrap placed directly on the surface, and chill completely. Once chilled, assemble your ice cream machine. Put the chopped cherries in the freezer to chill further - I do this right before I get the ice cream churning. You want the fruit to be very cold but not frozen, so the half hour it takes to churn the ice cream is perfect. Then, follow your ice cream maker's instruction for adding the ice cream base, and churning. Add the cherries during the last 5 minutes of processing, to ensure they are evenly distributed. Remove the ice cream from the machine and place in a freezer safe container. Cover the surface with plactic wrap, and then cover tightly. Allow to ripen for several hours before serving.
It is heavenly perfection. You could just skip dinner entirely and sit on the porch swing with your chief taste tester, the container straight from the freezer and a couple of spoons. Not that we did that or anything, but you are welcome to give it a try.No one is going to complain, I promise!