For all the wonderful ice creams that are commercially available, I find myself turning to a simple approach I devised years ago for whipping up vividly-flavored tropical fruit ice creams with much less cream and sugar than usual. When pureed, ripe bananas, papayas and/or mangos achieve the creamy silky texture that quantities of cream and egg yolks normally achieve. The resulting faux ice cream reminds me of the tropical-flavored ice creams I’ve bought from stands in Chinatown or when traveling in Mexico. They make a great antidote to winter blues as well as a fine midnight snack.
The method is simple: chunks of the peeled fruit are frozen with sugar and lime, then pureed in a food processor with cream or coconut milk, resulting in suave, flavorful ice cream. You can blend fruits, spike them with vanilla, rum or other flavors (a pinch of cardamom would a lovely), or garnish the ice cream with shredded sweetened coconut toasted in the oven until golden for a bit of crunch. Sublime sundaes are easily improvised by layering the ice cream with store-bought dulce de leche, roasted nuts and whipped cream.
Leave out the cream and you have an intense fatfree sorbet; a sorbet of pineapple, lime and a drizzle of dark rum is particularly refreshing.
The key to the velvety texture and intense flavor is that the fruit be truly ripe and fragrant.
Recipe: Banana, Mango and/or Papaya Ice Cream
4 cups ripe, fragrant fruit,(peeled, seeded or cored as appropriate and cut into ½-inch chunks), such as:
3 medium mangoes (12 ounces each) OR
2 pounds papaya (preferably red papaya) OR
2 very ripe large bananas
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice
Sugar, brown sugar or honey, to taste
1 to 2 teaspoon vanilla extract, dark rum, or kirschwasser (clear cherry brandy)
About 1/2 cup heavy cream, crème fraiche or unsweetened coconut milk, to taste (optional)
In a medium bowl, combine the fruit, lime juice and sugar. Let sit at room temperature until the fruit has released its juices, about 1 hour. Pour the mixture onto a rimmed baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze until solid, at least 2 hours.
Break the fruit up with a cooking spoon and transfer to a food processor. Pulse until the fruit reduced to the texture of a crystalline meal, stopping frequently to scrape down the sides (if the fruit is too hard to process, allow it to soften for 1 to 2 minutes before continuing).
Add vanilla or alcohol to taste and additional sugar if necessary and pulse a few times more. Then add the cream if desired and continue processing, scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently, until the consistency of medium-soft ice cream. (It does not have to be completely smooth; a few chunks of fruit add nice texture.)
Serve at once or transfer to a serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap and freeze for several hours. If the ice cream becomes frozen solid, place it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to soften.
Note: This formula for ice creams and sorbets may also be made in an ice cream maker, for a finer texture. Peel and slice the fruit as directed in the recipe above but do not freeze them. Reserve 1/2 cup of the fruit. In a food processor, process the remaining 4 cups of fruit to a thick puree. Add the heavy lime juice, sugar and cream. Continue process until smooth. Stir in the reserved fruit. Freeze the mixture according to manufacturer’s instructions
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