Photo: Saveur.com, Issue #140

I have long daydreamed about the delectable concoctions I would create if I had an ice cream maker, but had never actually used one until last weekend. A friend of mine happened to have one (“The beauty of wedding registries!”), so we made a date to try out one of the recipes from a book we’d both been salivating over, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer.

With flavors like Roasted Strawberry and Buttermilk, Rum with Toasted Coconut, and Plum Pudding, we could have chosen any recipe at random and been dazzled. We ended up settling on Beet Ice Cream with Mascarpone, Orange Zest, and Poppy Seeds: I couldn’t think of anyone else who would let beets near their ice cream, much less choose them over chocolate, and she wanted to prove her skeptic husband wrong.

Beets are so naturally sweet and such a gorgeous, rich color that I’m surprised we don’t see them in desserts more often. Other vegetables long ago became mainstays on dessert menus: sweet potatoes, rhubarb, carrots… (not to mention pumpkin and zucchini, which are technically fruits since they are born of flowers).

Britton Bauer’s ice creams all begin from essentially the same basic recipe (heavy cream, milk, corn starch, sugar, light corn syrup, kosher salt, and cream cheese), and then incorporate various other ingredients to create a multitude of unexpected flavors. In an article in Saveur last year (where I first learned about the book), Molly O’Neill explained the chemistry that makes Britton Bauer’s recipes work:

“Ice cream is basically a frozen emulsion, in which components that do not naturally meld—fat, water, and air—are encouraged to marry by adding such things as heat, proteins, sugars, and starches. The stronger the marriage, the more supple the ice cream will be. If water is not bound well with the other ingredients, it becomes nasty little ice shards that disrupt the smooth sensation on the tongue. Rather than using the traditional egg yolk to bind water and fat in the frozen emulsion, Bauer relies on the proteins in milk—casein and whey. She boils the liquid to reduce its water content, concentrating and denaturing the proteins, rendering them more likely to bind the water and fat. Bauer’s other tricks include adding cream cheese, which is high in casein proteins, and using thickeners, such as cornstarch, which absorb water and prevent crystallization, for added insurance. Her use of natural corn syrup in addition to granulated sugar is also key: Its glucose is not as sweet in flavor as sugar’s sucrose, and it binds with water, which helps prevent icing, too.”

Katie had put the metal bowl in which the churning magic happens in the freezer the night before, and I had roasted and pureed a couple of beets beforehand, so all that remained to do was throw together the sweet and creamy base, boil it with orange peel to infuse it with a light citrus flavor, stir in the beet puree, and press “On.’

We sipped our wine while the ice cream maker churned away, and 25 minutes later we stirred in the poppyseeds and dug into the pinkest, most exquisitely nuanced ice cream I’ve ever tasted. The tang of the orange undergirded the earthy sweetness of the beets, which complemented but didn’t overwhelm the nuttiness of the poppyseeds. I closed my eyes. I laughed. It was that good.

If I needed an excuse to indulge this daydream of mine, I just found it. Registry schmegistry!

Don’t believe me? Try it yourself.

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