Those of us who take ice cream seriously know the delicate balance of ingredients required. Do it right, and you end up with ice cream, luscious and velvety. Do it wrong and you end up with ice (sans cream). You know what I mean, just a frozen bit of flavoured stuff that you need an icepick to even chip away at the surface.
Ice crystals – that’s what you need to manage in order to avoid having a piece of Antarctica sitting in your freezer. Ice crystals form when you freeze a liquid. The larger the ice crystals, the icier the ice cream. The smaller the ice crystals, the better. The size of ice crystals can be influnced by churning – the quicker a liquid freezes, the smaller the ice crystals – so an ice cream machine is great help. Another piece of the puzzle is the ratio of solids to liquids in your ice cream mixture. Water is the liquid, fat and sugar are the solids. The more solids you have, the softer the ice cream. Try to be healthy and reduce the amount of sugar you have in a recipe and you will attract the wrath of the gods. Of course, there is a whole arsenal of tricks to manage the texture (alcohol and salt lower the freezing point; pectin, salep, cornstarch and gums like xanthan and guar gum can all be used as thickeners), but it feels a bit like cheating.
I no longer use sugar in anything, including my ice creams and go for xylitol instead (which, despite the chemical-sounding name, is a great natural alternative to sugar with a very low glycemic index). Xylitol, however, doesn’t have all the properties of sugar (it doesn’t caramelise, for instance). Since it’s also a bit sweeter, less of it is required when making ice cream, which means ice crystals are larger. The end result just isn’t as satisfying as normal ice cream.
When I saw a recipe for cream cheese sorbet on the Saveur website, I knew I’d hit the jackpot. It was obvious that the huge amount of fat from the cream cheese would certainly result in a sorbet with good texture, with or without sugar. I tried it with xylitol, and, yes, it’s awesome and tastes like a frozen New York cheesecake. If you want to use sugar, go for the recipe on the Saveur website. My adaptation is for a xylitol sweetened sorbet. I buy my xylitol here.
Are you sick of my pistachio packed posts? I don’t blame you, but really, this is a follow up on my obsessive post on Bronte pistachio paste, so bear with me and you will learn the easiest way to make ice cream, ever.
Now that I had finally experienced what a jar of pistachio paste from Bronte tastes like (bloody amazing), I seriously needed to do something about the low supply situation. A visit to my Greenacre-based Lebanese green grocer Abu Salim provided a good kilo of roasted unsalted pistachios for $15.00. I wouldn’t call us a perfectionist race, but when it comes to roasting nuts, the Lebanese are masters – they get it so right. The nuts were wonderful; the roasting concentrated and amplified their flavour brilliantly.
After shelling for an evening, thumbs sore with pain from the odd stubborn pistachio that refused to open, I ended up with a good amount to try making my paste. I was aiming for a smooth paste, and I knew my food processor was not up to the task. A quick tweet and the incredibly generous Mr Franz Scheurer was quick to donate his time and his Thermomix (what would have cost me $2000 to buy).
I wanted to create a pistachio paste that I could use in desserts, one that could have a decent lifespan, so I decided not to follow the ingredients of my jar of Bronte pistachio paste and instead omitted the milk. The paste would last longer, and I could add milk when I needed.
To create a good paste, I blitzed the pistachios along with some glucose and created an emulsification with grape seed oil. You could use any neutral oil. I didn’t take measurements and went with feel and taste. I stopped when the pistachios tasted slightly sweet and the paste was smooth enough for me (a bit of coarse meal is fine). The consistency needs to be slightly runnier than peanut butter. I went home and mixed in some cream with a small sample to test out the flavour and the gates of heaven opened and I heard a sweet song, and a choir or angels called out to me. Seriously, it was that good.
It is worth mentioning that if you want to make pistachio paste for ice cream, you may as well add some water into the blender to make the paste smoother. That way, you wouldn’t need a Thermomix, because with that much liquid, your food processor should do the trick. If you do add water, make sure you omit it from the recipe below.
I was aiming for a custard based ice cream, but as luck would have it, Jules from The Stone Soup posted a churn-free, machine-free lemon ice cream recipe. It looked incredibly simple, and I decided to give it a go. The basic idea is that by increasing the amount of sugar, ice crystals do not form. Jules folds lemon juice and icing sugar into whipped cream and simply freezes the lot for 6 hours. I did the same, but substituted pistachio paste for the lemon juice, and added some water to dissolve the sugar. The result was a beautiful. pistachio green ice cream with the texture of semifreddo, light, airy and delicious. I urge you wholeheartedly to try making ice cream this way. It is so simple – 5 minutes and you’re done, and it tastes ridiculously good.
300 ml whipping cream
200 grams icing sugar
4 heaped tablespoons (or to taste) of pistachio paste, prepared as mentioned above
Whip the cream until soft peaks form
Mix icing sugar and pistachio paste and 1/3 cup of water until smooth (omit water if already used in paste preparation)
Fold the pistachio and sugar into the cream until evenly distributed
Whip the cream again until it gets to soft peak stage once more
Freeze for 6 hours or overnight
It’s not often that one gets to create something unique in the kitchen. Most of our recipes are based on those created by others, with modifications and adjustments to ingredients and quantities. An ice cream or gelato recipe easily falls into this category whereby most approaches are derived from basic vanilla, but I think my almond milk ice cream (more correctly almond milk gelato) is bordering on the invention side. Well, perhaps. The great thing about using almond milk for gelato or ice cream is that almond milk is healthy, nutritionally dense, vegan and lowers your cholesterol. The trick, however, that while normal cow’s milk is totally understood when it comes to the frozen dessert, there are no easily available resources out there that explain how almond milk reacts in ice cream making.
As you may know, successful ice cream and gelato making is all about achieving a balance between sugar and fat, both of which play a part in ensuring the ice cream does not freeze to a solid block full of huge ice crystals and that it has a good, creamy mouth feel. Egg yolks add to the fat content and are the key distinguishing factor between an ice cream (contains egg yolks) and gelato (contains no egg yolks). Additives such as sahlep, cornstarch, xanthan gum or guar gum increase the ratio of solids to liquids in an ice cream, which lowers its freezing point without adding too much in terms of fat derived calories. Alcohol and egg whites are also useful, but result in a “slushy” ice cream if not carefully balanced. And so, my key target was to naturally raise the content of “good” fats in the ice cream by extracting concentrated, rich almond milk, and by further enriching it with the fats from the pistachio nuts. Then the sugars need to play their normal part. I used 80 grams of sugar and 80ml Agave nectar. I like Agave because it is low GI and it is already in a liquid state, which assists in lowering the freezing point. Thickening the mixture with cornstarch is standard gelato business and the result is a smooth, nutty and 80% healthy almond milk and pistachio gelato. Enjoy it before it gets too cold.
Zaatar Ice Cream (melting in the Sydney heat)
While in France last year, Lainy and I made our way down from Paris, through Orleans and to Provence and then ended up in the enchanting Cote d’Azur, better known in English as the French Riviera. We settled for a week in the seaside city of Nice, taking indulgent day trips to Italy to have a bowl of pasta, and then heading back for a stroll and a glass of wine in the city. It was here where I met my childhood friend Grandizer, strolling on the pebble beach, and it was also where I saw the different flavours of ice cream on display. The French seemed adventurous with the flavours on offer and they seemed to look at local flavours for inspiration. Lavender ice cream was an obvious one, but coquelicots (corn poppy) ice cream, though relevant, was a bit more abstract.
This got me thinking, and I decided that a zaatar (thyme) ice cream is in order. At first this might not seem like a match made in heaven, right? Zaatar for the Lebanese is a savoury herb, and we eat it every day mixed with sumac, toasted sesame seeds and olive oil, and it forms our very basic breakfast. We also use it to marinate meats and sprinkle it in salads. Zaatar is not exactly a herb that you would say, put in a cake. You would probably not find Coca Cola rushing to make a special edition Zaatar Coke for that ultimate manakish experience. Zaatar chewing gum? Refreshing…
But hold on. The French are making coquelicots ice cream for God’s sake! Have you ever nibbled into a coquelicot, and tasted that red bitterness. Or have you ever smelled the grassy green aroma it gives out? If you have, you might agree with me that with all things being equal, zaatar ice cream might not be such a bad idea. And indeed, if you taste my ice cream, you might even agree that it’s actually a great idea. The lingering aroma of thyme infuses beautifully in the custard, and marries with its luxurious creaminess like, well, a match made in heaven!
To make this ice cream, I followed a basic vanilla ice cream recipe, and instead of infusing vanilla beans in the milk and cream, I infused the zaatar. I used dry, Lebanese zaatar, because it has a completely different flavour to fresh thyme. And to complete the flavour profile and the play on the zaatar theme, I threw in some toasted sesame seeds. It is worth mentioning that this ice cream usually comes out milky white. The color you see in the photos is purely because I used raw cane sugar (because it is low GI). I actually prefer white sugar in this recipe because I find the treacly sweetness of raw cane sugar slightly overpowers the aroma of the zaatar. You must try this recipe because you will love it, but please, don’t eat it wrapped in Lebanese bread with cucumbers and olive oil!
Zaatar Ice Cream Recipe