Or the billionth reason why women are amazing
Aunt Sallie Shadd. Nancy Johnson. A 19th-century maid of brutal dictator. Two women whose names most of us have never heard before and third whose name we’ll probably never know. Without them, however, the recipes I’m sharing with you today would not have been possible.
And, seriously, a world without ice cream and dulce de leche would truly have been the darkest timeline.
While sweet, sort-of creamy, sort-of frozen desserts have been around since 400 BC, what most of us would recognize as ice cream was developed in the 17th century by an Italian chef named Antonio Latini. However, for centuries after it was exclusively the privilege of the aristocracy owing to its expensive ingredients, laborious production and obvious need for constant refrigeration. In short, the world was a dark and terrible place.
Enter Aunt Sallie Shadd and Nancy Johnson. I would love nothing more than to write at length about both of these women, but precious little is known. What is for certain is that their brilliant minds allowed for the democratization of ice cream so that even plebes such as myself could one day indulge.
Finally Giving Credit Where Credit is Due
What little we know of Aunt Sallie Shadd’s story is nothing short of remarkable. Born into slavery, her freedom was purchased by her husband, Jeremiah, a skilled butcher and producer of charcuterie. Together, in 1813, the pair settled in Wilmington, Delaware where Shadd opened a catering business servicing the city’s African-American community.
One of Shadd’s famed creations was a dessert made from frozen cream, sugar and fruit. Word of Shadd’s ice cream spread all the way to the White House where it came to the attention of legendary hostess and trendsetter, First Lady Dolley Madison. So intrigued, Madison traveled to Delaware to sample it for herself.
Afterward, the First Lady insisted White House chefs replicate it to be served regularly at state dinners and, as a result, the dessert grew in demand and popularity. Unfortunately, Shadd never received proper credit for her role. (Gosh, I wonder why?)
A Legit Genius
A bit more is known about Nancy Johnson, though information is still fairly scant. In my research, most accounts refer to her as a housewife in Philadelphia and nothing more. However, according to the Library of Congress, Johnson was in fact much more. For example, active in the American Missionary Association, Johnson traveled to South Carolina in the early 1860s to participate in the Port Royal Experiment.
In 1861, when Union troops took over the Port Royal region of South Carolina, white residents fled and left behind over 10,000 slaves. In 1862, Northern charities aided the newly freed African-Americans in becoming self-sufficient in what became known as the Port Royal Experiment. This led Johnson to the area where she and her sister, Mary, taught literacy classes.
By all accounts, the experiment was a huge success and the African-American residents of Port Royal flourished independently. It should have been the model for the Reconstruction Era. However, in 1865, President Andrew Johnson believed otherwise (Gosh, I wonder why?) and ordered ownership of the land be given to whites.
Back in Philadelphia and about 20 years earlier, Johnson demonstrated she was a legit genius when she invented the hand-crank ice cream maker. Check out the patent design. Look familiar? It’s essentially the same used today in both manual and electric ice cream machines.
Johnson sold her patent and, over time, knowledge of her contribution to the development of ice cream as we know it today faded. Nevertheless, any time someone churns up a batch of ice cream, Johnson’s legacy endures.
An Anonymous Legacy Beats Infamy Any Day of the Week
Speaking of legacy, the other component of this week’s recipe is dulce de leche and this brings me to an anonymous maid employed by Juan Manuel de Rosas. Rosas – a 19th-century Argentinian dictator – was a real piece of work. Think of him as not unlike his American contemporary, Andrew Jackson. Genocidal, power hungry, racist. You picking up what I’m putting down?
But, really, I don’t give a damn about him. The much more interesting person is the aforementioned maid who invented dulce de leche. As the story goes, Rosas was hosting his political enemy, Juan Lavalle, for dinner. On that day, our hero maid was preparing lechada, a sweetened milk drink, got caught up in the chaos that sometimes happens when sworn enemies have dinner together, and returned to find a thick, gorgeous caramel simmering in the pot.
Her name and the rest of her story has been lost to history. Based on what we know of the life of another one of Rosas’s maids – María Eugenia Castro – her life was…probably not great. Nevertheless, despite whatever hardships she may have endured, this unknown domestic worker made an indelible, enduring and entirely positive contribution that lives on. That’s a hell of a lot more than can be said of her shitty boss.
Now that we know who to thank for the existence of dulce de leche ice cream, why not make some as a small gesture of appreciation?
You’ve Got Some Choices to Make
The beauty of this recipe by Stella Parks from Bravetart: Iconic American Desserts is the massive rewards you get for just a little bit of work. It’s so versatile.
Omit the baking soda and you’ll have homemade sweetened condensed milk that you can use in countless recipes. Vietnamese coffee? Check. Coconut macaroons? Hell yes. Key Lime Pie? I’m with you. It also works just as well as the dulce de leche does as the base for the ice cream. Why, just take a gander at it on top the brownie.
If you hit pause after making the dulce de leche, you’ll likewise have endless possibilities. For example, use it to make some highfalutin Rice Krispies treats. Use it as a filling for cookies, cakes, crepes, profiteroles and your face hole. Seriously. Just eat it off a spoon.
As for the ice cream, owing to the fact that it is Philadelphia-style, there is no need to temper eggs or deal with the hassles that go along with it. Just mix your dulce de leche with a few more ingredients, chill, churn, devour. Yes. Please.
Weights and Measures
Other than measuring out the ingredients, this recipe is virtually mise-en-place free. Furthermore, it only requires ingredients that you likely already have on hand, a smidge of attention, the occasional stir and a little bit of math.
Yes a little bit of math is required to know when exactly the dulce de leche has finished cooking. It’s not by temperature or sight, but by how much it has reduced in weight or volume.
If I didn’t convince you to invest in a kitchen scale in the post for Glossy Fudge Brownies, maybe this will be the one. Tracking the reduction by weight is easy breezy. Do you really want to be futzing with measuring cups and molten hot caramel? I didn’t think so. Nevertheless, if you are a thrill seeker who is deeply committed to those cups, I have you covered.
Regardless of how you’re going to track the reduction, add milk, cream, sugar, baking soda, and salt to a 5-quart stainless steel sauce pan. If you’re using a scale, weigh the pot and ingredients together. It wouldn’t hurt to write it down. Your goal is to reduce the overall weight by 26 oz. or 1 lb. 10 oz. (Using my sauce pan + ingredients as an example, the starting weight was 4 lbs. 12 oz. and the finished weight was 3lbs. 2 oz. Based on the weight of your pot, these numbers will vary.)
If you’re measuring by volume, you’re looking for the mixture to reduce down to 2 cups.
Dulce De Leche
Give the ingredients a good stir to combine and place the sauce pan over medium heat. Continue stirring occasionally with a heat resistant spatula. In about 12 minutes, the milk should begin to simmer. If it takes much longer than 12 minutes, feel free to scooch up the heat.
This is the point where you’re going to have to be most watchful. Due to the baking soda, the milk is going to foam up quite a bit. Don’t worry though. Given your attention and a good stirring, It won’t overflow.
Set a timer timer for 30 minutes and let the milk continue to simmer. Every once in a while, scrape down the sides and give it a stir. When 30 minutes are up, weigh or measure by volume to see how much it has reduced. Depending on the output of your burner, this might be enough time to reduce the milk mixture by 26 ounces or down to 2 cups.
However, having made this several times, it takes closer to 45 minutes for me. So, if it’s not adequately reduced after 30 minutes, check the weight or volume every 5 minutes or so.
When the milk is fully reduced, lusciously thick and deeply caramelized, you’re good to go. You have just made dulce de leche. Let’s pause for a moment to appreciate the glory of that. Pour into an airtight container and refrigerate for up to a month.
You scream, I scream, I think we should stop screaming and eat ice cream
Now, you’ve got a lot of choices and one that I highly recommend is using the dulce de leche as a base for some insanely good ice cream.
First, let the dulce de leche refrigerate until well chilled. Next, combine it with the cream, milk, salt and vanilla. Because I want my finished ice cream to be as smooth as possible, I put this mixture back into the fridge to chill again. Yes, I know I started with cold ingredients, but even that brief time out of the fridge has warmed them enough to affect the texture of the churned ice cream.
After acquainting yourself with the meaning of delayed gratification, add the mixture to your ice cream machine and churn according to the manufacturer’s directions. While it’s churning, place a quart-sized container in the freezer to chill. When the ice cream ready, scoop into the container and top with a sheet of plastic wrap to prevent freezer-burn. Freeze until firm enough to scoop, about 12 hours, or up to three weeks.
Homemade Dulce De Leche Ice Cream
For the dulce de leche:
- 32 ounces milk, any percentage will do 4 cups; 910g
- 6 ounces heavy cream 3/4 cup; 170g
- 7 ounces plain or sugar 1 cup; 195g
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 1/8 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt use about half as much by for table salt volume or the same weight
To make the ice cream
- 1 batch dulce de leche
- 10 ounces 1 ¼ cups heavy cream
- 2 ounces 1/4 cup whole milk
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
For the dulce de leche:
Combine milk, cream, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a 5-quart stainless steel sauce pan. If you have a scale, weigh the pot and ingredients together so you can digitally track the reduction. Place over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a heat resistant spatula, until the milk begins to simmer, about 12 minutes.
Continue simmering an additional 30 to 45 minutes, scraping continuously to prevent a milky buildup from forming around the sides. When the thickened milk-syrup suddenly turns foamy, it’s almost done. Keep cooking and stirring until the foam subsides and the dairy has condensed to exactly 2 cups or 19 ounces. If using a scale, the pot will weigh 26 ounces less than when you started.
Pour into an airtight container, seal to prevent evaporation, and refrigerate until needed, up to 1 month. To mimic the consistency of canned milk, bring to room temperature before use.
To make the ice cream:
Whisk together the dulce de leche, heavy cream, whole milk, kosher salt, and vanilla extract until well-combined. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until well-chilled. Churn according to the directions of your ice cream machine.
While the ice cream churns, place a flexible spatula and a quart-sized, freezer-safe container into the freezer. When ice cream is finished churning, scoop into your chilled container, cover the top with a layer of plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn. Can be enjoyed right away soft-serve style or it will be scoopable in 12 hours. Good for three weeks.
Note 1: To make sweetened condensed milk, simply omit the baking soda and proceed with the recipe as written.
Note 2: Hot dairy will curdle easily when exposed to acidic ingredients. Therefore, I can only guarantee good results if you use plain old granulated sugar. Raw cane sugar, brown sugar, coconut sugar, agave, maple syrup, and honey will not work in this recipe.
Note 3: Because the dulce de leche will continue to brown when exposed to heat, you cannot bake with it. I know. This made me sad too. But! I've listed numerous other uses for it above. Turn that frown upside down.
Troubleshooting: If you over reduce the dairy, just add enough milk to reach 19 ounces.