Photo courtesy Geoffrey Smith, LookatLao Studio

Valentine’s sweets are traditionally relegated to the realm of chocolates, cherries, and anything of the heart-shaped variety. This year, think outside the red laminate, frilly-laced box. Give hush puppies.

We’re not talking your typical deep-South, deep-fried taters, but caramel-stuffed nuggets swimming in brown-butter ice cream and pear- and hard-cider soup. Garrett Melkonian, the new pastry chef at Spring Hill, shares his six-step, DIY recipe. (It’s laborious, but surely a labor of love, no?) All you need is the ingredients, a bit of culinary know-how, and a darling to eat up these dumplings.

Popcorn Hushpuppy with a Caramel Center, Bartlett Pear & Hard Cider Soup, and Brown Butter Ice Cream

Hushpuppy Batter
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal (we use Bob’s Red Mill)
1½ cups popcorn powder (just put popped popcorn in a blender until it resembles powder)
2 eggs (at room temp)
1cup buttermilk (at room temp)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar

Combine all dry ingredients and set aside. Mix together the eggs and buttermilk, and then gently mix into the dry ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using.

Caramel center
2 ¼ cups sugar
1 ¼ cups corn syrup
4 1/3 cups heavy cream
1 ea. vanilla bean (split and scraped)
1 Tblsp salt
1 Tblsp vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups butter
1 ¼ cups heavy cream to be added at end

In a very large pot (the sugar mixture will boil over when the cream is added if the pot is not big enough) combine the sugar and corn syrup with just enough water to make a sandy texture and place on medium heat. In a separate pot, combine the cream, butter, vanilla, and salt and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn off the heat. When the sugar mixture reaches 225 F, slowly add the cream mixture. Cook, stirring frequently, constantly towards the end, until the mixture reaches 243 F. Turn off heat and immediately remove from pot and allow to cool for approximately 1 hour, then finish with the second amount of cream and the vanilla extract. Allow to cool covered in the refrigerator overnight so it can be scooped and hold its shape.

Brown Butter Ice Cream
1½ lbs. butter
1 liter milk
1 ½ cup heavy cream
½ cup milk powder
¾ cups egg yolks
¾ cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. salt

Brown butter and strain, reserving the browned milk solids; discard the rest. In a saucepot, bring the milk, cream, milk powder to a scald. Allow to settle. In a mixing bowl, combine the yolks and sugar, and whip until just pale. Ladle in a small amount of the scalded milk mixture into the yolks to temper them, then combine everything in the saucepot and cook to 180 F, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and cool immediately in an ice bath. Before the mixture has cooled, take a small amount and combine it with the reserved brown butter solids in a blender, and blend for at least 30 seconds, up to one minute. Add this mixture to the rest of the ice cream base and season with salt and vanilla extract. Once completely chilled, strain through a fine mesh strainer, and spin in an ice cream machine.

Bartlett Pear & Hard Cider Soup
2 ea. ripe Bartlett pears
2 cups water
½ cup sugar
1 tblsp lemon juice
½ cup pear hard cider

Peel and chop the pears and combine with water, sugar, lemon juice, and place in a pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until completely tender. Remove from heat and place in blender and blend until completely smooth. Chill completely, then finish with the hard cider.

Poppycock
1 qt. popped popcorn
4 oz. butter
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ cup sugar
½ cup corn syrup
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda

Set aside popcorn in a large mixing bowl. Combine remaining ingredients except the salt and baking soda in a pot and place on medium heat. Cook until temperature reaches 295 F. Remove sugar mixture from stove and add baking soda, then immediately pour over the popcorn, stirring quickly to coat evenly, then finish with salt. Allow to cool completely then store in an airtight container.

Assembly
You will need to have two ice cream scoops for this, one about twice the size of the other. Scoop one small scoop of the caramel, coat in cornmeal and set aside. Now scoop the hushpuppy batter with the larger scoop but leave it in the scoop. Place the caramel scoop in the center of the hushpuppy scoop, pressing it into the center of the batter. With your fingers, gently fold the edges of the hushpuppy batter over the visible portion of the caramel so it is completely surrounded, resting in the center of the hushpuppy batter. Scoop the hushpuppy into a 350 F fryer and cook until golden brown, approximately 4 minutes. In a serving bowl, add about 2 oz. of the pear & hard cider soup. Add a few pieces of the poppycock, and a little pile of diced ripe Bartlett pears. Place a scoop of the brown butter ice cream on top of the diced pears and finish with the popcorn hushpuppy. If you have a little popcorn powder leftover, sprinkle a tiny bit on the hushpuppy and the ice cream.

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