Tamarind Ice Cream

Whenever I think of tamarind, the first thought that comes to my mind is a small, round, dark brown candy that was sold by the street vendor in front of my school. When I was a little girl in Brazil, I use to eat one every day after school while waiting for the bus.

But the fruit of the tamarind is far more than a memory from childhood. It is one of the greatest sources of sour taste in cooking. It is broadly found in the cooking of India, Asia, and African dishes. In Brazil, although the fruit grows abundantly since the tall tamarind tree adapts perfectly to our tropical climate, it has never been explored to its full potential. But now in the wave of “wake up to our local ingredients” it’s nouvelle cuisine.

Recently in Brazil, I bought a small tray and devoured the whole thing by myself in a matter of minutes. To suck on a tamarind pit is to experiment the quintessential taste of the exotic. As you can see in the photos, the fruit itself is not your typical apple, orange, or banana. There is very little pulp, and the size of the pit occupies most of the fruit. In my opinion, this so called “fruit” is almost like a natural paste of tamarind that carries so much acid and so much sugar that it feels like eating that tamarind candy of my childhood.

The secret of cooking with tamarind is how to best extract the pulp. To use the fruit, you have to crack the fava, peel it, and clean away the “hair”. If you have about ¼ lb (125g) place that in a glass bowl and cover with 1 cup of boiling water. Soak for 20 minutes periodically mashing the tamarind with your fingers. Strain and discard the pit and any debris. Keep this concentrated paste in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Tamarind can be used in many different ways: In Brazil it is mostly used in sauces, and juices. In India is common in chutneys and curries. In the US, tamarind can be found in the form of paste, cubes, or frozen pulp.

The recipe below is adapted from ©Joseluis Flores and Laura Zimmerman Maye cookbook Dulce, Rizzoli, 2010

Tamarind Ice Cream

Helado de Tamarindo

Serves 8

2 cups (480 ml) heavy cream

1 cup (240ml) whole milk

¾ cup (150g) sugar

7 egg yolks

1 cup tamarind puree*

1 – In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cream, milk, and sugar to a boil. Reduce the heat and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and let rest for 5 minutes.

2 – In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. Continue whisking while pouring a small amount of the hot cream mixture into the yolks. This will temper the yolks and keep them from curdling. While whisking the hot cream mixture, gradually add the tempered yolk. Stir with a wooden spoon over medium – low heat until the custard coats the back the back of the spoon, being careful not to boil, about 4 minutes. Strain the custard through a fine sieve into a clean bowl.

3 – Chill the custard in the refrigerator until very cold, about 3 hours or use an ice bath. Stir in the tamarind puree. Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

* In the US tamarind paste can be found in many Asian or Indian markets. In New York, I recommend www.kalustyans.com.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

There are quite a few foods from the American cuisine repertoire that are now deeply entrenched in my vein and I just can’t live without them. Even when I am in Brazil, surrounded by passion fruits, pineapples, and other exotic fruits, images of the foods I eat at home in America often swim across my brain.

Chocolate chip cookies are on top of my list. My infatuation with this quintessential American treat started when I was a 14-year old teenager in a foreign exchange student program in San Diego, CA. I started my trip fairly skinny and came back with a generous 10 pounds extra, all on chocolate chip cookies. At that time, Miss Fields and David’s Cookies cluttered every corner of the sunshine state. So there I was, a declared Brazilian cookie monster, literally.

Fast forward 20 years, I have tried hundreds of recipes since then and became very particular about the subject. My children often eat chocolate chip cookies out of a bag, those small little quarter sized cookies, much too crispy and completely dried all around. They don’t even tickle me. Other times I see chocolate chip cookies the size of a salad plate. Not a chance– pass. In my opinion, the perfect chocolate chip cookie (a Brazilian talking about a chocolate chip cookie? I know I am being brave here) should be about 2 ½ to 3 inches in diameter (7 to 8 cm) so that the edges are crispy all around and the center slightly chewy. In every bite I want a combination of both and only a cookie with those dimensions will really provide you with such memorable mouthful bites.

On my last trip to Brazil, already aware of my usual spasms of Americana homesickness, I came a little better prepared. I brough along a recipe that changed my life. About two years ago, food writer extraordinaire David Leite (publisher of the amazing web site www.leitesculinaria.com) published an article at The New York Times about chocolate chip cookies that captures every thing I always wanted from a cookie.

We don’t even need to talk about the kind of chocolate to use, do we? Take all those chips you bought in your regular groceries store from your pantry and throw them away – they are designed to resist melting. You want chocolate that melts; disks or coarsely chopped, either one will be just fine.

Back to the amazing recipe, the breaking ground of the article is … drum roll, please…that dough improves while resting in the refrigerator. That’s right, no chocolate chip cookie is worth eating unless the batter rests for 2 days in the fridge.

“ A long hydration time is important because eggs, unlike, say, water, are gelatinous and slow-moving”, David wrote.

I tried the recipe many times, and made a slight modification by trimming the amount of sugar. Other than that, the recipe is a winner. Another point that is crucial to remember is that the best time to eat cookies is 20 to 25 minutes out of the oven.

If a cookie has been sitting there for hours, here is what I do: bring the cookie back to life. First, take it home. I know you want to eat it immediately, but hold your horses and be a little patience. It’s worth it. Pre-heat the oven at 350˚F and re-bake the cookie for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the cookie from the oven and transfer to a rack for another 20 minutes. Grab a glass of milk, and munch, munch,munch…

Like everything in life, a little bit of patience also gives chocolate chip cookies the best results.

Here is my adaptation of David Leite’s The New York Time’s Chocolate Chip Cookies from my Brazilian kitchen in Rio:

3 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter

1 cup light brown sugar

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks (60 % cacao content)

Procedure:

1. Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter and sugars together until light and creamy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, pre-heat oven to 350˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop six 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

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