Since I'll be in Singapore for almost a month, I've invited some dear friends to "blog-sit" for me 8D. Each of these women has their own unique stories and food specialties. Once you see what they have to share, I'm certain you'll become avid fans just like me.
To get this party started, I've invited over the incredibly talented Stella of Brave Tart. Though I've long pined over Stella's picture-perfect macaron creations, it was only recently when I joined Twitter and started making macarons that I got to know her better. I wouldn't have survived my early macaron-baking attempts without Stella and other tweeps providing real-time feedback and tips. Then as I became more comfortable playing with macaron flavors, Stella was again my most enthusiastic partner-in-crime, eagerly discussing possible flavorings from dried milk powder to citric acid.
But lest you think her skill is limited to French macarons, let me assure you that this is one creative and multi-talented lady. A CIA-graduate no less, Stella currently works as a one-woman pastry department for Table 310, a hot new restaurant in Lexington, Kentucky. If the treats on her blog are any indication, a trip to Table 310 would be well worth it for the desserts alone. We're lucky today, though, because Stella's all set to share her formula for the Ultimate Root Beer Float directly with us, no road-trip required. Please give her your warmest welcome!
Twitter. Xiaolu's playful sense of style and clever flavor pairings (hello, cardamom-spiced cashew macarons with halwa buttercream) immediately endeared her to me. Something about the energy on 6 Bittersweets invigorates me, especially her knack for using familiar flavors in new ways. When she asked if I would write a guest post while she vacationed in Singapore, I squashed my raging jealousy over her visit to such an epic culinary destination and responded with a resounding, "heck yeah!"
And in the midst of this sweltering heat wave, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about: the ultimate root beer float. Cold, fizzy and slurp-able, it embodies everything a summertime dessert should. Root beer has an especially refreshing feeling: a slightly cooling menthol quality, a bright note of citrus, and a depth of flavor colas can't touch. But how could I take a simple dessert of root beer + vanilla ice cream to the next level? I would need a few secret ingredients...
Second? Sassafras. Here in the South, old codgers use it to make an herbal tea used as a remedy for whatever ails you. I wanted it because of its historic flavor. Sassafras was the original root in root beer. Modern root beers don't contain sassafras though, because of an interesting chemical quirk. Safrole, the essential oil found in sassafras root that gives it its characteristic flavor, stands one molecule removed from the amphetamine MDMA. A.k.a., Ecstasy. Soooo, the FDA gets antsy when anyone starts buying lots of sassafras. So antsy they put your name on a list and monitor your future purchases. So due to the legal hoopla involved, modern root beer manufacturers eschew safrole and use other substances (both artificial and natural) to recreate its flavor. How amazing would a root beer float taste if I could reunited it with sassafras?
The final secret ingredient: ROOT, an artisanal liquor from a boutique in Philadelphia called Art in the Age. They've gone to painstaking efforts to recreate prohibition era bootleg Root Beer using a traditional recipe. They make it with birch bark standing in for sassafras and brew it with a complicated blend of wintergreen, orange peel and smoked black tea, among other fabulous natural and organic ingredients.
The recipe comes together without any trouble, it's acquiring all the ingredients that will take the most effort. Getting a hold of sassafras shouldn't prove too difficult. Here in Kentucky it turns up every year at the farmers' market, and many people find it growing wild on their property. So check your local farmers' market, co-op, health food store, or pretty much anywhere you might buy granola or patchouli sticks. If you find someone selling the essential oil, it is not intended for human consumption, do not use it. The ROOT may prove more difficult, but visit their website for a store locator and see if they have an outpost near you. The ice cream tastes fabulous even without it, so no stress.
Don't worry that using sassafras at home might have, shall we say, illicit side effects. The essential oil itself has no Ecstasy-like properties. Safrole occurs naturally in many spices like cinnamon and black pepper. Your friends will undoubtedly greet the sassafras ice cream with rave reactions, but not so much they start breaking out glow sticks.
Sassafras Ice Cream [Printable Recipe]
12 oz. cream
12 oz. milk
3, 4-inch sticks of Sassafras root
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
8 large egg yolks
10 ounces brown sugar, raw if possible
1/4 tsp salt
1 3/4 oz. ROOT
the zest of 1 small orange
In a medium pot, bring the milk and cream to a boil together with the sassafras and vanilla bean. When the mixture begins to simmer, shut off the heat and cover with a lid. Steep at least one hour and up to three.
After you’ve finished steeping, whisk the yolks with the sugars and salt in a medium bowl.
Bring the milk/cream mixture back to a simmer. Once the mixture is nice and hot, shut off the heat and remove the sassafras. Use a spatula to scrape off all of the heavily flavored cream that cling to the sticks of sassfras; likewise scrape out the vanilla cream from inside the vanilla pod.
Now, whisk some of the hot mixture into the egg yolks, a ladle-full at a time, until the egg mixture is quite warm. Then whisk it back into the pot of cream.
Stir over medium heat until the mixture thickens (“coating the back of a spoon” being the popular description of done-ness). Immediately strain into a large bowl. Stir in the ROOT and orange zest.
Cool in an ice bath, refrigerate for 24 hours, and churn in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Use with your favorite root beer (and a shot of ROOT if you like) to make the ultimate root beer float.