Ice cream volcano. Photo courtesy NYY Steak
When we were browsing the Facebook page of the Manhattan steak restaurant NYY Steak, we came across this photo and uttered Tina Fey’s mantra: “What the what?”
It turned out to be ice cream: an ice cream volcano, to be exact. It’s a mound of vanilla ice cream covered with Heath Bar Milk Chocolate Toffee Bits.
The volcano is brought to the table and flambéed, then sliced and served to guests. It inspired today’s tip: Flambé a dessert. Baked Alaska, Bananas Foster, Cherries Jubilee and Crêpes Suzette are classics.
Flambé means to douse food with liquor and set it alight briefly. It is done with both desserts and savory dishes (Steak Diane, for example).
Although the art has gone out of style with the decline of classic French restaurants, you can try your hand at home. It will light up a special occasion (pun intended).
THE HISTORY OF FLAMBÉ
The practice of igniting food for show can be traced to the Moors in the 14th century. But modern flambéing became popular only in the late 19th century.
We’re not sure who is responsible. Henri Charpentier, a waiter in Monte Carlo, claimed that he created the concept in 1895, when he accidentally set fire to a pan of crêpes he was preparing with orange liqueur. He discovered that burning the sauce affected its flavor in a wonderful way.
Oh, and he claims the guests were Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) and his companion, one Suzette. Charpentier said that he named the dish Crêpes Suzette after the her.
The story is disputed by Larousse Gastronomique, which claims that Charpentier, who was 14 years old at the time, was not old enough to be serving royalty. [Source: Wikipedia]
MAKE YOUR OWN ICE CREAM VOLCANO
Most of us don’t have the occasion to make croque-em-bouche (CROAK om boosh), a festive tower of cream puffs held together with crackling caramel threads. You’d have to be good friends with a pâtisserie owner to borrow one (here’s what it looks like).
But you might possibly have a large chinois (SHEEN-wah), a cone-shaped mesh strainer. Otherwise, you’ll have to shape it “freehand,” which can be easier if you buy vanilla ice cream in a cylinder shape carton (like Edy’s and Dreyer’s) instead of a rectangular carton.
Then, all you need is:
Heath Bar Milk Chocolate Toffee bits. Photo courtesy T.R. Toppers.
1. MOUND the ice cream into a volcano (cone) shape. Coat with Heath Bar Bits.
2. FREEZE four hours or more to firm.
3. REMOVE right before serving and flambé (see instructions below).
If you haven’t flambéed before, you should practice igniting alcohol before the big event. Remember to be cautious; you are, after all, “playing with fire.”
To flambé, you need a liquor or liqueur of 80 proof or higher; the higher the proof, the more easily it ignites. You can easily find them at 100 proof or more.* But 80 proof will do; and for those concerned about ingesting the alcohol: most of it burns off in the flames. It does leave some flavor, so choose a liquor/liqueur that is complimentary to the food (chocolate or fruit liqueurs or brandies for desserts and whiskey or brandy for meats).
If you want, you can embed a small metal cup in the top of the volcano (think the something smaller than a tea candle—we used a repurposed bottle top from an empty bottle of Scotch). It will make the flames “spout from the volcano.” You need to embed it as you are mounding the ice cream.
It also helps to dim the light in the room. Then, just before serving:
1. PLACE 1/4 cup liquor and a small metal ladle in a small saucepan. Heat the liquor and the ladle just until the liquor begins to bubble, around 130°F. You will to see vapors rise from the liquid. It must be warm to ignite; but do not allow the liquor to boil off, or it will not stay lit (the boiling point of alcohol is 175°F).
Option: The liquor also can be heated in a microwave oven in a microwave-proof dish for 30 to 45 seconds at 100 percent power. You can warm the ladle in boiling water.
2. WITH A CUP: Ladle part of the liquor into the metal cup and ignite it with a long “fireplace” match or barbecue lighter. As the liquor burns, fill the warmed ladle half full with more of the warmed liquor and drizzle it slowly into the eggshell, raising the ladle as high as you safely can. The flame will go out by itself when the alcohol burns off.
Be sure to ignite the dessert away from guests and flammable objects. A serving cart or other rolling cart is a great idea here.
WITHOUT A CUP: Pour the liquor around the base of the volcano and ignite immediately so the raw alcohol doesn’t seep in to the food. Or, douse sugar cubes in the alcohol briefly—you want the alcohol to absorb but not to cause the cubes to fall apart. Place the cubes around the perimeter of the dish and light.
3. SERVE as soon as the flames disappear.
†FUN FACT ABOUT BRITISH NAVY-STRENGTH GIN: The liquor on warships had to be at least 114-proof. Why? It is the proof level at which the ship’s gunpowder could still be fired should when soaked with booze. The gunpowder was used by the pursars to test that the level of alcohol in the gin was what they had paid for.