With my first year of university completed, I have returned to my glorious kitchen. Glorious truly in comparison with the communal kitchen in the basement of our dormitory, which boasted a slanted stove, with one moderately effective burner, and the occasional field mouse. Cooking has alleviated the boredom and confusion that seems inherent to the first week home, suddenly removed from the grueling pace but undeniable stimulation that college provides. I honestly didn't know what to do with myself and after downing a few books, I turned to baking, beginning with an unblogged about olive oil cake and chocolate sea salt cake and culminating today with stracciatella and chocolate nudge cookies.
Stracciatella is a ridiculously delicious Italian gelato that consists of a vanilla base and instead of chunky American chocolate bits, boasts thin shavings. It's always a treat to find in a restaurant, but I shied away from making it because it seemed so labor intensive. But with hours and hours temporarily at my leisure, I found a recipe for it in a book of mine called, "Making Artisan Gelato" and set about the task one afternoon.
The base was fairly similar to the other ice creams I've made, but differed in its cream content since gelato has markedly less fat and thickness to it than regular ice cream, although more than sorbet or sherbet. To begin, you pour 2 cups of whole milk and 3/4 cup sugar into a pot and stirred over a medium heat until your thermometer reads 170 F. While that is heating up, whisk 4 egg yolks with 1/4 cup of sugar until there are small bubbles.
The next step involved tempering egg yolks, which essentially means heating them up to a non-cooking temperature, by pouring in half the milk and sugar and whisking until incorporated. Then you can pour the egg mixture back into the pot with the milk and sugar and heat until the temperature reaches 185 F and can coat a wooden spoon. To make sure that the custard is smooth, whisk it further. At this point, I also added the seeds from a section of a vanilla bean that I had procured a few months ago. Cut the bean crosswise and then split it down the middle with a sharp knife. This exposes the seeds and you can scrape them off with the side of a knife into the pot.
Next, you must pour 1 cup of heavy cream into a metal bowl, which is seated in an ice bath. Allow this to cool for about 10 minutes before you pour in the custard through a sieve and whisk (holding the bowl steady). Wait approximately 30 minutes (stirring every five minutes or so) until the custard has cooled and then place the bowl in the refrigerator for a minimum of 8 hours.
After chilling overnight in the freezer, the stracciatella was ready for my eager consumption. The sweet vanilla that overwhelmed the base gelato was nicely complemented by the sharpness of the chocolate bits and made me quite grateful to be cooking once again with real utensils (instead of the plastic ones I resorted to) and ingredients.
Saltie serves an array of sandwiches on their homemade focaccia bread (coming soon) and the meal is completed by a cucumber or hibiscus cooler or alternately a peach lassi and one or two of their desserts, which include fruit galettes, lavender salted shortbread and chocolate nudge cookies to name a few.
To begin, set your oven to 325 F and butter a cookie tray. In a food processor grind 1/2 cup of pistachios (unsalted) until they resemble large breadcrumbs. Also add 1 tbs sugar into the batch and pulse for one last time. In a large bowl, add 1.5 cups of flour, 1/3 cup of cocoa powder, 1/4 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt and whisk together. In a separate bowl, you can cream 1 cup of butter with 1 cup of powdered sugar and a splash of Grand Marnier, rum or vanilla extract.
Slowly add the flour and pistachios to the creamed butter, continuously beating until all the ingredients are incorporated. Finally, add 3/4 to 1 cup of bittersweet chocolate chips. The chips melt from the heat while baking and form layers of tartness in the sweet and grainy cookies. Next form the cookies into small balls with your hands and roll each one in sugar (the whole set requires about 1/2 cup of sugar). I had to cook mine for about 20 minutes, even though the recommended time is 10. Once they're done (have small cracks on the top), allow them to cool and then consume or the other way around. The gelato and cookies went quite well together and I look forward to an entire summer filled with baking and cooking before I have to go off to school again where my skills are put to the test with macaroni and cheese and baked beans. More later.