Versions of this recipe have been bouncing around a lot recently, most of them praising its fool-proof simplicity, but as with such recipes—and one with two ingredients is about as basic as they come—the devil is in the details. Most versions call for 1 ½ cups of self-rising (“hot rise”) flour and a pint of melted ice cream—which make make a soft, sticky dough rather than a batter—baked in a standard 8×5 loaf pan at 350 for 45 minutes, but I’ve found that the recipe makes a much better presentation when baked in a 5×3 (16 oz.) loaf or a similarly-sized spring-form baker at 350 for only 35 minutes. I’ve also found that you must use a very rich ice cream such as a French vanilla or (as in this case) a butter pecan and that LuVel works just as well if not better than Ben & Jerry’s, but you must let the ice cream melt slowly on the kitchen counter or in the refrigerator overnight; don’t put it in the microwave or it will be “flat”. These cute little loaves serve six adults easily, slice into eighths for kids, and while a dollop of whipped cream might seem more appropriate, I don’t think a scoop of vanilla ice cream is redundant at all.
This dish has like so many others—gingerbread, for example, or roast turkey—become needlessly consigned to a specific winter holiday, but the dessert could easily fit on any table. Most recipes have no more than four ingredients—crème fraiche, cream cheese, egg whites and sugar—though the misguided might add vanilla or lemon. Recipes will ofen stipulate crème fraiche or sour cream, and for years I’ve been making a coeur a la crème using sour cream for convenience. This year, I’ve upped my game and made crème fraiche, which is not difficult; a little goes a long way and keeps for a long time.
You can make a simple crème fraiche using cultured buttermilk and whole cream from the supermarket, but if you’re going to bother to make it at all, do the best you can. I did not want to buy a packet of the crème fraiche culture, which seemed to me like a slacker’s option, so I trotted down to the Mississippi Farmer’s Market and bought fresh whole milk and buttermilk from T&R Dairy. Their lightly pasteurized products contain lactic bacteria needed for a good crème fraiche. I made a culture using a cup of whole milk, a quarter cup of buttermilk and a spoonful of store-bought sour cream, which does have a tiny bit of its characteristic bacteria. I kept the starter out overnight, and by morning it had thickened to a dense slurry. I added a half cup or so of that to a quart of whole cream from the supermarket, and it worked like a charm. I ended up with a thick, tart crème fraiche, which I’ll tend to as I would a sourdough. In time, with added culture from T&D, I’m hoping it will mellow and enrichen.
Now, if you happen to frequent the kinds of stores that sell such things as stainless steel strawberry stem removers, chromium banana slicers and cast-iron hot dog toasters, then you’re likely to run into these cute little ceramic heart molds with holes that are made specifically for a coeur le crème. Since I am just not a Williams-Sonoma-type person, I went to the Dollar Store on Fortification and found a plastic, heart-shaped container with Ninja Turtles embossed on the front (“Be My Bodacious Valentine!”) that was just the right size and grabbing a packet of cheesecloth from McDade’s—yes, can buy cheesecloth at McDade’s (!)—I was ready to make my heart of cream. I burned holes in the plastic with a hot nail, lined the mold—for that’s what it had become—with damp cheesecloth, mixed one cup of my crème fraiche with six ounces of cream cheese, blended in two (organic) stiffly-beaten egg whites and a tablespoon of confectioner’s sugar. I placed the coeur on a plate in the coldest part of the refrigerator for several hours, inverted it onto a server, removed the cloth and garnished with raspberries, though any kind of berry would have been good this time of the year, even bananas.
Toss fresh berries, drupes or pomes (in this case, peaches and cherries) with granulated sugar and macerate overnight in the refrigerator. Make a crust by mixing one and a quarter cup of plain flour, two tablespoons of sugar, a teaspoon of salt, cutting in a stick of butter very finely and adding enough very cold water and additional flour to make a stiff dough. Form into a ball and refrigerate for perhaps an hour, then roll out to form a 12” circle. (It doesn’t have to be perfect.) Drain syrup from fruit and mound in the center of the dough, leaving a 2” edge. Fold the crust over the fruit, brush the dough with a mixture of melted butter mixed with a little dark brown sugar or molasses and place in an oven at 375 until crust is browned and fruit is bubbling. Cool, slice and serve with thick sweetened cream. Serves 4-6. In formal culinary parlance, this would be a type of galette.
Norwalk, California, situated somewhat between L.A. and Long Beach, is home to MW Polar Foods, which started with an unspecified seafood item in 1976 and has since branched out into a spectacular array of canned seafood, vegetables, snacks, drinks and fruits. In my local market Polar products are shelved on the dollar aisle, and while some might sneer at me for stooping to use such a low-end product, I’ve found their fruits perfect additions to any number of desserts, particularly their ridiculously evenly shaped teeny-tiny strawberries that are infused with enough red dye to turn your nasal hairs pink. I like their cute little jars, too.