Perfect Pairings

Of berries, ice cream and summer


It’s the time of year when we find ourselves in a paradise of berries. Skagit strawberries have been going strong for a month, we’re currently awash in ripe red raspberries, and blueberries are just starting. Blackberries are still a ways off, which gives us something to look forward to.

What to do with all the berries? Once I’ve stuffed my face with the first few pints, made a batch of muffins and started to freeze some for winter smoothies, I start to look for other ways of enjoying them. Strawberry shortcake is classic, as is jam. What about ice cream or sorbet?

In its simplest form, a frozen berry dessert can consist of nothing more than berries and sugar dumped in a blender, then either frozen in an ice cream maker to make sorbet or spread out on a baking sheet in the freezer and scraped up with a fork to make a granita.

Sugared strawberries (with or without a little sweet liqueur) are wonderful as an ice cream topping, as is a syrup made of raspberries that have been cooked down and pressed through a sieve to make a seedless, intensely tart sauce (this is absolutely fabulous on chocolate cake). Or simply warm up a little berry jam to spoon over a bowl of vanilla ice cream.

For the most work but the biggest punch, make an ice cream from scratch. Philadelphia-style (no eggs) is easy, but is best eaten immediately. Custard ice cream is more complicated, but absolutely wonderful. This is how you get that rich, creamy, silken texture of ice cream that keeps in the freezer without hardening—not that your leftovers will last long.

Homemade frozen yogurt or ice cream can have berries mixed directly into it—this works best with cooked fruit, since raw fruit chunks will freeze solid. You can add berry puree to the ice cream while it churns, layer it with sauce after churning to make a berry ripple ice cream, or simply drizzle the sauce onto each scoop. This is good with any berry sauce, from chilled raspberry puree swirled through dark chocolate ice cream to warm blueberry sauce poured over lemon sherbet, but a particularly great match with vanilla ice cream is strawberry balsamic sauce. I had it for the first time at the Salt and Straw ice cream stand in Portland, and it is fantastic.

There are several ways of making the sauce, but I love roasting the strawberries with a little sugar, condensing the flavors, then mixing in balsamic vinegar, which in this quantity is not overpowering, just adding a little complexity and savor to the fruit. Feel free to up the quantity of vinegar, or add a few grinds of black pepper for additional punch.

We made this ice cream for our Fourth of July dinner, serving it with a spoonful of raspberry granita, and it made our guests’ eyes roll back in their heads. I highly recommend it.

[Recipe #1]

Vanilla Ice Cream with Strawberry-Balsamic Swirl
—Recipes adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz


For the berry sauce:
4 cups strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered
¼ cup sugar
½-1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Gently mix the strawberries, sugar and half-teaspoon of vinegar in a high-sided baking dish and roast at 375° for about half an hour, until the berries are soft and the juice is syrupy. Taste the sauce and add another half-teaspoon of vinegar if desired, mashing the berries roughly into a chunky sauce. Refrigerate until ready to use.

For the ice cream:
1 cup whole milk
2/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 ½ cups heavy cream
5 egg yolks
½ tsp vanilla

Combine the milk, sugar and salt in a saucepan and warm them over low heat. Pour the cream into a mixing bowl and put a sieve on top.

Whisk the egg yolks together in a bowl, then pour the warm milk into the yolks, whisking. Scrape this back into the saucepan. Stir over medium heat until the mixture thickens, then pour it through the strainer into the cream and stir. Add the vanilla. Let the mixture cool (an ice bath helps do this quickly), then chill, covered, in the fridge.

Churn according to your ice cream maker’s directions. Layer the ice cream in a container with the strawberry sauce and freeze for an hour or so before serving.

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