Not all the ice creams I make are swoon-worthy. Some are interesting and pair well with certain desserts, but can’t stand on their own. Some are fine, but are only that, and don’t quite hit the right note. Some, I’m too impatient for and I end up curdling the custard, or don’t let chill thoroughly before *trying* to churn. I’ve yet to make the perfect chocolate ice cream – it’s texture problem I haven’t yet sorted out. Some, and it’s a select few (I’m looking at you, Salted Caramel and Bourbon Brown Sugar), are simply divine. This one rises to that prestigious position: Toasted Coconut with Roasted Strawberry Swirl. I’ve now made it more times than I can count.
Regardless of the less-than-stellar attempts I’ve encountered along the way, I adore making ice cream. A pursuit that people are unduly impressed by.
It’s delayed gratification at its finest and not for everyone. It requires an investment in some specialty (and some argue, unwieldy) equipment and is a serious time commitment. This particular ice cream requires a multitude of time-consuming steps. You could, much more easily, and certainly more quickly, run to the market and pick up a pint should the whim strike.
But me, I like the process. Making the base, infusing the flavor, letting it develop (toasted coconut!), while contrasting the tastes and textures (slow roasted strawberry!), knowing that the payoff will be not only sweet, but also long lasting. (I can’t be the only one constantly astonished that something that I spent hours or even days on, can be devoured in an instant … or has the shelf life of three days.) Ice cream, if my self-restraint can be relied upon, can live in my freezer for several weeks and savored by the spoonful.
It’s striking to me how similar it is to my life in academics.Time-consuming, check. Unwieldy investment, check. Unduly impressive, check. Delayed gratification ………………………. ………………………………….……………………..….. check.
And can have the sweetest of payoffs. Decadent and indulgent, for sure.
I recently signed the papers accepting a tenure-track position as an Assistant Professor of Biology at Emory University. My first bona fide job since graduating college a full decade ago. A job that real people have actually heard of (i.e. those outside of academics, because really, who else knows what a postdoc is?). It’s kind of a big deal. It’s not for everyone. And, quite honestly, it’s the first thing in a very long time that I am proud of. Without doubt, worth stopping and savoring. (Even more honestly: I’ve rapidly transitioned from awe and wonderment to terrified and overwhelmed.)
I probably could have done something different with my life that hasn’t required the sacrifices. I’ve relocated twice now, (and soon going to do it again) to far reaches of the country where I know not a single soul. I could probably have been making much more money than I have as a graduate student or as a postdoc. When I told my family of my decision to go to graduate school, I was met with skeptical looks and unasked questions of why I’d want to stay in school for even longer than I had. I could have gone to the market and bought the ice cream in the freezer section or even gone to the specialty shop and bought the artisanal, fancy-pants ice cream for $12. That may have satisfied my desires. But I didn’t. I developed the skills and acquired the equipment to create whatever kind of ice cream my heart desires. And will take that with me in the future.
A long time coming, indeed.Toasted Coconut Ice Cream 1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut 1 ½ cups whole milk 1 ½ cups heavy cream, divided ¾ cup granulated sugar, divided pinch of salt 1 vanilla bean, split 5 large egg yolks 2 tablespoons rum Roasted Strawberry Swirl 1 lb strawberries, halved or quartered (depending on size) 3 tablespoons honey **********
For ice cream: Spread coconut flakes on a baking dish. Toast at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, until toasted and fragrant. In a medium saucepan, combine milk, ½ cup cream, ½ cup sugar, salt, toasted coconut and vanilla bean. Heat until steam starts to rise, cover and remove from heat. Let coconut and vanilla steep for 1 hour. Pass mixture through mesh strainer and return to saucepan. Whisk together egg yolks and remaining ¼ cup sugar in a large bowl. Rewarm the infused dairy mixture and slowly whisk in the egg yolks. Continue to heat until mixture is thickened. Strain again, into the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream. Chill thoroughly. Stir in rum and churn according to manufacturers instructions.
For the strawberries: In a large baking dish, gently toss strawberries and honey. Bake at 300 degrees for two hours, until juices are very thick. Puree and pass through a fine mesh sieve to remove seeds. Chill thoroughly.
Layer the churned ice cream and strawberry puree in a freezer proof container. Freeze for at least 4 hours before serving. Because of the relatively high alcohol content, the ice cream will be fairly soft and has a two-fold benefit: easy to scoop and a touch of pina colada.