Spruce took its next turn in a pretty rad batch of ice cream. For this dessert I approached the spruce tips in the same way I would have used any other fresh herb. I infused, strained and churned. The result? So weird. So good! Dense and creamy (even still a week later), the custard proved big, herbal and woodsy with strong notes of juniper and strawberry. Boasting such a strong and unique flavor I knew it needed a partner.
And so came the spruce ice cream sandwich. Meringues were a natural choice because a) what else am I going to do with 5 extra egg whites? and b) they make a perfect bite sized vessel. I do love making meringues anyway and this time of year makes it a breeze since humidity is pretty much a non-issue.
Added orange zest heightened the natural fruitiness of the spruce and the textural contrast was just right. The meringue cookie provided a light and crispy shell with a warm marshmallowy chew- a perfect foil for the bracingly cold and creamy center.
Spruce Tip Ice Cream
Yield: 1 generous pint
2 c. heavy cream (500 ml.)
1 c. whole milk (150 ml.)
3/4 c. sugar (150 g.), 2 Tb. reserved
5 egg yolks
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp balsamic vinegar reduction (or to taste)
1. Combine heavy cream and milk in a saucepan. Add spruce tip and bring to a bare simmer. Turn off heat and allow to steep 1-2 hours.
2. Strain spruce through a fine mesh sieve, pressing on the solids with the back of a wooden spoon or spatula.
3. Add sugar and salt to cream mixture and warm all the way through, whisking until sugar and salt dissolve. Mixture should very warm, almost hot. Be careful not to scald the milk.
4. Crack eggs into a separate bowl with the reserved sugar. Whisk to break up yolks.
5. Temper eggs yolks by gradually adding up to a 1/4 cup of the hot milk to the eggs, whisking continually. When the yolks are warmed through, add them to your saucepan. Heat custard until it coats the back of a spoon or reaches 175F.
6. Chill at least 2 hours or overnight.
7. Whisk in vanilla and balsamic. Adjust salt level if needed.
Orange Meringue Cookies
Yield: 40 1 1/2″ cookies
5 egg whites
1 1/4 c. granulated or superfine sugar
A pinch of salt or cream of tartar
Zest of 1 orange
1. Preheat oven between 175F and 200F. In a food processor, combine sugar and orange zest. Buzz until zest is powdered.
2. Put the egg whites and salt in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Starting on the highest speed, beat the whites for about 3 minutes, until they increase in volume and form medium-soft peaks that hold their shape. With the mixer running, gradually add 3/4 cup of the sugar and continue to beat on high speed for 5 minutes, at which the peaks will be stiff. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat 2 to 3 minutes more. When the meringue is perfectly beaten, the whites will be firm and shiny. When you remove the bowl from the mixer, dip the whisk attachment into the meringue and lift it straight up-the meringue that adheres to the whisk should a firm peak if you turn the whisk upside down. The meringue is now ready to pipe!
Tip: To fill your pastry bag, I find it easiest to have the bag sitting inside a pint glass with the edges folded over. Use any pastry tip you like. A “star tip” is classic.
For ice cream sandwiches, I like to make one sheet pan of “tops” and one sheet pan of “bottoms.” The only difference is that once the bottoms are piped, I smooth them out with the back of a spoon. That way I don’t have to cut the already baked cookies open (which is what I did for the picture because I was in a rush and hungry!)
Use a silpat or cut parchment paper sheets to fit two large sheet pans. If using parchment, dab a little meringue under each corner to secure the paper. You can pipe the cookies close to one another as they don’t really spread.
4. Bake the cookies for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The finished meringues should be dry and crisp but still white. If you notice the meringues start to brown, crack or split, turn the temperature down or off, as your oven may be too hot.
Another Tip: Shorten the baking time to ensure a slightly toothsome center which better anchors the ice cream filling.