Prune and Armagnac

I have never been a big booze-in-my-dessert fan.  Likely this reflects the vestiges of my college years, during which Jell-o vodka shots reigned supreme and none of us was drinking bourbon for the taste of it.  But, luckily, I have a husband who has made it his mission to help me get my drink on. He is a professional hobbyist at drink-mixing and wine-pairing and is always coming home from otherwise-related grocery runs with the words, "I found a bottle of this cool [insert libation here] we need to try..." trailing from his lips.

As such, I have grown in my appreciation for all things wine, beer and straight-up hard liquor. Thank you, Tygh.

This may not seem important from a food standpoint, but, oh, it is.  Because last summer, I found myself face to face with a soft, wondrous scoop of prune and armagnac ice cream - a flavor, I am sure, I would not have appreciated as much in my pre-Tygh-gently-hazing-me years.  

Now for some schoolin'. So, it turns out that armagnac is the more wine-forward cousin of cognac, little talked about and harder to find in America, but the oldest version of brandy distilled in France.  It's made from up to 10 grape varietals and is aged in oak barrels with a lower alcohol content than cognac, so the wine grape flavor comes through, giving it more of a dried fruit character. Am I blowing your mind?  In full disclosure, the bottles I have been able to find in the States are a little on the pricey side, but you don't need much and it will keep forever on your mid-century bar cart, so you really have nothing to lose. 

Thus, this fall, I have spent some serious time trying to recreate my new favorite ice cream flavor.  David Lebovitz helped me get started, and even gave me some ideas for mix-ins (homemade chocolate truffles go fabulously in this, but the way) but ultimately I have distilled this recipe down to what I think is a pretty damn good rendition of my summer fling.

I know it's fall-going-on-winter, but this is just the sort of dessert that delicately tops off a hearty stew or goes perfectly alongside a warm fire. Or, if your Tygh, with an extra side of scotch.

Prune and Armaganac Ice Cream

12 prunes, pitted and cut in half

1/2 cup armagnac, plus optional 1 or 2 Tbsp more, divided

1 cup whole milk

1/2 C plus 2 Tblsp sugar, divided

1 cup sour cream

1/2 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp salt

Put prunes, armagnac and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a small saucepan.  Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat and cover, letting sit for 2 hours.  Can let sit for a few days, until ready to use.

Heat milk and remaining 1/2 cup sugar until sugar has just dissolved.  Remove from heat and let cool.  Whisk in sour cream, lemon juice, vanilla and salt.   

In a blender, puree half of the prune and armagnac mixture with the milk mixture, until prunes are just blended, but little chunks remain. Refridgerate until completely chilled, at least 2 hours.  Can be made 3 days ahead.

Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturers instructions.  Remove ice cream and stir in remaining prunes/armagnac mixture. Taste. A lot.  If needed, can stir in another tablespoon of armagnac, remembering that the more alcohol you add, the softer it will be when frozen.

Let freeze at least 4 hours more.  Serve on its own or with a good dark chocolate cookie (see below for one of my go-to recipes, pictured with ice cream).

Pierre Hermé's Chocolate Sablés

Makes about 36 cookies

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 stick and 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

5 ounces best-quality bittersweet

chocolate, chopped into chip-size bits.

 Sea salt

1. Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together. Put the butter in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat at medium speed until the butter is soft and creamy. Add the sugars, salt and vanilla extract and beat for another 1 or 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the sifted dry ingredients. Mix only until the dry ingredients are incorporated (the dough may look crumbly). For the best texture, work the dough as little as possible. Toss in the chocolate; mix to incorporate.

2. Turn the dough out onto a smooth work surface, divide in half and, working with one half at a time, shape the dough into a log that is 1 1/2 inches in diameter. (As you're shaping the log, flatten it once or twice and roll it up from one long side to the other, to make certain you haven't got an air channel.) Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and chill them for at least 1 hour. (Wrapped airtight, the logs can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for 1 month.)

3. Center a rack in the oven; preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

4. Working with a sharp, thin-bladed knife, slice rounds 1/2-inch thick. (If the cookies break, squeeze the broken-off bit back onto the cookie.) Place the cookies on the Silpat or parchment-lined sheets, leaving an inch of space between them. Sprinkle with sea salt. Bake only 1 sheet at a time and bake each sheet for 12 minutes. (The cookies will not look done nor will they be firm, but that is the way they should be.) Transfer the sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest, on the sheet, until they are only just warm. Repeat with the second sheet of cookies.

From the New York Times