Butter-Toasted Almond-Amaretto Ice Cream with Sautéed Cherries
I see him everyday. He’s a constant that I appreciate. He’s stoic, not showing much outward feeling of pleasure or pain. He brightens my mornings, my evenings, and my weekends. I don’t know the mystery man’s name. To me he is just Mr. 66.
I have long had a fascination with commuters—my nameless companions and the strangers. My feet usually do the work in the mornings, but sometimes I take the bus. The 66 bus. The bus so infamous that it has it’s own fake twitter account. There are familiar visages in sight every morning. The sitting old, sour-faced woman whose nose scrunches up every time a young person’s backpack accidentally graces her face on the sardine-can of a morning commute. The young mother with the rhinestone-studded, electic blue iPhone case and her super stylin’ little boy, a 2-year-old Lebron James fan. There’s the guy who looks strikingly like someone I went to high school with and who is always biting off a cream cheese–filled plain bagel from Kupel’s. I know their stops, and they probably know mine.
But Mr. 66 just fascinates me. This milky-white-skinned older gentleman is maybe in his 70s. He seems like a townie—someone who has lived in my Boston suburb for years, maybe even his whole life. But you’d think he’d say hello to someone on the street if he had. He stands silent. He wears the same outfit everyday—he looks like a man who would own a closet full of the same pants and shirt lined up neatly in a row. A perfectly pressed white dress shirt is thin; his white T-shirt peeks less than discretely from underneath. Black trousers, also pressed, are belted far above his waist, emphasizing the convex arc of his stomach. That belt, by the way, carries a cell phone holster for his flip phone. Black shoes pop out from under the cuff of his pants, reminders that he does, in fact, have legs. Sometimes he sports a tie and wears a black jacket (only if the rain is torrential). But the best parts are his large, clear acrylic-rimmed glasses and his black chapeau, which I’ve seen leave his head only one time when he was really sweaty. (I can confirm that there is very, very short-to-the-head white hair under there.) The frames of his glasses are wide enough to be windows into his gentle, gentle eyes. He is the original Boston hipster.
Mr. 66 can’t be bothered to stand around for more than a minute. His home stop is the same as mine. But if the bus is late (so every day), he’ll pace up the street, place his hand horizontally on his brow, stand on the toes of his feet, and look into the distance. If there’s no bus in sight, he walks. He’ll walk to the next stop, wait, and watch. He’ll walk to the next, wait, and watch. He’ll walk from stop to stop until the bus catches up with his paces. And when he gets on, no matter how many seats are open, he will not sit. He stands at the head of the bus, serving as it’s keeper. Our keeper.
My first day with Mr. 66, I naïvely asked if he wanted my seat, since I’m still a relatively spry thing. “No,” he uttered in a mere whisper. I don’t enjoy hearing the word “no” from a man I (secretly) love. I learned to never ask him again.
Maybe it’s comforting to be around the old. Maybe his will gives me courage, comforts me in a time of need, pushes me to work harder. I’m not sure, but right now he is my favorite of the constants in my life. I’ve even daydreamed a bit about his personality. Creepy? I hope not. He looks like a man who would grab a seat at the counter of a diner and order just dessert. He looks like he’d like a slice of thick New York–style cheesecake, dripping with that fresh blood-colored cherry-pie-filling-out-of-a-can that often sits on top. He looks like he would walk to J.P. Licks and grab a kiddie cone, walking down the street and licking, working so hard not to stain his sharp white shirt.
I walk home from work, unless there is lightning striking. And I bump into him at some point on my route almost everyday. He’s probably walking after a bus. And on weekends, he is out and about. Just walking the town. He makes my day. I even walked by him when I bought a bottle of amaretto for this recipe. It was fate.
So this dessert’s for Mr. 66. It’s a pairing of cherries and ice cream that, if my above predictions are correct, he would be sure to love. Cherry—real, fresh, in-season cherries—and almond is one of my favorite flavor combinations. The natural almondlike flavor of the cherries’ pits makes the two obvious bedfellows, kind of like apricot and almond.
The ice cream, Butter-Toasted Almond-Amaretto, has a deep almond flavor that one could never get with the typical addition of almond extract. It’s almond first, then amaretto. The milk-cream base is infused overnight with deeply toasted almonds, then mixed into the egg custard; finished with a shot of sweet, warm amaretto; and peppered with very coarsely chopped butter-toasted, salted almonds. It is served simply with sautéed cherries made with sweet cherries (I used a mix of local red cherries and rainier cherries, which I adore for their fruity, almost wine-y flavor) and little else. This isn’t a sticky dessert sauce. You know, many cherry desserts are medicinal, artificial, super-sweet, and goopy. This ain’t that. (Don’t let the pinkish color fool you; again, I used cherries with light-colored flesh.) Think of it as a not-at-all cloying, fresh cobbler à la mode without the topping but with crunch from the fallen almonds. With another smattering of finely chopped butter-toasted almonds on top, this sundae might not be something Mr. 66 ate as a kid, but I can dream that he’ll knock on my door one day for a bite of it, before he is off, walking towards another bus stop.
Butter-Toasted Almond-Amaretto Ice Cream with Sautéed Cherries
Flavor your cherries with sugar and lemon juice to taste depending on the sweetness of your cherries and your tastes. More sugar will result in a thicker, glossier sauce, but I prefer to use just what’s needed so as not to obscure the natural flavor of the cherries. Cooking times may vary depending on the texture of your cherries. Our local cherries are juicy but smaller, firmer, and less plush than your average Bings or supermarket cherries, so you may very well find that your cherries cook faster. I prefer to use an amaretto, like Marie Brizard or Luxardo, that is not overly syrupy for this recipe to keep the sweetness at bay, but a more common brand would certainly work.
340 grams (2 cups) almonds
360 grams (2 cups) heavy cream
230 grams (1 cup) whole milk
135 grams (about 2/3 cup) sugar
6 large egg yolks
3 1/2 tablespoons amaretto
2 teaspoons butter
2 tablespoons butter
2 pounds sweet cherries, pitted
2-4 tablespoons sugar
1¬–1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1. For the Ice Cream: Adjust oven to middle rack and heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread 1 cup almonds on rimmed baking sheet and toast deeply, 10 to 14 minutes. Let almonds cool completely. Pulse almonds and salt in food processor until finely chopped, about 15 pulses. Bring finely chopped almonds, 1 cup heavy cream, milk, and sugar to boil in small saucepan over medium heat. Cover saucepan, turn off heat, and let stand for 1 hour. Transfer almond-cream mixture of bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 8 hours.
2. Strain chilled almond-cream mixture through fine-mesh strainer into large saucepan, pressing firmly on almonds with stiff rubber spatula to extract as much liquid as possible (save spent almonds for another use). Whisk egg yolks together in medium bowl. Place remaining 1 cup heavy cream in medium bowl and set strainer on top. Place bowl and strainer over ice bath. Bring cream mixture to boil over medium heat, pour a small amount into egg yolks, whisking constantly, to temper, then whisk in remaining cream mixture in steady stream. Transfer cream-egg mixture to saucepan and cook, whisking constantly, over medium heat until line drawn down custard-coated spoon holds and custard registers 170-175 degrees. Pour custard through fine-mesh strainer, into heavy cream. Whisk in amaretto. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 hours.
3. Melt butter in 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add remaining 1 cup almonds and generous amount of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until toasted, fragrant, and covered in butter and salt, 4 to 5 minutes. Coarsely chop half of toasted almonds. Set aside remaining almonds. Churn custard according to your machine’s directions, dropping in coarsely chopped toasted almonds 5 minutes before ice cream is ready. Transfer ice cream to container and freeze for at least 3 hours before serving. Finely chop remaining toasted almonds
4. For the Cherries: Melt butter in 12-inch straight-sided sauté pan (or 12-inch skillet) over medium-high heat. Add cherries and cook, stirring constantly, until cherries just lose their rawness and give up some juices. Add sugar, lemon juice, and salt, and cook, stirring constantly until juices thicken to your desired consistency, 6 to 8 minutes.
5. Finely chop remaining toasted almonds. Pour warm cherries into dishes, top with scoops of ice cream, and sprinkle with finely chopped almonds. Serve.