One of the great things about shopping seasonally is that you never know what you’re going to come across. If I arrive at the market with a fixed list, invariably whatever I’m looking for won’t be there, and I have to scramble to alter my baking plans. So I try to go with an open mind – and an empty shopping basket.
Last week I headed over to an interesting market in an area known for being ethnically diverse, and along with Parisians, there are North Africans, Asians and on that particular day, at least one American. It’s very lively and noisy, and being Saturday, the market was so crammed that if I was able to lift my feet up off the ground, the crowd would have carried me through the aisles.
I passed one stand that was heaped generously with fresh Medjool dates selling for only $2 per pound. But getting through the crush would have taken a little more willpower than I could manage on an early weekend morning. However, by the time I reached the end of the market, I couldn’t get the image of those plump, sticky-sweet dates – at a very attractive price – off of my mind. So I worked my way back. I ended up buying way more than I should, but they were so good I couldn’t resist. (The seller gave me a sample, which sealed the deal.)
There are not a lot of desserts in which dates can be used, because they’re so rich and sweet on their own, not much can be done to improve them. However, I thought about cool ice cream, a custard base with a touch of rum to compliment the musky flavor of the dates, and citrusy Spice Islands dried orange peel to counterbalance the flavors perfectly in one perfect scoop. And when I took a taste, my instincts paid off handsomely.
Orange-Date Ice Cream
About 1 quart
If you want to dial up the orange flavor, use an orange-flavored liqueur with the dates. You can also add a tablespoon of rum or orange-flavored liqueur to the custard just before churning.
5 ounces pitted dates, snipped into pieces
1/3 cup dark rum or orange-flavored liqueur
4 teaspoons Spice Islands orange peel
1 cup whole milk
2/3 cup sugar
big pinch of salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon Spice Islands pure vanilla extract
1. Combine the dates, rum (or orange-flavored liqueur) and orange peel in a small saucepan. Warm the mixture gently and let simmer for about a minute, or until almost all of the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, then cover and set aside.
(You can do this the day before.)
2. To make the ice cream, combine the milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan.
3. Pour the cream into a medium-sized bowl, set a mesh strainer over the top and nest the bowl in a bigger bowl of ice.
4. In a small bowl, whisk the yolks together.
5. Warm the milk until the sugar is dissolved. Once warm, slowly pour the milk over the yolks, whisking constantly as you pour.
6. Scrape the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, until the mixture just begins to thicken and coats the spatula. Do not overcook.
7. Immediately pour the mixture through the strainer into the cream, add the vanilla and stir to cool. Once cool, chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator.
8. Freeze the ice cream mixture in your ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once churned, fold in the macerated dates and orange peel, along with any liquid that might still be in the pan.
Chill in the freezer before scooping.