Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Peanut Butter, Chocolate, Salt

For me, that title says it all. Individually, peanut butter, chocolate and salt are three very tasty things. Together, they make one blissed-out dessert. Of course, all of this is thanks to our new ice cream maker. I promise not to inundate you with endless shots of freshly made ice cream melting slowly down the sides of a martini glass, but indulge me once more for this one.

Mike and I LOVE peanut butter and chocolate. The good people at Reese’s made us their #1 fans by starting to sell a multitude of variations on their classic peanut butter cups a couple years ago (read a detailed review here on Candy Blog). Those white chocolate peanut butter cups (just so-so) are in every grocery store checkout aisle now, but did you catch the limited edition Inside Out Reese’s, the Fudge Reese’s, the Double Chocolate, or the most fabulous of all, the Extra Smooth & Creamy? I would make special trips to a particular drug store or mini-mart that had them in stock and buy a dozen at a time, always feeling like I should have just taken the entire contents of the display. Why pretend restraint?

Once he saw how well the fig gelato turned out, Mike decided that we had to make peanut butter ice cream. I happily agreed, but immediately began dreaming up ways to incorporate it into a more elaborate dessert. This month’s Bon Appetit (the one with the utterly decadent flourless chocolate cake on the cover) has a swoon-worthy dessert story that includes Peanut Butter Shortbread with Peanut Butter Ice Cream and Peanut Crunch from Veil restaurant in Seattle. I was inspired enough to attempt this multiple-component peanut butter fantasy, but then I realized that I would have to special order certain ingredients like cocoa nibs. Still, this dessert got me thinking about what I truly love about peanut butter and what flavors it is connected with in my gastronomic memory. The Reese’s line gave me some ideas, but I had to figure out how to translate that into a homemade ice cream dessert.

Peanut butter already has a nice salty element which would be toned down a bit by the cream. Of course, chocolate immediately came to mind. Unlike the Bon Appetit recipe, I did not want to add other peanut elements, or make peanut butter cookies and take the ice cream sandwich route. Then I thought of my chocolate-covered pretzels. These are one of my little holiday specialties that I like to do every Christmas. As it goes with so many homemade foods, they taste worlds better than the store-bought varieties, and I prefer them over the ones you can buy in chocolate shops, as well. I believe it all has to do with the salt. I use the standard Rold Gold thin pretzel twists and usually a mix of bittersweet and semisweet chocolate. The combination of the hard salt crystals on the pretzels with the dark chocolate is the ideal marriage of salty and sweet. I do not think the pretzels used for commercial brands of chocolate-covered pretzels get this ample coating of little salt rocks and, therefore, cannot compete with the homemade version.

Dipping the pretzels--a bit tedious, but so worth it!

For the ice cream itself, I compared several different recipes that came up in a google search. There were versions with eggs, with corn syrup, with butter. Not wanting anything to get in the way of the peanut butter flavor, we chose the simplest, perhaps purest, one. Mike, however, knew instinctively that whatever amount of Creamy Jif any recipe called for would not be enough to satisfy his constant peanut butter craving. He decided to raise the quantity from ¾ cup to a “generous” full cup.

Tempted to just buy a nice pint of peanut butter ice cream from your grocer’s freezer? Try this recipe, and you will know this ice cream is homemade. It uses half & half plus a bit of milk, but the texture is so incredibly smooth and full of strong peanut butter flavor, made luxurious by the richness of the cream. Texture like this cannot be bought at the supermarket. The ice cream is great on its own, but if you would like to make your own chocolate-covered pretzels, the recipe is below. You could also do a deconstructed version by topping the ice cream with good quality dark chocolate sauce and either some salty roasted peanuts, mini pretzel sticks or a sprinkling of fleur de sel. This may actually be better than the Limited Edition Smooth & Creamy Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Peanut Butter Ice Cream
Adapted from Blue Ridge Mountain Ice Cream Maker Store
Makes 1 quart

2 c. half & half
½ c. milk (I used 2%)
½ c. nonfat dry milk
1 c. smooth peanut butter (I used Jif)
¾ c. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, combine the half & half, milk, and dry milk and cook over medium-low heat until the dry milk dissolves. Add the peanut butter and cook, stirring often, until smooth. Add the sugar and continue simmering until dissolved. Remove from heat and add the vanilla. Cover and chill in the refrigerator until cool, 1-2 hours. Add mixture to ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions.

Chocolate-Covered Pretzels
My Aunt Joan makes all sorts of chocolates for the holidays, but it is her pretzels that my family started making ourselves years ago. The ones she sent as gifts just weren’t enough!

1 bag of Rold Gold pretzel twists (you won’t use the whole bag)
2 cups chocolate chips or chocolate pieces (I use a mix of bittersweet and semisweet, but use any kind you like)

Line 3 baking sheets with wax paper. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave. I use the microwave, running it on medium power for 1 minute, stirring, then running it for 30 second intervals thereafter, stirring after each one. Chocolate can burn easily, so be vigilant. You want the chocolate to be smooth, glossy and easy to stir. Using a fork, dip the pretzels in the melted chocolate, shake off the excess, and set on the wax paper. Place the baking sheets in the refrigerator for the pretzels to set for at least 3 hours. Transfer pretzels to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Makes 3-4 dozen.


Jennifer said...

This literally sounds like heaven to me. How I wish I had an ice cream maker!

lobstersquad said...

Hey Julie
Intriguing about the pretzels. Will try.
Let me know when you come to Spain. I´ll try to recommend places as best as I can.
Don´t leave out Madrid. We don´t have coast, but you have plenty of that in Florida, so give us a try. I

J said...

hi julie, peanut butter + chocolate + salt? just writing that makes me very very hungry, much less looking at your divine concoction!

Lis said...

I was hoping Mike would talk you into making this soon! I couldn't wait for it after reading how it might be next after the fig gelato. heee! I'm ordering my icecream maker this weekend. There is no more hesitation. I consume way too much of it not to make my own and with recipes like the two you've shared, I'll never have to buy store bought again!

I love the pretzel combo too.. a local candy maker here somehow gets her hands on hollow pretzel nuggets, then she fills them with a creamy almost reese tasting peanut butter then dips them in chocolate.. sometimes I have to take alternate routes to and from work so I can avoid my car driving right into her parking lot. ;)

sarah said...

Trader Joe's also has chocolate-covered, peanut-butter-filled pretzel nuggets. The salty-sweet combo is a winner.

This is why I don't buy an ice cream maker--I have enough trouble trying to lose weight as it is!


Rachel said...

YUM! i love the mini dark chocolate reese's cups. we stockpiled them!!

Julie said...

Lis--I'm so happy you've given in to the ice cream maker temptation! It's so much fun, and better than store bought.

Sarah--I LOVE trader joe's! They don't have it down here in Florida. I wish they would expand. I thought about using peanut butter pretzels, but I wanted to keep things simple.

vasilisa said...

This looks sooo good. I'm literally salivating at the picture...


s'kat said...

That same cover got me thinking about making some riff on peanut butter ice cream, but I daresay that this was an utter stroke of brilliance. Talk about three of my favourite things!

Carrie said...

Ok, seriously, this combination is the food of the gods. Nice work on this one, Julie! I make chocolates at Christmas, too (my great-grandma's recipes). One of them is chocolate covered peanut butter balls---oh man. Maybe I'll make them early this year!