How often do you let great ideas, passionate feelings, and good-intentioned impulses slip away? If you’re like me, you might be afraid of acting on these blips of thought for any number of reasons. Mine stem from a combination of laziness (especially if I get a good idea on the way home from work) a fear of failure, anticipation of rejection, and, perhaps worst of all, is the anticipation of success–having to face myself when my I realize my doubts were for naught and I have to start actually believing that I’m an intelligent, witty, creative, capable human being. [That's a frightening thought!]
I’m a dreamer by nature. I have a lot of ideas, whether they’re related to problem-solving, decorating a cake, conversations I’d like to have, a picture I’d like to paint or half-finished poems I’ve been meaning to put to paper. Despite the constant flow of thoughts swimming through my brain, I didn’t give much thought as to the dissonance between how often I exercised my imagination and how little these schemes were actualized.
For me, this was all symbolized by a bag of staring at me from my kitchen counter. A flimsy, green plastic produce bag bulging with unsweetened coconut from the bulk bin at Whole Foods. Bought during a bout of enthusiasm, the coconut was a key ingredient in my quest to make homemade Lara bars. For reasons I can’t even recall, this scheme was stifled before I even made it to the kitchen and the bag of white flakes seemed to slump down in defeat as soon as it met my counter.
The presence of the bag mocked me for two weeks. Whatever made you buy a whole bag of unsweetened coconut? Did you really think you were going to make Lara Bars? Since when did you jump on the healthy bandwagon? Have you ever even eaten a Lara Bar? And to think, you wasted a perfectly good bag on another project you’ll never start! Each day that I walked by the still-twirled twist ties pinching the plastic, they seemed to symbolize all of the ideas I kept shut up too.
Finally, I took action. Last week, as I unpacked my food swap bounty and stared at the collection of mason jars on my counter, the smallest jar caught my eye. It was cajeta, a caramel-colored sauce that could easily pass for dulce de leche’s fraternal twin. I screwed off the lid, tasted with my finger and savored the new flavor on my tongue. A silky texture. Sweet, with warm notes of cinnamon. THIS. As I went to double dip [oh, so sue me!] my eye caught the menacing bag of coconut again. Immediately, I knew that I had found the perfect pairing for my forgotten flakes. How I’d marry them, I had no idea, but this sweet sauce was my culinary muse and I would let it lead the way.
I moved through the kitchen with the taste of cajeta lingering in my thoughts. It lead me to the fridge, and to a pint of light cream meant for caramels that were never made. It also lead me to vanilla beans long since forgotten after the extract had been bottled and yolks that were byproducts of failed French macarons. With each cabinet I opened and each shelf I scoured, I was faced with remainders of projects I never started and dishes that were still daydreams. I mindlessly grabbed each ingredient and it wasn’t until they were in front of me that I realized I had set myself up to make ice cream. Was a bitter cold January day ideal for frozen dessert? No. Did the bathroom scale show me a number that would benefit from the calories I was about to commit to? No. Would it have been a smarter choice for me to make the damn lara bars I had initially planned on? Probably. Did it matter? No. The time was now. Ice cream was happening because, like so many things in my life, it was long overdue.
This dish is adapted from David Lebovitz’s Toasted Coconut Ice Cream in The Perfect Scoop. I’ve said this before, but if you love to make ice cream and don’t own this book, hit up Amazon and snag yourself a copy. It’s informative, thoughtful and features delightful flavor combinations. The adaptations I made were based on availability–using lower milkfat, fewer egg yolks and adding coconut oil (to compensate for the lower fat content)–because it was what I had in my kitchen. Though I didn’t use heavy cream or whole milk, the result was still creamy. I am not normally a fan of coconut flavored desserts, as I find them to be one-note and overly saccharine. However, the toasted coconut transforms the flavor into something complex and lovely. It adds a nuttiness and depth that cuts through the sweetness of the coconut and richness of the overall dish. Feel free to serve this with toasted coconut or cajeta, as I did. It also adds sweetness, but not abrasively so. The subtle spiciness and warmth of cinnamon lends perfectly to the nutty toasted flavor of the coconut.
What are some ideas you’ve been holding onto? I hope this recipe is as much of a muse for you as it was for me in helping to realize some of my ideas. Remember, you don’t have to wait for the perfect conditions to start actualizing your dreams. The excuses will always be there. The time for doing, however, is now.
- 2 cups light cream
- 1½ cups skim milk
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 vanilla bean, split [or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract]
- ⅔ cup sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 3 egg yolks
- ½ cup unsweetened coconut
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Spread coconut in an even layer in the pan. As flakes begin to brown, stir to toast evenly until the majority of flakes have turned light brown. [Alternatively, spread coconut on a cooksheet and toast in a 350F oven for 5-8 minutes until lightly golden brown]
- In a medium saucepan, combine cream, milk, coconut oil, sugar. Split vanilla bean, scraping the seeds and add to the pan. Heat the mixture until the sugar has dissolved, but do not simmer. Remove from heat. Add toasted coconut, transfer to a bowl, cover and let sit for one hour, undisturbed.
- Place a strainer over the same medium saucepan used for heating the milk mixture. Strain the coconut milk mixture into the pan, pushing down on the coconut to extract the as much flavor and liquid as possible. Remove the strainer and discard the coconut. Heat the milk mixture until warm. Remove from heat.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Slowly stream the warm milk mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly to prevent the yolks from scrambling. Pour mixture back into the saucepan. Heat over medium flame, stirring constantly until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Turn off heat.
- Strain mixture into a bowl set over an ice bath. Once mixture has cooled, refrigerate for a few hours until the mixture has sufficiently chilled. Pour into ice cream maker and freeze according to your ice cream machine’s directions.
- Top with toasted coconut (or, cajeta, if you are so lucky as to have some on hand!)