Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sweets for the sweet

The double challenge for this week's Dark Days Challenge is to create a sweet treat suitable for Valentine's Day using only SOLE ingredients. Since I've got to stick to local and seasonal, this eliminated chocolate, sugar, and any "romantic" fruits, like berries or mango. I toyed with the idea of doing poached fruit, perhaps serving it with a blood orange sorbet. However, the most obvious contender, pears, were no longer available at the farmers' market. Apples were aplenty, though, and in lots of different varieties.

My favorite apple vendor, Prevedelli Farms, sells a dazzling array of expected and heirloom varieties of apples. They've got Fuji, Red Delicious, and Granny Smith, but they also have Pink Lady, Sundowner, Gravenstein, Mutsu, and Hauer Pippin, a variety originating in the Santa Cruz mountains (can't get any more local than that). My favorites are Pink Lady and Sundowner, which are actually rather similar to one another and have a complexity of flavor that I don't find in the run-of-the-mill Fuji. I often buy from the "not-so-pretty" box — because what's a few bumps when they're only a dollar a pound? And particularly when you're going to turn the apples into sorbet.

I found my inspiration while Googling apple recipes, which pointed me in the direction of the baked apple sorbet from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home — a book I happen to own. It's a pretty straight-forward recipe: bake apples with apple cider and sweetener (in my case, Pink Ladies from Prevedelli [40 mi], with honey from Small Bees [10 mi] and local cider [I forget from where]) until soft, then blitz with an immersion blender before freezing in an ice cream machine. The original recipe calls for vanilla and cinnamon, neither of which are local, so I went with Meyer lemon zest (from my tree) instead. The result is a sweet-tart dessert with a hint of floral from the honey. Jeni recommends serving it with whipped cream (Clover, 90 mi) and a glass of whiskey.

To be honest, this really just tasted like frozen applesauce. Not to say that it wasn't delicious — it just didn't fulfill my idea of an ideal, decadent Valentine's Day dessert. The whipped cream helped a bit, and when not eating for the challenge, I did find that a drizzle of Rebel Yell whiskey over the top boosted the flavor. While it's not what I actually want to make for Valentine's Day dessert, the sorbet is pretty nice for what I could do with what's available locally right now.

And what did my Valentine think? The Anthropologist liked it okay, as I did, but was expecting something creamier. I made up for it later in the week when I made ginger-black sesame ice cream for the Lunar New Year.

Local baked apple sorbet
(adapted from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home)

1-1/2 c unfiltered apple cider
1-1/2 lb tart apples, cored and quartered
1/2 c honey
1/2 c water
1 tsp Meyer lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine all ingredients except zest in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, tossing to mix. Cover dish loosely with foil and bake for an hour and a half, or until apples are tender. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Puree the apple mixture with an immersion blender or in a food processor until completely smooth. Stir in zest. Refrigerate until completely cold.

Pour the sorbet base into an ice cream machine and churn for 25 minutes. Pack the sorbet into a storage container, and put in the freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.

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