As a cookbook author, whenever you do a cooking demonstration, there’s always ‘The Question’. It’s the one that’s the most frequently asked when you’re doing classes on a book tour. For me it’s often “Can that be frozen?”
Since my freezer is usually so crammed with stuff I can’t imagine wedging in a multi-layer cake amongst all the rock-hard frozen madness that I call “my freezer”…except for now, because I came home from the country last weekend and found my freezer door had nudged itself open, or more likely I accidentally left it ajar in my haste to get outta town, and when I came home, my freezer looked like an Antarctic blizzard had happened in there and had to be completely cleaned out…so now there’s plenty of room and I can start jamming it full all over again.
Anyhow, when you write a book completely devoted to frozen desserts and ice cream you can smugly think to yourself, “Ha! I’ve nipped that one in the bud.” Of course, all ice cream can be frozen. But little did I realize something insidious had taken ahold of my fellow Americans. “Can I use Splenda?” was The Question I was getting.
I don’t use artificial sweeteners in my cooking and don’t know how they behave so I’m not going to dole out advice on how to use them. But some people can’t have highly-refined or white sugar for health reasons, so I told those folks I’d “get back to them on that” – which I’m doing here and now. I wanted to come up with a recipe for ice cream-lovers who are looking for a sugar-free option that tastes every bit as good as regular ice cream. And this is it.
After my last book tour ended, I jettisoned home and decided to come up with a top-drawer recipe for Sugar-Free Chocolate Ice Cream that used no artificial ingredients. I made a trip to my local health food store in Paris, picked up a jar of agave nectar, and got churning.
I decided to create sugar-free chocolate ice cream, since the luscious, silky-smooth taste of dark chocolate was probably something that most folks on sugar-restricted diets were craving. But I didn’t want to make something that tasted like just an acceptable substitute for chocolate ice cream: I wanted it to be the real thing, smooth and creamy, with the luxurious flavor of rich, dark chocolate.
If you live outside the United States, you can often find tablets of unsweetened chocolate at some chocolate shops and specialty stores. In France it’s usually labeled, 100% pâte de cacao—100% chocolate paste.
Agave-Sweetened Chocolate Ice Cream
About 1 quart (1 liter)
Since the custard is made without sugar, keep an eye on things as it will cook rather quickly. You can either use a flame-tamer or cook the custard in bain-marie, a bowl set over a pan of simmering water, to avoid overcooking if you’ve never made a custard before. And because I don’t like washing dishes, I use the same saucepan for cooking the custard that I used for dissolving and blooming the cocoa powder, I simply scrape it as clean as possible and use it again for making the custard.
If you would like to reduce the quantity of agave nectar here, you can cut the amount to ½ cup (120 ml) if you wish.
- 10 tablespoons (155 ml) agave nectar
- 2 ounces (55 g) unsweetened chocolate, very finely chopped
- 1/3 cup (35 g) unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Valrhona)
- 3 cups (750 ml) half-and-half*, divided
- 5 large egg yolks
- pinch of salt
1. In a small saucepan, warm the agave syrup with the unsweetened chocolate over the lowest heat possible, stirring constantly, until the chocolate is melted. Remove from heat and transfer mixtures to a large bowl. Set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan, add 1½ cups (375 ml) of the half-and-half and whisk in the cocoa powder. Cook over moderate heat until the mixture begins to bubble, then simmer for 30 seconds, whisking frequently, making sure to break up any clumps of cocoa powder.
3. Remove from heat and scrape the mixture into the bowl with the chocolate-agave mixture. Stir them together, then set a mesh strainer over the top.
4. Add the remaining half-and-half to the saucepan with a pinch of salt, turn on the heat, and when warm, slowly pour the warm half-and-half into the yolks whisking constantly, then pour the warmed yolks back into the saucepan.
5. Cook, stirring constantly over moderate heat, until the mixture becomes steamy and thickens. If using an instant-read thermometer, it should read about 170F degrees. (76C).
6. Pour the mixture through the strainer into the chocolate mixture.
7. Stir, then let cool a few minutes until tepid. Once it’s not super hot, whiz the mixture in a blender for ten seconds until it’s smooth and velvety. (Never blend very hot liquids in a blender since it creates a hot vortex and can cause the liquid to blast out of the top.)
8. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
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