Scoop the Book: Bi-Rite Creamery's Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream
Strawberry ice cream is a beautiful thing, but make it at home and you'll find dragons lurking. Amanda Hesser phrased the problem well in 2007: Strawberries freeze into icicle chunks and make for a disappointing scoop. Pureeing your berries into your base helps, but only if you cook out a lot of their water; even then, you miss the texture of whole fruit (and your proto-jam tastes "cooked" more than "fresh.")
So I was skeptical about the strawberry balsamic ice cream recipe in Bi-Rite Creamery's Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones, which calls for cooking the berries down to a jam, puréing them, and whisking them into a cooked custard base. Would I like this, I asked, especially after finding tart and tangy strawberry ice cream nirvana with macerated strawberry and goat cheese ice cream. It turns out I had nothing to fear: this is a bright, fresh, and impressively fruity ice cream that rises above the strawberry pack. A touch of balsamic vinegar adds sweet complexity and some of the acidity lost by cooking the fruit.
Why I Picked This Recipe: Everyone should have a good berry ice cream in their repertoire, and this fits the bill nicely. I was looking for a fruit ice cream generous on flavor but without cloying sweetness. The balsamic part promises and delivers.
What Worked: Even with lame, out of season strawberries, this tasted refreshingly honest. It's berries and cream, pure and simple, with a touch of balsamic kick. I didn't strain my strawberry puree, and I'm glad I didn't—I love the tiny, crunchy seeds.
What Didn't: Compared to Bi-Rite's other ice creams, this is definitely firmer and more icy. It's the hazard of using fruit in ice cream, and honestly one I'm okay with. But if you want a transcendentally creamy scoop, this isn't the one for you. Also, the recipe instructions on cooking the strawberries aren't very precise. You have to do it mostly by feel, which means you have to decide for yourself how to balance cooking out the water from the berries against not overcooking them.
Suggested Tweaks: No tips to overcome this problem, sadly. It's the nature of the beast. You'd do best to eat this as soft serve or let it soften on the counter for 10 minutes before scooping.
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Thanks to the generous people at Ten Speed Press, we're giving away five (5) copies of Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones this week. All you have to do is tell us about your favorite ice cream flavor in the comments of our giveaway post here. The standard Serious Eats contest rules apply.