Hop and Circumstance: Hop Ice Cream (Crème Glacée à l’Essence d’Houblon)

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

3)      Garniture

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.

French Ice Cream Base

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.

Someone set us up the bomb…

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.

***

After Two Days

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
pinch, salt

a)  Crack and separate eggs.

b)  Scale liquids.

Procedure

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.

5) Add the vanilla and salt to the cold cream, which should be in a large bowl.

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.

Tips/Variations:

  • 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.

    Cake and Ice Cream

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Wort Case Scenario: Brewer’s Gumbo

Time for a recipe!

Frozen Wort

I’ve really taken a shine to Creole/Cajun cuisine. Some people will resent the ‘slash’ between those terms, but there’s no denying the line between them can be pretty blurry. Since the spirit of this gumbo has to do with repurposing a waste product, let’s call it Cajun. I’ll just list the ingredients here, and get into the nitty gritty in a moment.

Yield: 6-8 servings

12 oz smoked sausage, sliced round
12 oz shrimp (peeled, deveined)

1 c diced green bell peppers
1 c diced celery
2 c diced onion
6 cloves minced garlic
1.5 c okra – sliced round

Dark roux – as needed (see notes below)

Spice blend:
3 T paprika
1.5 t cayenne
1 t garlic powder
1 t onion powder
1 t celery powder
2 t ground black pepper
2 t salt

4-5 c cooked long grain rice

Wort Flow

Simmering liquid:
1 pt brown stock (often marketed as ‘beef’)
1 pt low gravity wort from a dark beer
1/4 c Worcestershire

What’s a roux? Roux is a foundation of classic French cuisine – it is a thickening agent cooked from equal parts fat and flour. Creole and Cajun cuisine’s roots in classic European cuisine makes the use of roux commonplace, but especially dark roux. As roux is made, the flour becomes cooked in the fat and it browns. All different shades of roux are used in various dishes. Because of the length of time needed to turn the roux so dark (and because you would have to stir it constantly on the stove) you will find it rather easy to mix the flour and fat in a cool pan and then slip it into a 350° F oven until it is very, very dark brown. It could easily be 45 minutes. Just make sure it stays below 350° so as not to burn the flour. Then you’ll have to start over. How much roux you make depends on how thick you want your gumbo. I like it rather thick, and considering roux thickens less as it gets darker, I like to make plenty. Keep in mind if the little roux you made isn’t enough, you’re kind of screwed, and excess roux will store well. So go ahead, mix 2 cups or more of flour with enough vegetable oil to form a clumping, squeezable, wet-sand mixture in an oven-safe pan and pop it in the oven, uncovered.

A word about stocks... Stocks are quite literally the first thing we learn in culinary school. I feel like there’s a public misconception that stocks are supposed to be very flavorful and complex. Quite the opposite. Stocks are basically fortified waters. They are simmered with bones and aromatics to create a large volume of liquid where flavors can be built upon and enhanced. Stocks can also be further processed and reduced into sauces like demi-glace. Stocks should not have strongly discernible flavors, salt, or fat. Look at the stocks available in your store, they contain some pretty questionable stuff (what the hell is ‘beef extract’?), which includes added fat and salt – most likely because people look for more substance in their stock. I’ve found the best one available in many supermarkets is ‘Kitchen Basics’ unsalted stocks. ‘Better than Bullion’ is also nice (it stores well), but rather salty. Look for good-quality homemade stocks at farmer’s markets.

Malt Stock

As a brewer, consider what wort really is – it’s much like a stock. Water is (very lightly) simmered in cracked malt and aromatics (if you’re mash hopping), much like shrimp shells and parsley stems.  To take the analogy one step further, finished, cleared beer is much like consomme. Of course the goals and quality characteristics of good wort and stock differ, but it’s a rather elementary process. Alternatively if you don’t have wort on hand, steep some dark specialty malts in double the amount of stock as called for in the recipe. Steep in a very light simmer (around 165° F) for about 20 minutes in cheesecloth or a grain sack of some sort so they can be removed. Funny enough, this is called making ‘tea.’

Beat that meat! The meat is really just a suggestion, you’re welcome to use whatever meat you have, or none at all, if that’s your thing. Keep in mind the dark flavors of the roux, stock, and wort are often paired with ‘darker’ meats like beef, but gumbo is no stranger to experimentation. Interestingly enough, all that toasted flour in the roux lends a ‘fried chicken’ flavor to the dish.

Procedure:

  1. You should already have the roux in the oven, the vegetables diced medium (okra sliced into rings), and the meat ready. Now’s also not a bad time to combine everything in the simmering liquid and get it hot.
  2. Hopefully you have something like a 5 qt cast iron dutch oven. If not, use whatever 4 or 5 qt pot you have available. Coat the meat with the seasoning blend and brown in the pot with a little bit of oil if necessary. After thoroughly seared, remove from the pot.
  3. Add the vegetables, except the okra and garlic. (A lot of recipes I’ve seen call for frying the okra separately. Just be careful not to burn it. However I’ve added frozen okra later on to the simmer and it’s turned out great.) Cook the vegetables until they start to brown.
  4. At this point you may have some fond on the surface of the pot. Fond is the goodness that is stuck to the pan after cooking. Add some of the simmering liquid to the hot fond to liberate it from the pot surface – stir constantly while it bubbles, then add the rest of the simmering liquid – this is deglazing. Remember, I said I like my gumbo on the thicker, stew side. If you want something soupier, and less dense, you could add more liquid.
  5. Add the reserved meat (and any liquid that came off of it). Bring to a boil.
  6. Cover and simmer until everything is tender, maybe 45 minutes. Some recipes call for an hour. Adjust the time depending on the texture you would like – I like it a little toothy. Hopefully this times out well with the roux so it’s out of the oven and has a chance to cool a little. Because you’re simmering for an extended time you can use dried herbs to enhance the flavor. Marjoram, thyme, parsley, etc. Otherwise, a fresh herb bouquet also works.
  7. Now’s a good time to start on that rice.
  8. After it is done simmering, uncover and add cooled roux to the pot. The liquid is hot and the roux should be cooler so that it mixes without clumping – those roux dots are no good. Add a little at a time and stir in completely until you have the desired thickness. The okra is also a thickener (most people are turned off by its sliminess), but it needs help from the roux.
  9. Adjust any seasonings and serve. Molded rice in the middle of a wide bowl makes for a nice presentation. Sprinkle lightly with spicy hop dust. I’ve been thinking about garnishing with Worcestershire gelee, but that’s for another time. Serve with Tobasco  and Worcestershire.

Look out for more recipes featuring brewing ‘waste,’ as well as finished beer.

Wort Case Scenario: Tips

As I have been progressing through my classes, I have been keeping a look-out for various ways to integrate beer with classic techniques. I strongly subscribe to the point of view that beer and beer by-products are prepared items, which should be considered for use as a tool for flavor, much like wine or tomato puree. Of course its use must still be discretionary, as it has various unique properties that will present themselves through trial and error. Having made the beer yourself will of course give you more intimate knowledge of its flavor profile and some understanding of its chemical makeup. Here are some things to keep in mind when cooking with beer and wort.

  • Do you want to eat sediment? Be conscious of whether or not the finished beer you’re cooking with is bottle conditioned. But it is a good way to get your vitamins!
  • Bitter beer face! You may like the bitterness of an IPA in your glass, but as you reduce its volume in cooking, its bitterness level soars since it becomes concentrated. Either use the sweetest beers you can find, or consider the use of unhopped, unfermented sweet wort. If you don’t brew, ask you friendly neighborhood homebrewer or brewpub.
  • Saccharific! If you do use wort, keep in mind that it contains all the sugar that would  be fermented into alcohol (lots of maltose). It’s a different kind of sweetness than what you may be used to, and the flavor is altogether quite different than finished beer, so be sure to taste. Approximately three quarters of wort’s weight is fermentable sugar. This high percentage of sugar makes wort great for syrup – just reduce it until it becomes thick. After all, that’s what malt extract is. Finished beer will also have unfermented sugars (‘body’), but obviously in much less concentration.
  • Wort gone wild! Since wort is made up of so much fermentable sugar, it is ideal for fermentation. This is good and bad. Why it’s bad is very simple: if you collected your wort from the mash dregs (before the boil), the liquid is not even pasteurized and it will spoil/ferment very easily from wild yeast. Store in your fridge immediately or freeze. On the other hand if your wort came from the boil kettle dregs, it will have a longer shelf life, but it has been bittered by hops – so that’s a concern. Of course this fermentation can be used for good: bread baking, fermented batters, etc. Of course, unless you’re cultivating sourdough or your own strains of brewing yeast , I would stick to packaged yeasts.

I will explore these various facets of cooking with beer/wort through future posts – stay tuned for more recipes, tips, and pictures.

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