The other night my neighbors were hanging out on their front porch eating salty feta cheese and marinated olives and drinking ouzo. This prompted the handful of us who wandered over for a drink to share our anise liqeur stories. Pastis sipped in the south of France. Ouzo while exploring the Greek islands. Raki with Turkish fishermen on the Aegean coast. Well! It was a nice idyll.
In honor of adult-only evenings (or moments, if that's all you can squeeze in), here is a dessert for grownups: chocolate ice cream flavored with a good dose of the Italian anise liquer sambucca. Top liberally with plump black mission figs, flaky sea salt and shards of espresso praline, and see who drops by to share.
chocolate sambucca ice cream with figs, sea salt and espresso praline
for the praline
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
for the ice cream
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 tablespoons sambucca
1 tablespoon vanilla
8-12 ripe black mission figs
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt such as Maldon
To make the praline, lightly butter a cookie sheet. Combine the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat and boil without stirring until the syrup is golden brown (300° to 325° on a candy thermometer), between 10 and 15 minutes. When sugar begins to brown around edges of pan, swirl the pan gently so that it caramelizes evenly.
Remove from heat. Quickly and carefully stir in the espresso powder mixture and pour the mixture onto the cookie sheet. Let stand at room temperature until cool, about 1 hour. Break into pieces and chop. You can store the praline in an air-tight container at room temperature for about a week.
To make the ice cream, combine the cream, milk, and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring it to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
In a small bowl, beat the yolks lightly. Whisk about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture into the the yolks and then whisk the tempered yolk mixture back into the saucepan. Stir the mixture contantly over low heat until you see it start to thicken slightly. It should get thick enough to leave a nice custard-like coating on the spoon. Don't let it come to a boil.
Remove from the heat and whisk in the chopped chocolate until it's melted and the mixture looks smooth. Pour the custard through a fine mesh strainer into a clean bowl. Refrigerate the custard until cool, stirring occasionally, and then cover it with plastic wrap and chill until it's completely cold, several hours or overnight.
When you're ready to freeze the ice cream, remove the plastic wrap and gently stir in the sambucca and vanilla. Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions (mine usually takes about 15 minutes). When the ice cream looks like very melty soft serve, transfer it to an air-tight container and freeze until it's firm enough to scoop.
Scoop into bowls and serve with sliced ripe figs, shards of espresso praline, and a few flakes of sea salt.
Makes about 1 quart