Even as homebrewers and adventurous cooks find many culinary applications for brewing elements such as malts, extract, finished beer, and even yeast, hops remain particularly troublesome considering their characteristic bitterness (my hop-crusted trout turned out not so great). After all, while malt is often used in chocolates and candies, and yeast is used in baking, hops are confined rather exclusively to the realm of beer. Perhaps there’s an unspoken inverse-Reinheitsgebot that prohibits hops from leaving the brewery. God forbid.
While in Desserts and Plating class, my instructor offered me a challenge. Being a homebrewer himself, he dared me to make a West Coast IPA/Pliny the Elder ice cream. This was not a challenge I would back down from. But where to start? I began by analyzing the components.
1) The Ice Cream Base
2) The Flavoring
I decided, for this trial at least, I would make a custom crème anglaise base and then simply dry-hop it for two days with Cascade and Centennial cones. I may have used too many, as the dry hops sucked up much of the base. I plan to try this again with fresh hops this harvest season.
What is crème anglaise? ‘English Cream’ is a dessert sauce made of sweetened heavy cream and milk, tempered with eggs. It is delicious as is, but when freeze-churned it becomes known as French style ice cream. American style ice cream is made without eggs for a lighter product. Varying amounts of fat (cream, milk, egg, etc) in either style of ice cream affects texture and flavor. There is a whole science to ice cream, what with all the proteins, fats, sugars, and temperature changes. Adjusting the ratio of ingredients, much like with dough, can change the overall product dramatically.
Let’s talk about sugar. There’s nothing wrong with using white, granulated sugar, but you can use demerara or turbinado, just as you might in brewing. Some may suggest using Dry Malt Extract (DME), but I have some reservations. First of all, DME is somewhat expensive. Secondly, it can be a pain to work with. In a non-humid environment, it is easily scaled (one reason it is good for brewing, in contrast to Liquid Malt Extract), but once it is introduced to moisture it becomes gummy and must be blended over heat. Good luck getting DME into those egg yolks (see procedure below). My last reservation is of overall effect: I once made an apple tartin made with 50/50 white sugar and DME. In a class full of a dozen other tartins, there was no noticeable difference in flavor. So if you want to try DME, use 100%, but I think you’ll get more effect from character malts. Of course there’s the gumminess issue with 100% DME – if you’re making American style, it’s more of a possibility. And while I did use all white, granulated sugar, I steeped hops in it for two weeks before hand to make a hop-scented sugar, the same way chefs make vanilla sugar. It might be for naught, considering any hop scent is probably cooked out.
Bitter ice cream? Considering the hops aren’t boiled, bitterness shouldn’t be an issue. The alpha acids require boiling to be isomerized into a liquid – homebrewers work with this concept in timed intervals when making beer, known as a hopping schedule. However, my trial-churn turned out rather bitter, but I think I know why. Like I said, my hops were dry and sucked up much of the base. When straining them out I had to press them with a spoon to get enough base for churning. I likely disturbed the lupulin glands, or something of that nature. I will try fresh cones (which of course are less potent), but they are only harvested at certain times in the year. Barring wet hops, I would recommend rehydrating dry cones in cream or milk so that it doesn’t take your entire base.
So, at this point you’ve got a rich, delicious ice cream with a bright grassy, herbal, citrusy flavor. Some added grapefruit zest could accent it well, which begs the question: should garniture be included? The time to do it is right when it comes out of the machine, unless you’re at a Cold Stone Creamery. I doubt I will ever see the day they make hop ice cream. But what kind of garniture goes with hop flavor? Consider the anatomy of beer: a terribly sweet liquid that is balanced out with bitter hops. So let’s consider it in reverse and use a terribly sweet garnish. It would be a lost opportunity to go with something as simple as chocolate or nuts – stick with the beer motif and consider a swirl of malt extract, much like a caramel or fudge swirl in commercial ice creams. I would recommend thinning out the extract with milk or cream, otherwise its high sugar content will force it to become too hard when frozen. In my trial I ended up topping the small scoop with raw wildflower honey. While not thematically congruent, it was delicious.
RECIPE: Hop Ice Cream
Yield: about 2 quarts
10 oz egg yolks
15 oz sugar
40 oz milk
20 oz heavy cream
2.5 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ oz dry Cascade cones, hydrated in milk
½ oz dry Centennial cones, hydrated in milk
a) Crack and separate eggs.
b) Scale liquids.
1) Gently whisk about half the sugar into the egg yolks until smooth.
2) Combine the other half of the sugar with the milk and whisk together. Scald the milk over high heat until just about to boil. Kill the heat.
3) Temper some of the milk into the yolks until fluid. Combine this mixture back into the rest of the milk.
4) Cook over medium heat while stirring, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If the custard gets too lumpy, you can buzz it with a blender.
6) Strain the custard.
7) Pour the strained custard into the cold cream while stirring to shock it.
8) Have the hops in a large container that will go in your fridge. While the base is still warm, pour over the hops. Cover with plastic (push down on to the surface of the base), and chill for two days before straining and churning.
- Play around with your sugar choices, as described above.
- Garnish with ribbons of malt syrup loosened with milk or cream.
- Try with fresh hops when available.
- Hydrate dry hops in milk to avoid pressing the base out of them (or experiment with the bitterness).
- I wouldn’t recommend using pellet hops.
- Drop the eggs for a lighter, American style ice cream. Take this opportunity to use a high proportion of DME.
- Steep crystal malt in the cream first at 150° – 160° F for about 25 minutes, then chill it. Continue with recipe.