Of my many goals for this blog, one of the big ones is being able to develop recipes that I’ve never heard of, that don’t seem like they would work, but that have an underlying logic to them founded in flavor and texture BALANCE that makes them tasty as well as surprising. From my life before this blog, I knew that watermelon rind pickles taste great on vanilla ice cream. For this recipe, I wanted to expand that foundational truth into a composed dessert, adding textural components and new techniques to make something that could be served in a restaurant.
This recipe has a lot of components, but they all can be made well ahead of time, so that by the time you’re serving dessert the hard work will be a distant memory. The nuts and watermelon rind pickles would also be great in other applications. Speaking of, I chose these particular toppings for the ice cream because they are all components of a great cheese board – cheese, nuts, pickles, honey. Even chocolate. I often find that cheese boards and antipasto platters provide great hints at what flavors go well together.
Spherification – As a scientist, of course I love the molecular gastronomy movement. Molecular gastronomy is basically the application of science techniques (and sometimes tools) to cooking. Spherification, the capture of liquid in a gel coat, is the first technique I’ve tried but it won’t be the last. Spherification relies on the chemical reaction between sodium alginate (which is made from seaweed) and calcium lactate, a common medicinal component and food additive. You can buy food grade versions of both of these chemicals on the internet and they come as powders in recloseable bags. When you dissolve them in water and mix them together, the calcium ion replaces the sodium ion in the sodium alginate, making calcium alginate. Unlike sodium alginate, calcium alginate does not dissolve in water and is gelatinous. To make a sphere rather than just a big bowl of jello, you dissolve the sodium alginate in one liquid and the calcium lactate in another liquid then drop the calcium lactate mix into the sodium alginate mix from a dropper or using a spoon. When the drop hits the water, the calcium ions on the outside of the drop react with the sodium alginate in the bucket, forming the gel. But this gel only forms where the two liquids meet – the outside of the drop. Because the calcium lactate on the inside of the drop is now protected from the sodium alginate by the outer gel layer, no further reaction occurs and the inside of the drop remains liquid.
Watermelon rind pickles – If you’ve never had watermelon rind pickles, they’re made of the white part of the rind – not the green outer skin and not the red. They’re cut up and pickled in a brine that has a lot of spices (cloves, ginger, cinnamon, etc) but they are still fundamentally pickles. I think they work so well on ice cream because the sour complements the sweetness of the ice cream and is very bright in contrast to the way that dairy products can be quite dulling.
Below, the recipe:
Goat Cheese Ice Cream Sundae
For the Goat Cheese Ice Cream:
From David Lebovitz’s recipe in The Perfect Scoop
- 1.5 cups whole milk
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 8 oz fresh goat cheese
- 3 large eggs
- 3 large egg yolks
- Warm the milk and sugar in a medium saucepan. While the milk is warming, crumble the goat cheese into a large bowl.
- In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the eggs. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed eggs back into the saucepan.
- Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through a mesh strainer into the goat cheese and stir until the cheese is melted.
- Move to the fridge to cool completely, stirring occasionally.
- Freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturers directions, then transfer to a container and store in freezer.
For the Watermelon Rind Pickles:
Taken directly from this recipe by Nancy Manlove on Food52
Note: This makes 4 qt of pickles, which is a ton of pickles. Buy the amount of watermelon that you need and adjust accordingly.
- 12 cups watermelon rinds prepared as in step 1 below
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 4 tablespoons mixed pickling spice
- 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
- 12 whole cloves
- 8 thin slices of fresh ginger cut into strips about 2-inches long by 1-inch wide
- 3 cinnamon sticks, broken into 1-inch pieces
- 2 teaspoons whole allspice
- Wash and cut away all green parts of the rinds, Cut away any red as well. Cut into cubes 1-inch by 1-inch pieces.
- Place cut rind pieces in a large stock pot filled with enough water to cover rinds and cook over high heat until boiling. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook until rinds are fork tender or for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, drain and set aside.
- While the rinds cook, in a medium large sauce pan, add in all the other ingredients and simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to pickling broth to slightly cool.
- Place the cooked rinds in a large container that comes with tight filling lid. Pour the pickling broth over to completely cover and allow to completely cool. Place in the refrigerator and use as wanted. This will keep well for 3-4 months.
For the Pickle Juice Spheres:
Following the instructions from this recipe on Modernist Cooking at Home
- 100 g watermelon pickle juice, strained
- 1 g calcium lactate
- 3 g sodium alginate
- 600 g cold water
- The day before, put the water in a high sided container and blend in the sodium alginate with an immersion blender until fully dissolved. The alginate may stick to the blender and you will have to carefully scrape it off.
- Place the container uncovered in the fridge for 24 h to allow bubbles to dissipate
- The day of, stir the calcium lactate into the pickle juice
- Using a medicine dropper, suck up the pickle juice and drop into the water/alginate mixture
- After it sinks to the bottom, wait 5 minutes then remove the sphere to a bowl of water to rinse
For the Salted Walnuts:
- 3 oz halved walnuts
- 1/2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 350°F
- Put the walnuts in a baking dish and toast until fragrant and brown, anywhere from 5-15 min
- Toss the warm walnuts with oil and salt and allow to cool
- Chop into smaller pieces
- 2 oz bittersweet chocolate
- 1/4 cup honey, warmed
- Drain the pickles and cut into small cubes
- Scoop the ice cream into dishes
- Top with pickles, pickle juice spheres, and walnuts
- Drizzle over honey and finely grate chocolate on top
This was pretty disappointing. I know that watermelon rind pickles are great on vanilla ice cream, so I was hoping for an even better (and more unexpected) effect here. Instead, I found the flavor of the goat cheese ice cream to be overpowering – it was like a very acidic, slightly funky cheesecake. It’s possible that I just don’t like goat cheese ice cream, but it’s also possible that the acid from the ice cream did not do anything to BALANCE the acid from the pickles in the way that vanilla ice cream would. Additionally, making the pickle juice spheres was quite difficult, although it was a fun project and definitely something I will try to get better at in the future. The other toppings – nuts, honey, and chocolate – were great, and I definitely hope to give this another try with vanilla ice cream.