What a wonderful way to greet both autumn and Indian summer! To me, this recipe screams “Provence!” If you’ve never cooked with dried lavender, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised, since, when used correctly, this gorgeous fragrance lends itself perfectly to a rich frozen custard. Make sure, however, that you only use dried lavender for the purpose of consumption and not the kind meant to be included in scented pouches, to be tucked into your sock draw. When making ice cream, make sure to set up correctly to prevent the risk of curdling the custard, which can happen if it’s initially overheated. If you don’t feel like making ice cream, just serve these buttered, sugared and broiled figs on top of a scoop of your favorite store-bought brand of vanilla ice cream or some lightly sweetened, thick creme fraiche.
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Before making the custard, place a shallow layer of ice cubes or crushed ice on the bottom of a 6-quart bowl. Add a little water to the ice and sit a 3-quart bowl directly into the ice, pushing it down, so it’s secured. Place a large, triple-mesh wire sieve over the smaller bowl.
First pour the cream and milk into a 3-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan. Using a sharp knife, slit the vanilla beans, lengthwise, through the top skin only. Open the beans and, using the dull side of the knife, scrape down the length of the beans, removing their seeds. Whisk the seeds into the cream, dispersing them throughout, then whisk in the lavender. Place the pan over medium-low heat and scald the liquid, but do not let it simmer.
Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment (or use a hand-held whisk), while gradually adding the sugar, until the mixture is thick yet very light in texture and a pale lemon color. Lower the speed of the mixer to slow and add a ladle-full of the scalded cream mixture (a little at a time, at first, to temper the yolks). Slowly add more and more of the hot cream, while mixing continuously and, when the bottom of the bowl feels hot, add the rest of the cream, in a steady stream. When all of the hot liquid is added, pour the contents of the bowl back into the saucepan, off the heat. Use a rubber spatula to scrape any remaining mixture off the bottom of the bowl and into the saucepan and place the pan over low heat. Cook the custard, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture is thickened and coats the back of the spoon, about 3 minutes, once the mixture becomes hot throughout. (To check the consistency of the custard, always remove the pan from the heat first, to prevent accidental curdling.)
Pour the cooked custard into the sieve over the iced-bowl and discard anything that remains in the sieve. Stir in the vanilla and salt and drape a clean kitchen towel or paper towel over the top of the bowl. Let the custard cool to just warm, stirring occasionally, before placing both bowls into the refrigerator to cool the custard thoroughly. (If time is an issue, add more ice to the larger bowl, going up the sides, which will speed up this initial chilling process.)
Transfer the well-chilled custard to the bowl of an ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. After churning, store the ice cream in a sealed container, in the freezer.
First preheat the broiler with the rack as close as possible, to the heating element. Line a shallow baking sheet with aluminum foil (shiny side up) and lay the quartered figs, cut sides up, on the prepared sheet. Brush the flesh side of the cut figs with some melted butter and sprinkle them with sugar. Broil the figs, until they are warmed throughout and he sugared surface is bubbling. Use tongs to place the broiled figs on top of individual scoops of lavender ice cream and serve right away.
Omit the lavender and keep everything else the same.
After omitting the lavender, follow the remaining instructions, as written, reducing the vanilla to 1 teaspoon and adding 1 teaspoon of naturally flavored cherry extract and a scant 1/4 teaspoon of pure almond extract. After churning the ice cream until it’s very thickened, but not yet overly firm, add 1 generous cup of drained and coarsely chopped, pitted dark sweet canned cherries. If desired, stir a few tablespoons of the cherry syrup into the chilled custard, just before churning.
Omit the vanilla beans. Mix the cream with the milk and heat it until hot, over low heat. Finely chop one 4-ounce bar of semi-sweet chocolate and 2 squares of unsweetened chocolate, either by hand or in the food processor, fitted with the steel blade. When the cream is hot, stir in the chopped chocolates and keep stirring until it melts completely and the cream is, once again, very hot, but not simmering. Follow the remaining instructions, reducing the vanilla extract to 1 1/2 teaspoons. To include chocolate chips, after churning the ice cream until it’s very thickened, but not yet overly firm, add 1 cup mini chocolate chips or chopped bar chocolate and finish the churning, and freeze.
The ice cream can be churned two days ahead and kept frozen.
To prevent working with very hard ice cream, just before serving, it’s wise to scoop out portions, several hours (or a day) ahead, and keep the scoops on a tray, lined with wax paper in the freezer, covered with plastic wrap.
The figs can be buttered and sugared in the morning and kept refrigerated, covered securely with plastic wrap, until it’s time to broil.