I’ve learned to love cherries in the past few years. It wasn’t a fruit I ate much growing up, but now it’s one of my favorites. Cherry season is short and it is one of those things that’s difficult at best – impossible, most of the time – to get at other times of the year. I ran through many options on how to enjoy them this year and couldn’t commit: I made a pie last year, and we shouldn’t eat many baked goods anyway, and anything refrigerated will just go bad, so…ice cream!
I love the Master Ice Cream Recipe from the New York Times. It’s very easy to follow and it provides a handy grid for flavorings. We made vanilla and mint last summer with great results, so I was feeling confident about cherry.
Pitting cherries is, well, the pits. My usual method is to put them all in a big plastic bag and smash them with a meat tenderizer to loosen the pits – it’s incredibly messy and the pits take a lot of the fruit with them. The Internet showed me the wine bottle and chopstick method: get an en empty wine bottle, stick the cherry on top and use the wide end of a chopstick to punch the pit down into the bottle. I pitted six cups of cherries this way and it was lots of fun (and a little messy – kids will probably love this).
The custard recipe is made with only cream for the cherry variation, so it ends up being intensely sugary. If you have a candy thermometer, I recommend using it to get the custard up to 170F after adding in the eggs – the custard was the perfect consistency and the thermometer took out the guesswork. The cherry puree also comes out pretty sweet, since it is just cherries and sugar. I was concerned while making both, since super sweet desserts are not my thing. If you have this same problem, just trust the recipe – it will turn out fine.
The cherry variation suggests adding kirsch if you have it, and I do. My husband works for a company that is headquartered in the Black Forest, and he’s always bringing back interesting local things. The first time, it was a cuckoo clock (I was skeptical at first, but now I love it) and the second time, it was kirsch made by the owner of an inn. Kirsch has a very strong sour cherry flavor, so a little goes a very long way – I added a quick splash with my finger partially covering the bottle. Also be mindful that the more alcohol you add, the harder it is to get a hard freeze on the ice cream.
I’m glad my husband had the foresight to buy an ice cream machine well before we ever started dating. I’m not great at committing to appliance purchases – I would have looked at this and gone “When will we ever use it? Pass!”. We use it multiple times a year, apparently, so good job, Tom! I usually stick the ice cream canister in the freezer at least 24 hours before I plan to churn the mixture so it gets intensely cold. I also refrigerate the mixture overnight and sometimes almost a full day before I churn it. The colder everything is, the faster the ice cream will come together. Most suggestions for churn time are 20-30 minutes, but this mixture thickened up very quickly – it only took me 12 minutes to get it to soft-serve texture. We put it in the freezer for 24 hours before serving.
The buttermilk added into the base is the real key to this flavor variation – it mellows out all the sugar that goes into the custard and the puree (the sourness from the kirsch also helps a little). You get the taste of the fresh cherries first and then a little bit of buttermilk tang at the end. The buttermilk also affects the texture a little – this isn’t the super-silky ice cream that our vanilla ended up being last year. It breaks apart a bit more, but still scoops nicely. Also, when you make ice cream with fresh fruit, expects bits of it to be in the end product. If you are someone who objects to chunky textures, make sure you blitz your puree more than you think is necessary.
Now, the trick is not eating it all by the end of the weekend.