Matt Errico and Gabrielle Carbone are wild about American ingredients. At their shop, The Bent Spoon, in Princeton, New Jersey, the couple produce "artisan ice cream." The treat consists of organic cream and farm-fresh eggs churned with fruit plucked from local trees, vegetables and herbs gathered from farmers' markets, and other carefully sourced products. Daily, changing flavors such as locally grown strawberry, peppermint with handmade candy canes, and Muscovado brown sugar and clove have attracted a loyal following of townies, professors, and students, who stop in to discuss ingredients and methods over the latest offerings.
"It's nice to connect with people about what they're eating and have them know where it came from," says Carbone, who studied as a pastry chef at the French Culinary Institute in New York. The two use an Italian freezer and gelato case, but when it comes to ingredients, they rival "the Boss" for Jersey pride.
Take for example, a "secret garden" that they recently discovered, tucked away behind a local diner-turned-makeup store. "At least 50 years ago, someone pretty special — we cannot for the life of us figure out who — planted a pear tree and a Concord grape vine," says Carbone. "Every year, the fruit would go to waste, rotting on the vine, until this year, when the owner of the store called us to see if we wanted it." They did, of course, turning it into a silky Concord grape ice cream and a delicate pear sorbet. An independent shop that uses the best American ingredients seems like a perfect match for Independence Day, so we asked Carbone to come up with recipes for a Fourth of July celebration. She created a fresh, red, white, and blue cake featuring strawberry sorbet, lemon ice cream, and blueberry sorbet. She also shared her secrets for sourcing top-quality ingredients and producing smooth, velvety frozen treats. Make friends with a farmerFor the best results, Carbone prefers organic products. "Strawberries are like little pesticide sponges," she declares, and recommends seeking out ingredients from farmers' markets, natural food stores, co-ops, and local orchards and dairies. This is especially important in simple recipes such as this, where ripe fruit and rich, fresh cream are the stars. "It's all about the flavor," she says, explaining that many supermarket foods lose their just-picked taste and texture in their long journey from the farm. She adds, "Knowing where your food comes from and what's in it is such an important connection, one that I think many people are missing today."
Know your berriesLook for berries that are brightly colored — the darkest ones are the ripest — and have a perfumed, fruity aroma. They should be somewhat firm, without brown, mushy spots. "If you can get your hands on a wild berry, do so," says Carbone. "There is such a difference in flavor."
Handle the berries very gently and try to use them within hours of picking or buying. Wash them gently under cool, running water and gently pat dry or air-dry on a cooling rack. Store extras in the refrigerator.
If you're making sorbets out of season, there's good news: Carbone says that frozen organic berries work well in these recipes. They'll have a mushy texture, but since everything will be blended, it won't be noticeable; flavor is the most important thing here. Carbone is a fan of several store-bought brands, especially Cascadian Farm. Another option is to buy berries in season and freeze them for use later. Be sure they are clean, dry, and hulled, place them in zippered freezer bags, and freeze immediately after buying. Enrich the experienceThough not all ice creams are made with eggs in addition to the milk, Carbone prefers to add a whole egg, plus several yolks. The eggs and milk are cooked to create a custard base that gives the ice cream richness and silkiness. When making the custard, Carbone recommends using a candy thermometer. "I am a big fan of precision when it comes to temperature," she says. "It can make all the difference between a lumpy curdled base and a perfectly smooth, creamy one." Another key to avoiding curdling is a process called tempering. This prevents the eggs from coagulating in the heat, which would result in bits of "scrambled egg" floating throughout the custard. To temper the eggs, some of the hot milk is whisked into them, then the egg and milk mixture is whisked back into the rest of the hot milk. During these steps, it's important to keep whisking constantly, to avoid uneven heating. As an added safeguard, the finished custard is poured through a fine strainer to catch any bits of rogue cooked egg or membranes.
Keep things smooth"The faster something freezes, the smaller the ice crystals," says Carbone. "Smaller ice crystals mean smoother texture." To achieve this quick freeze, the base should be extremely cold when added to the machine. Carbone recommends refrigerating the base for at least four hours, or even overnight, before churning it.
Her other secret for a velvety, creamy texture? "Fresh ice cream is amazing!" As soon as it's frozen solid, the texture gets less fluffy. "At the Bent Spoon we continuously make the ice cream and it's never deep-frozen," she says. At home, eating straight from the machine will replicate that delectable experience. Though it won't quite match the lightness of freshly-made, stored ice cream can also be delicious, as long as it's wrapped tightly to prevent freezer burn and not allowed to melt first. "The reality is that it's pulled out, people eat it, what's not eaten gets a little melty and thrown back into the freezer," says Carbone. "Ice crystals then start forming! To me, that's the death of ice cream, right up there with onion absorption. The moral? Make everybody eat it all, or wrap and put away extras fast!"
Assemble with speed
For the same reason, Carbone's top tip for assembling the ice-cream cake is to do it quickly. It can be made in stages over a few days, but each time it's out of the freezer, work quickly to avoid melting, and recover it tightly with plastic wrap before refreezing. Besides that, "Just be creative and have fun!" says Carbone.
Servings: Makes one 9-inch cake.
This pretty, striped cake can be assembled either from freshly made sorbet and ice cream, or from leftovers. If you make the components fresh, it's helpful to have more than one freezer bowl for your ice-cream maker or a self-freezing machine. If you don't, remember that some models demand that you freeze the bowl overnight between batches. You can make the batches on successive days, packing each flavor into the pan as it's done, then freezing the pan and the bowl until you're ready to make the next batch.
Try to keep everything that you use in the preparation of this cake — even your cake stand or serving plate — cold. This will help the cake look better longer, especially on a hot day.
The simple, fresh flavors of the sorbet and ice cream don't need much embellishment, but crushed Newman's Own Organic O's (the organic take on Oreos) or chopped candied ginger make a nice addition and help separate the layers.
- One recipe Simply Strawberry Sorbet
- 4 cups of cookie crumbs (process 7 Newman's Own Organic O's — creamy fillings and all — in the food processor until finely ground) or finely chopped candied ginger
- One recipe Lemon Ice Cream with Candied Lemon Peel
- One recipe Simply Blueberry Sorbet
- Freshly whipped cream, fresh berries, and sprigs of mint, for serving
Place a 9-inch springform pan in the freezer until very cold, at least 1 hour.
Make the strawberry sorbet (or beat premade, frozen sorbet until smooth in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment). Remove the springform pan from the freezer and immediately scoop in the sorbet. Working quickly, use the back of a spoon or an offset spatula to smooth the sorbet into an even layer, approximately 1-inch high. Sprinkle evenly with 1/4 cup cookie crumbs or candied ginger, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and freeze until firm, at least 1 hour.
Repeat the process with the lemon ice cream and another 1/4 cup of crumbs or candied ginger, freezing 1 hour. Finish with the blueberry sorbet, topping with the last 1/4 cup of crumbs or candied ginger. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and freeze until set, at least two hours or overnight.
Chill a serving plate or cake stand in the freezer.
Just before serving, unmold the cake: Warm the blade of an offset spatula or knife in hot tap water, then wipe it dry. Run the blade around the inside edge of the pan, then unlock and remove the sides. Place the chilled plate or cake stand upside-down on top of the cake pan and flip everything over so the cake is resting on the plate. Rewarm the knife and gently edge it between the bottom of the pan and the cake to remove the bottom of the pan. Garnish with a mint sprig and serve with whipped cream and fresh berries.
If the entire cake is not eaten in one sitting, immediately after slicing, wrap it well with plastic wrap and put it back in the freezer. This will help prevent melting and refreezing, which can ruin the texture.
To read more about The Bent Spoon,