candied cherry & almond ice cream.

No F train + lunch on the Lower East Side this President’s Day made for an unexpected detour through Chinatown. Though we were late, we couldn’t help but slow our pace as we weaved through the throngs of midday shoppers along Grand St. We just love Chinatown. There’s always something new to see, to touch, to smell. It’s messy and overwhelming and sensory and marvelous.

The one random and amusing constant in the chaos that is Chinatown is, strangely, cherries. There are always cherries in Chinatown. Always. No matter whether they’re in season or not (February being decidedly not in season), there they are, mounds of glistening red globes christening every sidewalk vendor. And they’re always $3 for 2 pounds. Always.

See?!

It’s extra-amusing given that we’ve never come across a dish with cherries in a Chinese restaurant. Or are we missing something?

As luck would have it, twitter reminded us that February 20th is National Cherry Pie Day – in honor, we assume, of George Washington, cherry trees and American morality – so our unexpected detour became an interesting opportunity.

We didn’t grow up with cherry pie in the good old Northeast, and have never taken much of a liking to cherry-flavored things. But something about the bright red basketfuls and the balmy 50 degree day (will we really have a winter without snow?) had us thinking ice cream. So though we’re not sure where the Chinatown cherries come from, and should probably be concerned, especially in February, we scooped up a handful to bring home anyways.

*

An aside. In our digging into National Cherry Pie day, we discovered that (almost) every day is a food holiday in the USA. Some days are even lucky enough to honor two foodstuffs. For example: today, February 22, is both National Margarita Day and National Cook a Sweet Potato Day (why they specify the cook part is beyond us, but we’re amused by the sweet potato/margarita pairing.)

Really, America, really?

Still, we sense a hilarious blog theme in the making. We for one will be celebrating April 8, which is National Empanada Day and is herein officially declared a holiday on Devoe Street. And we’ll definitely celebrate National Chocolate-Covered Cashews Day (April 21), National Candied Orange Peel Day (May 4) and National Pizza with the Works Except Anchovies Day (November 12). Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait a whole year before National Cheese Lovers Day (January 20.) Our birthdays are fun, too. Clara’s is National German Chocolate Cake day, and Dan’s is National Lasagna Day.

We’re not sure why National Pumpkin Pie day isn’t till December 25, whereas none of the possible Thanksgiving dates have anything to do with harvest-time foods. And we have no idea what noodle-rings (December 11) are, and weren’t aware that play-dough was edible (September 18). But let’s just pretend this magical website is reputable and vaguely telling the truth because it is ah-mazing.

*

Ahem. Back to cherry ice cream. For a recipe, we turned, as we usually do, to our beloved The Perfect Scoop. Lebovitz has but one cherry ice cream recipe, but what a recipe – chock full of sweetness and stuff.We’re not big into ice creams full of sweetness and stuff, but it felt appropriately American (we’re on a roll here, first Superbowl and now this!) so we went with it.

We made only a half pound of candied cherries, as we didn’t think we’d find another use for them. In retrospect, we could have used a bit more cherry, perhaps 3/4 pound worth, and slightly less almonds. The reserved syrup is surprisingly good in that cough-medicine kind of way, and though Lebovitz warned us that adding syrup would muddy our ice cream, we stirred a 1/4 cup of the syrup in at the end, to heighten the cherry flavor. (We’re wondering about cherry cocktails, or cherry cream of wheat for what’s left.)

Regarding the almond extract – David’s measurements are miniscule for a reason. It’s potent stuff. And we added chocolate chips, because David mentioned it was good and because we were already on a stuff roll, so why not!

This recipe is delicious in that nostalgic, fake-taste-of-most-childhoods kind of way, where the flavors are more caricatures of themselves than anything else. But really, what can you expect from candied cherries and almond extract? And knowing that, we like it. A lot!

And save your egg whites! Make meringue!

candied cherry almond chip ice cream.

Adapted from The Perfect Scoop

[makes 1 quart]

for the cherries:

1 pound (450 g) cherries, fresh or frozen
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 drop almond extract

1. Remove the stems and pit the cherries. Heat the cherries, water, sugar and lemon juice in a large, non-reactive saucepan until the liquid starts to boil.

2. Turn the heat down to a low boil and cook the cherries for about 25 minutes, stirring frequently in the last 10 minutes of cooking to make sure they are cooking evenly and not sticking.

3. Once the liquid is reduced to the consistency of maple syrup, remove the pan from the heat, add the almond extract, and let the cherries cool in their syrup.

4. Drain the cherries in a strainer for a least an hour before mixing them into ice cream. Reserve the syrup for another use!

for the ice cream:

1 cup of whole milk
3/4 cup of sugar
pinch of salt
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
5 large egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup well-drained candied cherries (a 1/2 pound cherries yields about a cup, actually)
1 cup chocolate chips

1. In a medium saucepan, warm the milk, sugar, 1 cup heavy cream, and salt, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Finely chop 1 cup of the toasted almonds and add them to the warmed milk (do not let the milk boil!). Cover, remove from heat and let stand for an hour.

2. Strain the almond-infused milk into a separate medium saucepan. Press with a spatula or squeeze with your hands to extract as much flavor from the almonds as possible. Discard the almonds.

3. Pour the remaining heavy cream into a large bowl and set the strainer over the top.

4. Rewarm the infused milk. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, then slowly pour some of the warmed milk into the yolks, whisking constantly. This tempers your egg yolks, and helps prevent them from scrambling. Scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan.

6. Cook the custard on low heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula or spoon, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. A good way to test if it’s done is to draw your finger across the spatula – it should leave a clear mark, which indicates the custard is thickened and ready. Don’t let it go too far, or you’ll end up with scrambled custard. If you want to be safe, use an instant read thermometer – it should read around 170F.

7. Strain the custard into your bowl of cream. Stir in the almond extract, and stir until cool over an ice bath.

8. Refrigerate the mixture thoroughly, preferably overnight. Then, freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Mix the remaining chopped almonds and the chocolate chips into the ice cream in the last five minutes of churning, and fold the candied cherries (and a generous splash of cherry syrup!) into the ice cream when churning is complete.

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