Helado Tostado El Carmelo
It’s been coming for awhile, but instagrams are now everywhere. Nostalgia for the present makes sense in the summer and that seems to be the app for it. While I love the effects, there’s something unearned about tapping an icon and adding a 1977 filter to a 2012 happening. As someone who already has a seventies-circa filter coloring their earliest memories, it can be disorienting, erasing the line between then and now.
A few weeks ago, I tried to take the actual Kodak instamatic pictures – snuck out of old family albums, rescued from dorm room bulletin boards, and nearly forgotten in unopened books – out of my drawers and onto the walls. Simple enough, but for the most part, it didn’t work. Awkwardly set in standard sized frames with two much space on either end, I couldn’t make them fit anywhere and nipping the retro borders would have ruined them. I quickly googled “instamatic frames” but could only come up with virtual ones, as though nostalgia was permissible so long as it remained wholly intangible.
Of course, anyone who loves to cook is used to struggling with nostalgia. I’ve been working out my grandparent’s meringue cookie recipe for weeks. I’ve come close, but they’re still not the perfect ones I remember – crispy on the outside with a taffy center. Failed attempts left me with lots of leftover egg yolks, so with a heat wave setting in, I dug my ice cream maker attachment out of the freezer to make another retro-dessert helado tostado.
Similar to baked Alaska, chocolate ice cream is topped with meringue then set under a broiler until it’s just browned. The dessert was a favorite at El Carmelo, a popular Havana café that comes up a lot with friends and family who know I’m always looking for old recipes. I’ve never been able to find a picture of it, but I imagine it like the old Palm Court at the Plaza but with less Eloise and more Hemingway. Going on borrowed memories, I felt free to embellish the recipe – adding a crust of crushed almond biscotti for texture and a spoon (or two) of dark rum to the ice cream.
Setting out the fast melting dessert, I grabbed spoons from my other grandmother’s silver. A complete set I recently brought back from home. I remembered that she belonged to a ladies lunch group that called themselves – las cucharitas – since every meal ended with a single dessert and lots of “little spoons.” In a moment, I could see them so clearly, not in El Carmelo, but in Miami as I first knew them, silvery women with smoky voices wrapped in a cloud of Chanel No. 5 and Aqua Net. Dropping my camera and picking up my phone, I took quick picture of the spoons. I used instagram, playing with the filters until I found the right 70s, rose colored tinge. It may have been unearned but it was true to the memory.
Helado Tostado/Baked Chocolate Rum Ice Cream with Almond Biscotti Crust
Though I made some changes, this recipe is very much inspired by El Carmelo’s baked ice cream. The crust can be made well in advance, and I usually thaw the ice cream to spread it evenly in the tray then freeze it again so it’s as firm as possible before it goes under the broiler. The meringue can also be made the day before and frozen until just before serving.
I made my ice cream at home because I was stocked up on egg yolks but any good quality, chocolate ice cream will work – the darker the better to play off the meringue. I allowed for large pieces of biscotti to give it more crunch so the crust didn’t hold together easily until after it was frozen. The dessert also be made with a layer of sponge cake or with only the single layer of ice cream, as a single layer of cake or portioned into ramekins.
6-8 large almond biscotti, 1 1/2 cups
4 tablespoons, unsalted butter, melted
1 quart best-quality chocolate ice cream or homemade chocolate rum ice cream (recipe below)
3 egg whites
3/4 cups sugar
Pinch cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
9-inch square baking pan
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Pulse the biscotti in a food processor until crumbly. In a large mixing bowl, combine the biscotti crumbs and melted butter. Fill the prepared pan with the crumb mixture and press into the bottom and sides of the pan to form the crust. Bake 10-12 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from oven and set aside to cool completely. Freeze until ready to use.
Pour the chocolate ice cream into the prepared crust, smoothing the top with an offset spatula (this works best if left to thaw a few minutes beforehand). Return to the freezer while you make the meringue.
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on low speed until foamy, about a minute. Add the cream of tartar and increase speed to medium until they hold soft peaks. Gradually add the sugar followed by vanilla extract and beat on high speed until it forms stiff, glossy peaks, about 5 more minutes. Cover the pie with the meringue and return to freezer until ready to serve.
To serve, preheat the broiler. Set the pie under the broiler until lightly toasted. It should take no more than 1-2 minutes so it must be watched closely.
Chocolate Rum Ice Cream
Adapted from my favorite recipe for chocolate gelato found in The Silver Spoon by Phaidon Press.
3 cups whole milk
3 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1 tablespoon dark rum
Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat.
Place chocolate in a small heatproof bowl. Pour a 1/4 cup of the heated milk over the chocolate. Set the chocolate over a pot of simmering water and stir with a spoon or small rubber spatula, agitating the chocolate from the center, making slightly larger circles. Stir until the chocolate melts and becomes smooth, adding more milk as needed. Pour the melted chocolate into heated milk and stir until well combined.
In a separate saucepan, beat together the egg yolks and sugar until they are pale and fluffy. Whisk about 1/4 cup of the heated milk into the egg yolks to temper the eggs so they don’t scramble. Whisk in the rest of the milk into the eggs and return to medium low heat. Stir constantly until the custard thickens and coats the back of the spoon, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and strain into a clean mixing bowl. Stir in the rum. Cool completely then cover with plastic wrap and chill at least two hours or overnight.
Process in a ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions, about 15-20 minutes. Freeze until ready to use.