Every time I pass through a Chinese grocery I take a glance of longing at the sugar cane leaning against a bin of lychees or dragon fruit. They're so cheap! I tell myself. But what would you really do with them? the more rational me asks in return.
Well, Star Wars reenactments, duh.
That retort has never been enough for me to actually buy a stalk. But my lust for the fresh, juicy, grassy flavors of raw sugar cane hit a fever pitch recently, so I finally paid up my $3.99 for a stalk of sugarcane as tall as I am. When I returned home to gnaw greedily on my prize, I came upon the last scrapings of my Mr. Softee-style vanilla bean soft serve. And that's when inspiration hit.
The best thing about making freezer-stable soft serve at home is...well, everything. But one of those best things is the ability to make whatever flavor of soft serve you want, no matter how weird. Sugar cane is the perfect soft serve player: it's light, not overbearing, and its fresh grassy funk takes well to the verve of sweet cream. One bite and you'll see how soft serve can and should join the ranks of serious ice cream.
To bolster the sugar cane's mild flavor I reached for cachaça, the rum-like Brazilian spirit made from fresh sugar cane. It helps keep the ice cream soft and crystal-free, and it's the closest thing you'll find to sugar cane essence out there.
Skip the cone for serving and top it with, as my friend Vittles Vamp suggests, some toasted coconut and cacao nibs. Or go for broke and add a drizzle of some gula jawa syrup. Or just devour it plain as it drips down your fingers. Imagine yourself in some place warm as the Mr. Softee tune plays in the background. On steel drums, of course.
- Yield:Makes 1 quart
- Active time: 30 minutes
- Total time:3 hours, plus time to chill
- 1 foot fresh sugar cane
- 3 1/2 cups half and half, divided
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons cachaça or light rum
With a heavy knife or cleaver, cut sugar cane into 4 3-inch segments. Split each segment into quarters lengthwise, then arrange cut-side up on a baking sheet. Cook under a broiler for five minutes, just until the cut surfaces look slightly dry. Using your heavy knife, peel outer skin away and chop cane into small chunks. Process in food processor until cane is broken up and resembles minced ginger. You should have between 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 cups of minced sugar cane.
Pour 1/4 cup half and half into a small bowl and three tablespoons in another. Whisk cornstarch into first bowl until no lumps remain and sprinkle gelatin over second bowl. Heat rest of half and half in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until it comes to a simmer. Remove from heat, stir in sugar cane, and cover to let steep for two hours.
Bring dairy back to a simmer on medium low heat, adding sugar and salt. Whisk in cornstarch slurry and cook, whisking frequently, until a custard forms and a swiped finger on the back of a spoon leaves a clean line.
Fold 18 inches of cheesecloth over on itself and place over an airtight container. Strain custard through cloth. Gather up corners of cloth and twist into a tight bundle. Squeeze bundle tight to drain out custard, then discard. Stir in gelatin mixture and cachaça until gelatin dissolves. Set in refrigerator to chill until set, overnight or at least four hours.
Base will form a wobbly gel when set. Churn in an ice cream maker until ice cream has the texture of soft serve and is not at all runny. Eat immediately, or chill in freezer in an airtight container. To regain soft serve texture, let ice cream thaw to the verge of melting after freezing.