Spumoni

Ah, Heaven! Homemade Spumoni...
You could always count on my grandmother to produce the latest food find to hit the grocery store shelves. She was a clever and determined shopper who wasn't just on the hunt for the best deal, but she was bent on bringing home treats that we--her grandchildren--would 'ooh' and 'aah' over. Sometimes, her treasures would get a round of applause, but other times, well, not so much.

When we would spend time with my grandparents, we--my brother, cousin, and I--would spend endless hours at their table in the tiny kitchen, writing stories and drawing cartoons. My grandfather had a keen hand and would amaze and amuse us with an endless stream of characterchures, or keep us on the edge-of-our-seats with tales of the old country, complete with vampires and bats and pastoral venues that turned dark and foreboding once the sun went down.

Sometimes, my grandmother would join us, but usually, she was in the background nearby and without fail, at some point, she would produce 2-3 bowls of snacks--the latest crackers or chips, a new cookie or candy, cereals, nuts and snack mixes. And of course, that was just the beginning, because as our visit progressed, she would continue to offer us an endless choice of snacks and treats--boxes of fine chocolates, toffees, nuts--until finally, she would make the last offer of the day--ice cream--and just like the selection of snacks, her selection of ice creams rivaled the biggest and best ice cream parlors in the city.

So, it's no wonder that the first time in my life that I ever had spumoni was at my grandmother's kitchen table. Although she warned us in advance that it was the sort of ice cream that adults liked, it didn't deter us from trying it for ourselves. Then, in quick succession, my brother and cousin set down their spoons and said they would rather prefer their own standard flavors--strawberry and vanilla. I, however, was instantly enamored.

Spumoni, of course, is an Italian delicacy and consists of a mix of 3 flavors of ice cream: pistachio, cherry, and chocolate. It's usually prepared and molded into a bomb with the cherry in the middle and while it's delicious scooped, it is usually served sliced. Its culinary roots can be traced to Naples and as you've probably figured out, the ubiquitous Neapolitan ice cream found in virtually every American grocery store is a distant cousin.

Unfortunately, spumoni is hard to find outside of any area with a prolific Italian population and while it's true enough that if you happen to hit the trifecta at your local ice cream parlor, you may be able to find all three flavors and satisfy your craving, the chances are not in your favor. Luckily, I've come up with a recipe you can make at home; either store it in 3 separate containers and scoop away, or layer it in a Pullman loaf pan and slice it up. Either way, this is a treat worth the effort of making and well-worth sharing.

Basic Custard
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
5 egg yolks
3/4 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon high quality vanilla extract
pinch of salt

1. Mix together milk, cream and sugar.
2. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well to incorporate into the mix.
3. Add vanilla and pinch of salt.
4. Pour into a heavy saucepan and gently heat, stirring regularly until mixture thickens and coats the back of a metal spoon.
5. Cool to room temperature and then pour into a large container and refrigerate overnight before using.

Bittersweet Chocolate Ice Cream
1 recipe custard
1/4 cup of heavy cream
1 box of Baker's Bittersweet Chocolate

1. Break apart chocolate and place in a glass bowl; add the 1/4 cup of heavy cream.
Microwave, stirring often, in 10 second intervals, until the chocolate softens; whisk to combine it with the cream.
2. Very slowly--in 2 tablespoon increments--add some of the prepared custard to the chocolate and whisk to combine. Once the custard easily incorporates into the chocolate, you can add it in greater amounts, but if you add it too quickly the chocolate mixture will 'seize up' and confound you.
3. Once the chocolate and custard are combined, refrigerate the mixture until completely cold and then pour into an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacture's instructions.

Cherry Ice Cream
1 recipe custard
2 cups of fresh pitted cherries (or frozen), chopped
2 tablespoons of cherry liquour--I used the Croatian Maraska--or Amarretto
1 teaspoon of almond extract

1. Soak cherries in the liquor and the almond extract.
2. Gently mash the cherry mixture to release the juices.
3. Process the custard in the ice 'cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions until frozen.
4. Stir in cherry mixture and immediately transfer to a freezer container and freeze.

Pistachio Ice Cream
* I know you'll think I lost my mind on this one, because really, I thought about steeping the pistachios in the custard base and then straining them and then adding fresh chopped pistachios and a bit of green food coloring, but I decided to try adding a small box of pistachio pudding to see what would happen and--I love it! A very different, creamy, smooth consistency that pairs well with the other textures. Try it!

1 recipe custard
1 small box of pistachio pudding mix

1. Thoroughly blend pudding mix into the custard until completely combined.
2. Chill mixture until cold and then pour into a square glass baking dish and freeze, stirring periodically until soft frozen.
3. Pack into an air tight freezer container and freeze until ready to serve.




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