At the McCarren Park Greenmarket a few years ago, I overheard a woman getting an earful over the phone for suggesting a purchase of non-organic apple cider for a child’s party. She tried to speak up for the local orchard selling cider right there in the market, but this was in the middle of the great apple juice arsenic scare of 2011 and so she lost that battle.
Which is too bad, because the orchard in question was a low-spray orchard that takes a thoughtful approach to integrated pest management. Whatever organic juice the woman bought instead was likely trucked from the other side of the country or even farther away, which has an environmental impact just like pesticides do. And though it may have been organic, it still may not have been as responsibly grown as the cider she was forced to pass up.
This memory came immediately to mind as I watched the #OrganicMilkNext debate unfold on Twitter over the weekend, with organic supporters and farmers arguing about the best ways to run a dairy farm. I felt like I did watching that woman pass on a perfectly good jug of apple cider because it didn’t have a seal of approval on it. There are a lot of great dairies out there that use sustainable practices and treat their pastured animals well, but aren’t organic because, say, they give their cows antibiotics when they’re sick. At the same time though, the #OrganicMilkNext supporters have a point in that if Starbucks were to switch to organic, it would almost certainly be an improvement in terms of sustainability and animal welfare over what they’re using now. What’s worth remembering is that industrial agriculture is problematic in many ways (a massive understatement) and conversations and debates like this one can serve to broaden everyone’s knowledge and make improvements. (Modern Farmer has a smart take on both sides of the debate.)
The search for better dairy begins at a good, regional dairy (an approach I’d love to see Starbucks undertake). Local, pastured milk is great stuff, and, thanks to small dairies all over the country, pretty widely available. Back in Brooklyn, we’d get dairy from Ronnybrook, Battenkill Creamery, and (now closed) Milk Thistle Farm. Here in Virginia, we pick up Old Church Creamery or Homestead Creamery products, and Trickling Spring Creamery goods out of Pennsylvania.
It was with some of this great local milk and cream that we made apple crisp ice cream. I feel a little weird jumping from a considered dairy debate to an ice cream made with roasted apple butter and buttery oat clusters, but good dairy is meant to be savored. The ice cream starts with a vibrant roasted apple butter. Owing to some time in the oven, the apples have a bit of caramelization and a light, unfussy texture. The toasted crisp features all the right spices and the ice cream itself is just silly with vanilla beans and dark rum (for good measure). In general, I’m a baking minimalist, but an ice cream this good is worth a few extra steps.
Below, I’ve got instructions for everything, including the roasted apple butter. You are welcome to save some time and use jarred apple butter, but I suggest you look for something with a light touch.
Apple Crisp Ice Cream (made with inspiration from The Bonjon Gourmet)
makes two quarts
10 medium apples, rinsed and quartered with skins and cores intact
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Spread quartered apples out in a single layer in a large roasting pan skin side down. Pour in the apple cider vinegar and water, and sprinkle apples with brown sugar and sea salt.
Slide into oven and roast for 40 – 45 minutes. Apples should be turned once during cook time, at about the 30 minute mark.
Remove from oven and set apples out to cool. The roasted outer layer of the apples can mean that the hot apples innards will come squirting out, so use a knife to halve the apple sections, and then mash with a potato masher. Run apples though a food mill to remove seeds and skin.
Stir in lemon zest and cinnamon. Spoon apple butter into jars and chill in fridge. Apple butter will keep well in the fridge for a week.
for the vanilla bean ice cream
makes about four and a quarter cups
2 cups heavy cream, divided
2 cups whole milk
4 egg yolks
5 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 vanilla bean, halved
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons dark rum
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, heat one cup of the heavy cream over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, pour 3 tablespoons sugar into a small bowl, scrape vanilla beans into the sugar, and then use fingertips to rub beans and pod into the sugar.
When cream is steaming, add the vanilla sugar, along with vanilla pod. Turn heat to low and steep for about 10 minutes.
Bring heat back up to medium. In a small bowl, whip remaining 2 tablespoons sugar into egg yolks. Temper yolks by slowly pouring in 1/4 cup of steaming cream mixture, and then slowly adding an additional 1/2 cup of hot cream. Whisk the yolk and cream mixture back into the steamy cream. Whisk in whole milk, sea salt, and ground cinnamon. Stirring constantly, cook mixture over low heat until the custard thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon, about 7 minutes.
Take mixture off heat and stir in the remaining cup of cream, rum, and vanilla extract.
Pour cream into jars and chill thoroughly in the fridge for at least 4 hours.
for the oat crisp
makes about one cup
3/4 cup gluten-free old fashioned rolled oats
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons butter, rough chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon each ground allspice, ginger, and nutmeg
Preheat oven or toaster oven to 350 degrees F.
In a food processor, pulse oats until they are crumbly. Pulse in sugar and sea salt, and then butter. Spread crumble on a small rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for 15 minutes. Give baking sheet a good shake halfway through.
Set aside to cool, break into 1/4 inch chunks and spread crumble out on a plate, and freeze while you make ice cream.
for the apple crisp ice cream
4 1/4 cups chilled vanilla bean custard
1 cup chilled roasted apple butter
1 cup oat crisp, divided
Process chilled vanilla bean ice cream according to ice cream maker’s instructions, or about 20 minutes. When ice cream is cold and the consistency of soft serve, spoon a quarter of the ice cream into a 2 quart freezer proof container. With 1 cup of apple butter and 1/2 cup of the crisp (you’ll want to reserve some of the crisp for topping), create alternating layers of ice cream, apple butter, and crisp. Give everything a quick swirl, cover, and freeze for at least four hours.
Serve ice cream in cones topped with a pinch of ground cinnamon and a sprinkle of the reserved crisp. Once frozen, ice cream should sit out for 15 – 20 minutes before serving.