“You want me to do what?”
My son was looking at me funny.
I repeated my request.
“I need you to take this hammer and smash open these apricot pits. We’re making ice cream.”
Hammer. Ice cream. My son was totally onboard with this. My daughter was wearing her concerned face.
(Safety note: I did have him cover the pits with another towel as he whacked away at them to avoid flying pit-shrapnel.)
While my son continued cracking I explained, over the din, that stone fruits like peaches, plums, cherries, and apricots contain a small kernel within their seeds that the French call noyaux. They look like almonds and have an intense, bitter-almond perfume and flavor. Imagine store-bought almond extract minus the artificial undertones.
We broke a kernel in half and took a whiff.
“Ooh, that smells good!”
“Right?” I agreed. “Now imagine that in ice cream.”
Now for the intriguing part.
“Noyaux contain a very small amount of an enzyme which, when digested, becomes prussic acid (or hydrogen cyanide).”
“Is that bad?” my daughter asked.
“Well cyanide is poisonous, but unless you were planning on eating a ton of apricot kernels it won’t hurt you.”
In fact, cyanide does naturally occur in several foods: apples (in the pips), spinach, tapioca, soy, bamboo shoots, and all stone fruit pits.
“And anyway, we aren’t going to eat them. We’ll just steep them like tea leaves in our hot cream.”
We gently warmed our cream and milk until just beginning to boil and added the noyaux. I covered the pan and we played Quirkle while the kernels steeped.
We tasted the cream every so often to make sure the flavor wasn’t getting too strong. It was to our liking at about the 90 minute mark.
We strained the noyaux and set the flavorful cream aside.
The kids separated the eggs.
They never seem to get bored with this process.
The yolks went into a mixing bowl and I placed the whites in a container to freeze for a future recipe.
They measured the sugar.
And whisked both the sugar and salt into the egg yolks.
Meanwhile, we reheated the aromatic milk and cream.
I placed a damp towel on our work surface to anchor the bowl.
When the cream had come to a boil, my son used a ladle to introduce the mixture, a little at a time, to the yolks in the bowl. My daughter whisked the two together as he ladled.
“Why do you think we couldn’t just add all the egg yolks directly to the pot?”
I explained that we needed to bring the eggs up to temperature gradually so that we didn’t inadvertently scramble them — a process called tempering.
Once we had about half of our hot cream added to the yolks, we poured the contents of the bowl back into the pot.
Over medium-low heat, the kids took turns stirring the mixture with a heat-proof spatula, making sure they scraped the bottom and edges of the pot.
We took the mixture off the heat when we could feel it thickening and it coated the back of a spoon, (about 170 degrees on an instant read thermometer).
We immediately strained it into a clean bowl. The kids could see coagulated bits of egg white caught in the strainer.
“Egg whites cook at a lower temperature than egg yolks, which is why we need to strain the mixture again. You can never get all the whites out when you separate eggs, and the cooked whites would make our ice cream lumpy.”
They expressed their disapproval.
We set up an ice bath to cool the mixture quickly.
Now the hardest part — waiting. While the ice cream base was cool now, it would make much smoother ice cream if it was really and truly cold. The longer the ice cream takes to freeze, the larger the ice crystals will be in the final mix. If you start with a really cold base, your mix will take less time to freeze. Easy. Unless you are 7.
Noyaux ice cream is very tasty on its own, but what could make it better? I’m happy you asked…
What could be better than pairing noyaux ice cream with the fruit it came from? And in the form of a warm and buttery pastry of course!
While we waited for the ice cream base to chill, we made pastry dough and rolled it out into a large circle.
The noyaux we had used earlier came from a container I keep in the freezer where we hoard our stone fruit pits. Now we could replenish those with new kernels from these babies:
The apricots were on the riper side, so they would need something between them and the pastry dough to soak up all the juices they would release in the oven.
We ground together some blanched almonds, a bit of sugar, a touch of flour and a pinch of salt, and sprinkled that all over the dough circle.
The kids placed the apricots cut-side up in concentric circles on top of the almond mixture, leaving a border all around.
They took turns pleating the dough. We weren’t concerned about spacing; they just folded the crust up and over the fruit where it seemed like a natural spot. Galettes are supposed to look rustic.
They brushed the pastry dough with a little milk.
Then sprinkled sugar all over the top of the galette.
We popped the galette into a hot oven for about 50 minutes. The smell of hot apricots and butter does not suck.
Later we topped slices of the rewarmed galette with scoops of noyaux ice cream. It was not even close to the pits.
Noyaux Ice Cream makes about a quart
35 – 40 apricot pits
2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1/8 tsp salt
7 egg yolks
Cover the apricot pits with a towel and crack them open with a hammer. It doesn’t matter if you mash or break the kernels inside. Place the kernels in a pot with the cream and milk and heat to just boiling, taking care not to scorch the mixture. Remove from heat and cover to let the kernels steep. Check the mixture every 30 minutes or so until the flavor is strong enough. Strain the cream and set aside while you separate the eggs. Place the yolks in a bowl and whisk in the sugar and salt. Anchor the bowl to the work surface with a damp towel. Bring the infused cream back to a boil. Use a ladle to add some of the hot cream to the yolk mixture with one hand while whisking it together with the other. When you have incorporated about half of the hot milk, pour the mixture back into the pot and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until just beginning to thicken. It will coat the back of a spoon, (about 170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.) Strain the mixture again. Chill completely and freeze according to your ice cream manufacturer’s instructions.
Apricot Galette serves 8
pie pastry, (a little more than half of this recipe)
2 T blanched almonds
1 T flour
1 T sugar
pinch of salt
1 1/2 lbs of apricots
1/4 cup of sugar
Roll the pastry dough out to form a circle about 14″ in diameter and 1/8″ thick. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet and place in the refrigerator while you prepare the rest of the components. Grind the almonds, flour, sugar, and salt together, (I use an old coffee grinder for this. You can also just use almond meal in place of the almonds). Cut the apricots in quarters, removing the pits (save them!) Sprinkle the almond mixture over the dough, leaving about a 1 1/2″ border. Place the apricots, skin-side down, in concentric circles on top of the dough, fitting them snugly and leaving the border bare. Fold the dough up and over the galette, pleating it as you go. Brush the crust with a little milk and sprinkle the 1/4 cup of sugar over the fruit and crust. Bake in a 400 degree oven on the lowest rack, (use a pizza stone if you have one), for about 50 minutes. The crust should be nicely browned and slightly caramelized. Use a large spatula to transfer the galette to a wire rack to keep the crust from getting soggy. Cool for about 20 minutes before serving, or cool completely and rewarm before serving.