One lone vanilla bean, cased in a stopper-ed glass test tube, has been stashed in the corner of my baking cupboard for weeks. Months, maybe. You’d think it was a bottle of Dom Perignon, on reserve for a special occasion, or my last few nickels, horded away just in case, the way I’ve been holding on to it. Across the kitchen, in another cupboard, a less-than-half-full bottle of bourbon has sat sadly unsipped for long enough to gather a thin cloak of dust. And, between the two, in the depths of my freezer, the frost-bitten bowl of my ice cream maker waited patiently, killing time by serving as a kind of ice bucket for a bottle of vodka.
Now, these three things—the vanilla bean, the bourbon and the ice cream maker—might seem unconnected. And, if you’d asked me last Thursday, I’d say the same thing. But, on Friday I discovered the thread that runs between the three and, well, I’m a changed woman.
Last Friday, at the end of a meal at Hot Chocolate, our waiter placed before me a tiny glass dish holding a golf-ball sized scoop of ice cream. The plate also held a molasses cookie no larger than a silver dollar, wonderfully spicy and bendy.
The ice cream was Whiskey Ice Cream and it is every bit as good as it sounds and then some. As it melts on your tongue, the first boozy jolt makes you sit up a bit straighter, but then the richness has you immediately sinking back into your chair, probably emitting some variation of: mmmmm.
I woke up the next morning still thinking about that whiskey ice cream. So, I did the only sensible thing. I poured myself a cup of coffee, plopped down in front of my computer, poked around the Internet for approximately five minutes before finding The Perfect Recipe and got to work.
I slid that vanilla bean out of its glass case, split it lengthwise and scraped it of its seeds. I removed the bourbon from the cupboard, immediately uncorked the bottle and took a whiff. Oh, yes, it would do. These two things went into an ice cream base—all milk and cream, eggs and sugar—and, after it had chilled, into the ice cream maker bowl I’d unearthed from the freezer.
The mixture churned away, noisily, and I impatiently waited. Once it was done—dappled with vanilla beans, lusciously creamy—I had a bite. And another. And, well, who’s counting. With the advantage of hindsight (and the advantage of those bites of ice cream) the connection between those three things—the vanilla bean, the bourbon and the ice cream maker—seems so obvious.