Daring Bakers' Challenge: Chocolate Valentino

Ahh, chocolate. If there was one month I would expect to do something with chocolate, it's February. And this month, we're having a go at flourless chocolate cake. The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. They have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge. (Though, truth be told, the ice cream flavor was less important to the challenge than the fact that it be homemade. Score!)

Now, I must say, this was quite a simple recipe, only three ingredients required. Does it sound like I'm complaining? Clearly, you misunderstand. I have confessed to a certain level of sluggishness before now, I believe. So yes, three ingredients, right up my alley. But here, as with any recipe lacking a laundry list of components, quality and technique are key. The chocolate has not a thing to hide behind, it is the recipe. And while chocolate may be the star, it wouldn't amount to much of anything without a stellar supporting cast. Butter and egg yolks provide moisture and richness in texture, as whipped egg whites provide the lift for this decadent chocolate creation.

For the ice cream, well, let's just say I'm going through a caramel (ahem, carmel) phase. Since the Caramel Cake of November's challenge, I have had this uncontrollable need to play with caramel. At times a loveless venture, occasionally afflicting a blind rage, I have become obsessed with caramel in general. (I haven't even told you about the Caramels from Alice Medrich that were an optional part of that November challenge. I've attempted them, twice, and while I haven't been successful, this is one challenge I plan to master. Someday.) And then there's the Salted Caramel ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery in the Mission District of San Francisco. This frozen sweet makes silent all who hold it and jealous those who don't.

It's true the ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery inspired the decision to go with this particular flavor. Unbeknownst to me, I was not alone in this love for salted caramel ice cream, and I'm late to catch on as well. I decided to go with a milk-only ice cream, rich with egg yolks. As if sparing the cream somehow made up for the highly indulgent flourless chocolate cake it would accompany. Ignorance is bliss.

Check out the blogs of our fearless hosts this month for the Chocolate Valentino recipe. As for the ice cream: if you don't have an ice cream maker (and simply don't live near Bi-Rite) you can still enjoy this frozen treat, and once again, for all things ice cream, David Lebovitz is your man.

It is important to use good salt in this recipe. Try fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt (or other mild-tasting sea salt); and even Kosher salt will do in a pinch, but ordinary fine table salt is far too harsh. If you don’t have salted butter, just use a little extra salt. Don’t forget, saltiness diminishes in foods as they get colder, so don’t be afraid that you’ve ruined anything if it tastes too salty before it’s frozen. That being said, don’t go crazy.

Salted Caramel Ice Cream
3 cups (750 ml) whole milk, divided evenly
1½ cups (300 gr) sugar
4 tablespoons (60 gr) salted butter
scant ½ teaspoon sea salt
5 large egg yolks
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

Add sugar to a medium saucepan in an even layer. Heat the sugar over moderate heat until the edges begin to melt. Use a silicone spatula to gently stir the liquefied sugar from the bottom and edges towards the center, until all the sugar is dissolved. Continue to cook, stirring infrequently until the caramel starts smoking and begins to smell like it's just about to burn. Don’t worry about any undissolved lumps, what doesn’t dissolve will eventually or be strained out later.

Once caramelized, immediately remove from heat and stir in the butter and salt, until butter is melted, then gradually whisk in 1½ cups of milk (keep the other 1½ cups milk refrigerated until needed). The caramel may harden and seize, but return it to the heat and continue to stir over low heat until any hard caramel has melted.

Whisk the yolks in a small bowl and gradually pour some of the warm caramel mixture over the yolks, stirring constantly. Scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan and cook the custard using a silicone spatula, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture thickens. If using an instant-read thermometer, it should read 160°-170° F.

Pour the custard through a fine mesh sieve set over a medium bowl (1 qt or larger). Stir in the reserved cold milk and the vanilla. Refrigerate at least 8 hours, stirring occasionally, or until thoroughly chilled.

Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Eat right away, or chill in the freezer until firm.