Back when America was great, when company came, it was enough to haul out the rock salt, fire up the ice cream gin and take turns rotating the crank, if you know what I mean.
Nowadays, of course, with every Tom, Dick and Euripides thinking their tuna volcano is a Michelin meal in the making, it takes a little more panache to impress the rubes, am I right?
THE STEPS YOU TAKE
Today is more about plating than cooking. We’ll take some easily scared up ingredients and arrange them so beautifully on the plate that your guests will be breathless with wonder and dizzy with plots of revenge.
After all, anyone with an opposable thumb can manipulate an ice cream scoop to plop a couple of mounds of store-bought into a bowl. Why, just this sultry afternoon, I was served a cooling coconut sorbet by Mandrake, my chimp butler. Plain but perfect.
Occasionally, though, particularly when entertaining the persnicketier guest, we want to bust out the organ metaphor and pull out all the stops. We want a dessert that sings, a dessert that dances, a dessert that leaps off the plate and screams, “Ooh, la-la, Madge, mangez cette creme glacee comme le chacal que vous etes!” (Eat this ice cream like the jackal you are!)
OK, then, let’s start with some generalities.
First, no bowls. Plates. Do you have any rectangular plates? No? No matter. Round was good enough for my Aunt Criminy — and she was to fancy what Ryan Gosling is to boyish good looks — and it’ll be good enough for you and me.
Second, contrast: contrasting flavors, contrasting colors, contrasting textures, etc.
Finally, as far as the following specific ideas go, feel free to combine them on the same plate. And don’t ever be afraid to ask our old friend Mr. Google for help.
In your hautier hash houses, they’re grinding up dark-colored ingredients like dried fruit and mushrooms and calling it “soil” because it looks like dirt, and who doesn’t like eating dirt?
Sweet “soil” is easy: In a food processor, grind up some nuts, cookies, raisins, granola, breakfast cereal, chocolate or cocoa powder, brown or castor sugar, etc., anything that would go well with ice cream. It’s like a topping, only, underneath.
Plate your soil in a pile, or lay it out like a mossy garden path. If you’re part of the leisure class, you could cut out a rectangular (or other shape) stencil from a stiff piece of paper and use that to create perfect lines.
This is so easy, it’s illegal in 13 states. Put a pint of berries (blue, black, rasp, etc.) into a saucepan with some sugar (about 1/4 cup), and cook them down slowly to release their juices, about 20 minutes. Add a splash of brandy if you like. If the sauce is too thin, stir in some cornstarch mixed with cold water and bring it to a boil to thicken. Pass it through a strainer (OMG, you can add the leftover pulp to your soil!!!), and you’ve got a drizzly bit of perfection.
Now, you could just dribble that sauce over your ice cream like some kind of hobo, but, come on, it’s Madge, remember? Try this: Dip a pastry brush into the sauce and paint a swoosh across the plate. Or, pour the sauce into a squeeze bottle and drizzle loops or lines or a series of dots. Or, make one big dot and drag a butter knife through it at different angles to create an exploded, starburst thing. Have you seriously never done any of this before?
GANACHE (AKA CHOCOLATE SAUCE)
By the way, you can also do all this with chocolate ganache: Combine roughly equal amounts of boiling cream and chocolate chips in a bowl and stir to combine. Behold: ganache.
This is a shape reminiscent of an American football and is an actual technique that requires some practice. Fortunately, you’re like some ethereal being made of time rather than carbon.
Here’s what you do: Warm a spoon in hot water. Then, hold it horizontal and sideways, and push it through softened ice cream so that the ice cream rides up the spoon like snow on a snowplow or cows on a cowcatcher. Then rotate the spoon back over the top of the ice cream, and pull it back toward you to create the quenelle. My best advice is to watch a video on YouTube. Then, go get some ice cream, and practice. Seriously, what better excuse for day-bingeing on ice cream than, “I’m practicing my quenelles, Madge. Leave me alone.”
For an explosion of color, use small sprigs of mint or basil or fresh edible flowers, like nasturtiums or roses or pansies. No poison hemlock.
SWEET PHOTOGRAPHIC NEGATIVES
On a part of the plate where the ice cream won’t go, place the business end of a fork or spoon or maybe a silhouette of Abe Vigoda. Sift over it some powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar or finely ground black pepper (if you’re going all crazy). Remove the object from the plate and, voila, instant crime scene chic.