If you live in the West Valley, you’re familiar with all the little trucks that park on the side of the road toward Malibu in the peak strawberry season. They put up a tarp and place big white signs with strawberries painted on them for several yards around their post. The fiancé and I were headed west on Kanan toward The Cornell Winery & Tasting Room in Agoura, California, when we drove by one. As we passed, I could actually smell the strawberries.
“We’re stopping by there,” I said to him. I pointed my nose in the direction of the truck, sniffing the air like our dog, Jackson.
I wanted to buy lots of strawberries. All the strawberries. Because the off season strawberries, even in Southern California, are sad little vestiges of the juicy sweet ones you find in the summer time. The only problem is that they go bad fast if you don’t eat them in time. And in our house, we have an unfortunate tendency to not finish all the fruits and veggies we buy before they go bad.
How was I going to preserve these sweet little gems? I could have made jam, but I wasn’t really feeling that. So what’s the next best way to preserve fruit? Make it into ice cream.
Lucky for us, we received a re-gift last year that was awesome: an ice cream maker. I don’t know about you, but I am not one to turn up my nose at a re-gift. Especially when it allows me to make ice cream.
We were driving toward the fruit stand to pick up the strawberries. I was thinking about how I would make them into ice cream. It couldn’t just be simple, plain strawberry. I was coming back from wine tasting so I had to make a more sophisticated version of the childhood favorite, right? Then it dawned on me: I’d roast the strawberries in balsamic vinegar with thyme.
We got home, and washed those suckers real good. If you tend to just do a quick rinse of your berries, or not rinse them at all, before eating them, take a look at these photos. Ick.
I wash my strawberries by placing them in a large metal bowl, filled about halfway with warm water. I then add a tablespoon or so of fruit and vegetable wash (a tablespoon of white vinegar would work well, too). Throw in your strawberries and gently swish them around in a circular motion for a minute. Then let them stand for about 10 minutes. All the dirt and grossness will fall to the bottom.
After their warm bath, I like to put them in a cold water bath for a couple of minutes to rinse off the gross dirt water. Then I put them in a salad spinner and gently remove the excess water. I do this in small batches to make sure the berries don’t get too bruised. Then I put them in a paper towel lined bowl until I’m ready to use them.
I’m not going to delude you into thinking that ice cream is easy to make. It’s not. If it were, Ben & Jerry would not be doing as well as they do. But if you have the time, patience, and equipment, it’s totally worth the trouble.
Active prep time: approximately 2 hours
But here’s what does make this easy: you can make the custard and roasted strawberry puree the day before you’re ready to make it into ice cream. This breaks up the process so you’re not spending an entire day making the delicious goodness. So without much further ado, here is your recipe for Balsamic Roasted Strawberries & Thyme Ice Cream. You’re welcome.
Balsamic Roasted Strawberries & Thyme Ice Cream
Makes about 12 cups (6 pints). Ice cream base recipe adapted from The Pioneer Woman.
- 2 lb. of fresh strawberries, washed, hulled, and halved
- 1/3 c. balsamic vinegar
- ¼ tsp. vanilla extract
- 3 tbsp. brown sugar (or raw sugar)
- 1 large bunch of fresh thyme, tied together
- 2 c. of half & half
- 1 1/3 c. white granulated sugar
- 1/8 tsp. vanilla extract
- 6 egg yolks
- 2 c. heavy cream
Place the bowl of your ice cream maker in the freezer. Do this 16 -24 hours before you plan on using the ice cream maker. I used a 1 ½ quart ice cream maker.
Preheat the oven to 400F. In a large bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, ¼ tsp. of vanilla extract, and 3 tbsp. of raw or brown sugar. Put in the strawberries and thyme and toss to coat. Allow the mixture to marinade until the oven is ready. Line a baking dish with parchment paper, even up to the sides. Pour in the marinating strawberries and spread out evenly in the dish. Roast for 12 to 15 minutes. Once done, remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature.
In a 2 quart saucepan, whisk the half & half, 1/8 tsp. of vanilla extract, and sugar on low heat until it’s hot and the sugar has dissolved. And when I say low heat, I mean it. The mixture should never simmer or boil. Also, pick a heat setting and stay with it; do NOT adjust it to speed up or slow down the process at any time. The temperature you’re looking to hit is about 140F. I highly recommend using a candy thermometer for this.
As the half & half heats up, whisk your egg yolks in a medium bowl until they become lighter in color, about 2 minutes. Set aside.
Dip your finger into the half & half to see if it’s become hot to the touch (140F). Once it is, take a ladle full of the mixture and pour it in a slow stream into your egg yolks as you whisk them together. This will temper the egg yolks so they don’t cook. Add a couple of more ladlefulls of the hot half & half to the egg yolk mixture in the same way, whisking constantly. Then, start adding the tempered egg yolk mixture to the hot half & half by ladlefuls, constantly stirring with a wooden spoon. Keep doing this until you’ve added all the egg yolk mixture to the hot milk in the saucepan, constantly stirring on low heat. You’ll notice that the temperature will drop a little. This is normal since the eggs haven’t reached their temperature yet.
You’ll notice that there will be a foamy layer on top after you add the egg yolk mixture to the pan. The custard is done when this foamy layer disappears and the mixture coats the back of the spoon. You’re looking to hit 180F. This will take about an hour, maybe a little less. Resist the urge to increase the temperature too much. I slightly increased the temperature after 40 minutes to low-medium because my mixture was stuck at 160 for quite some time.
Basically, if you run your finger along the back of the spoon, it should leave a visible track mark. Turn the heat off and stir for a few more seconds, then strain the mixture into a clean bowl. Slowly stream in the heavy cream and mix thoroughly.
Take the bunch of tied thyme and throw it into the custard mix. Cover the mixture itself with a kitchen towel and refrigerate it. The custard should chill for at least 2 hours, but I like to chill overnight.
Place the cooled roasted strawberries and the liquid in a food processor or blender and pulse to your desired consistency. It should make about 3 cups of puree. I like to keep little bits and pieces in my ice cream, but it still needs to be smooth enough to not block up the ice cream machine. Refrigerate until you’re ready to use it.
Now you’re ready to make the ice cream. Take the custard out of the fridge, remove the plastic wrap and remove the thyme spring. Be sure to gently squeeze the custard out of the thyme. Toss out the thyme. Add the strawberry puree to the custard and mix evenly. Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker, preferably in batches. I did mine in 2. Follow the machine’s instructions. Then put the ice cream in containers and freeze for 4 hours.
You can serve it alone or with honey-balsamic syrup and candied thyme. It’s delicious. The honey balsamic syrup is just 1/4 c. of honey and 1/4 c. of balsamic vinegar, simmered until it’s reduced by 2/3 of its volume. Enjoy!