Loving Liquorice ice cream

20/06/2014 at 13:52

Some people just love liquorice. Me? No, not really. But since I love someone who does love it, finding a superior recipe for liquorice ice cream quickly turned into quite a personal quest.

It seems that liquorice as a flavour is a love-or-hate affaire, capable of dividing both people and nations. But this seductive ice cream is not only certain to please the fans but may actually even convert some of us sceptics.

“Sceptics”? Yes, that is true – as noted, I am no particular fan of liquorice myself. Perhaps it was all those childhood coughing syrups flavoured with the stuff which I had to endure, who knows? But fear not: I can assure you that few of the ice cream recipes posted on the site have been so thoroughly tested, vetted and evaluated as this one. You see, my dear wife has a burning love for liquorice! In fact, that was about the only flavour that really interested her when I took up ice cream making. So, as soon as I began to make ice cream in earnest, she quickly put in a request for liquorice ice cream.

The quest for the ultimate liquorice ice cream

I happily obliged, but despite me churning a growing number of different liquorice ice creams (all based on different types of liquorice candy), these were all quickly dismissed as being “so-so”/”well … OK”/”not really that good”. And she knew what she was after, having had an illuminating tasting experience in a gelateria in Rome once. And I must admit that in the end, it was she who found the all-cream base recipe which will be the focus of this post – the supreme liquorice ice cream.

“All-cream?” I can hear some of you shudder. Luckily, however, you may still well manage to keep your New Year’s resolutions. As you will see, this excellent recipe is extremely versatile and one can play around with the proportions of dairy and milk quite a bit and still end up with really nice ice cream.

Liquorice is as closely related with the colour black as the iconic “little black dress” (popularised by Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”). Yet, the natural colour of liquorice is actually brown.
(Image by Hiro Kawahara)

Liquorice – good for health for over 4000 years

Yes, licorice (the US English spelling) has been used by humans for over 4000 years. But what is is, this very special ingredient with its unmistakable flavour combination of sweet, salty and bitter?

Going for the roots of liquorice will actually literally take you to a root – the root of the liquorice plant, to be exact. To get the beloved candy, the extract derived from this root is, roughly speaking, mixed with sugar and a binder (possibly also some other additives, like beeswax for shine). And usually also some molasses, to bring about the classic black colour! Pure liquorice is brown, which should be duly noted by all food purists;-) .

Liquorice is a cherished candy but in the ancient days  it was mainly hailed for its tonic and medicinal purposes.  The ancient Chinese  the Romans and the Greeks – they all used liquorice to build stamina, fight stomach ailments and reduce coughing (to name just a few of the many purported medical qualities).  Apparently, some liquorice even found its way into the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamen (thus dating back to 1358 BC).

Liquorice is still used by many today for its various healthy effects, but eating too much can cause hypertension (high blood pressure) and other negative things. It also has a mild laxative effect.

As a flavour, liquorice is not only used in candy but also for flavouring cigarettes (!). And did you know that liquorice also flavours several ‘ordinary’ medicines? (Could this possibly explain why many of us don’t like it?)

Liquorice root. The latin name derives from Greek, and means “sweet root”.


The Liquorice plant (Glycyrrhiza glabra) – the root from which it comes!










What about liquorice candy?

While the phenomenon of liquorice as a type of candy seems to have begun in Holland in the 1600s, the real mass-popularity is more recent, starting in earnest in the early 1900s. But liquorice candy can differ quite significantly in composition – a lot is actually made without, or with very little, actual liquorice extract. Instead, anise oil is used for flavouring.

Some liquorice (like “red liquorice”) does not contain any liquorice at all, playing only on the resemblance in form and structure to the “real thing”.

Sweet liquorice is the most popular type, but there is also salty liquorice candy (created with the addition of  salt or ammonium chloride) – the latter seemingly only popular in the Netherlands and in Scandinavia.


Liquorice in ice cream

There are quite a lot of recipes around – but most of them suggest using liquorice candy to flavour the ice cream base. While this certainly is a viable option – particularly if you have some particular liquorice candy you are fond of – they seldom manage to go beyond the “ice cream flavoured with candy”-experience. And as pleasant as that can be at times, true liquorice afecionados (like my wife) scoff at the idea that mass-produced,  often additive-ridden candy should be the central ice cream flavouring.

On proportions, cream and eggs

If you would like to come closer to my wife’s “original recipe”, basically only use cream and no milk. This will obviously make the ice cream quite rich, but also high on fat. If you would prefer less fat, I consider that the version with the 50% milk – 50 % cream ratio is sufficiently rich and balanced anyway. But if you have no ice cream machine and rely on still-freezing, using more cream could be a good idea in order to improve the consistency and texture of the ice cream (if you do not want to go “all cream”, you could test with a 1/4 milk – 3/4 cream ratio).

Don’t like eggs? While the five eggs used here also contribute to a very nice, rich consistency, the recipe will actually work nicely even if the number of eggs is reduced to about two. The basic proportions of the other ingredients also work well with the Sicilian gelato-base, which does not use any eggs at all.

In conclusion, there is quite some scope for personal preferences and tinkering. All the combinations of proportions set out in the recipe below are well-tried and tested so take your pick 😉 . All versions come fully endorsed by my wife, and combine a full, non-compromising liquorice flavour with a nice, smooth consistency and texture.

Preparing the brown (or black) gold 

Since genuine liquorice is brown, you would need to colour it if you absolutely want your ice cream to be “classic black”. Black may not be your typical easy-to-find food colouring agent but I have read that mixing together (roughly) equal portions of blue, yellow and red should do the trick (assuming that all those colours are of the same strength – in other words, you may have to add a little of any weaker ones to get the best result: test and see!).

For the liquorice, we turn to the genuine stuff – in the form of so-called liquorice sticks. A liquorice stick is not a candy bar. Also known as liquorice juice sticks, they are made from Liquorice root extract. And they are were handy, since they will provide all the flavour we need: we just need to roughly crush about 1/2 of a stick [see below] in a mortar and let the pieces dissolve into the ice cream base which we will be cooking.

A note on the strenght of the flavour: Obviously, the more of a stick you add, the stronger liquorice flavour. This recipe uses about 1/2 of a stick, which should be pleasing to most liquorice lovers. Using more will intensify the liquourice flavour further. In my experience, adding the whole stick might make the experience a bit intense even for dedicated fans of liquorice: find your own comfort level.

So-called liquorice sticks (here of the Italian brand Bilione, weighing 16 grams each). Unlike candy (which sometimes look very similar but is soft) the sticks are hard but brittle.

So, start by putting your preferred amount of liquorice stick in a mortar, grab a pestle and shatter the brittle stick into fragments as shown below.


The shimmering pieces of a crushed liquorice stick

Next, place the crushed liquorice in a sauce pan together with the milk and the cream. Bring slowly to a boil, stirring every now and then, until all the liquorice fragments have melted and the dairy has taken on a nice brown colour.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the sugar.

Now, whisking incessantly, blend slowly the hot liquorice dairy with the yolk-sugar mixture (drizzle it in, little by little). Continuing to whisk, bring the blend towards a boil, taking the sauce pan off the heat once the first bubble breaks the surface of the ice cream base.

As many of you probably notice, this “first bubble”-test is a (rather useful) rule of thumb. But since the heating of the ice cream base largely is there to pasteurise it and kill off any dangerous bacteria, the health-conscious should make sure that the temperature reaches at least the range of about 82-84º Celsius (189-183 ºF); the so-called ‘nappe stage’. So, for added security, use a thermometer! And remember to whisk all the time – you don’t want to end up with scrambled eggs!

The ice cream base, with the characteristic, brown colour of genuine liquorice

When finished, take off from the heat and leave the base to cool down. Then, transfer to a refrigerator and let the ice cream base chill for a at least a few hours. Then transfer the base to an ice cream machine and churn according to instructions.

Liquorice ice cream, just after the churning has finished. It is still quite soft, so those who prefer a more solid ice cream should leave it in the freezer for yet another hour or two.

 The final result

A spoonful of Liquorice ice cream, freshly churned

Liquorice ice cream, elegantly served in “thin” scopes

If there is such a thing as a liquorice heaven, this delicious ice cream could be part of it. Liquorice lovers who have tested this recipe praise it – the ice cream is rich, well-balanced and comes with a lovely consistency and texture. The fact that the recipe largely adapts well to your preferred proportion of cream/milk is another big plus.

So, unless you and all those dear to you should happen to actively hate liquorice – grab some, try out the recipe and prepare to see the brown gold in a new and positively captivating light 🙂


3.5 from 2 reviews
Liquorice ice cream supreme
The result of a long quest to find a truly outstanding liquorice ice cream, worthy of true affecionados (like my wife 😉 )
  • 500 ml (2 full cups) cream OR [375 ml/ 1½ cup cream + 125 ml /1/2 cup milk] OR equal parts cream and milk (250 ml/ 1 cup of each)
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 100 ml (0.4 cup) sugar
  • ½-3/4 liquorice stick (about 8-12 grams); depending on your preferred flavour-strength [1/2 stick should probably be fine for most]
  • (optional: a few drops of some natural black food colouring)
  1. Crush the (desired amount of the) liquorice stick, place the crushed pieces in a sauce pan together with the cream and the milk. Bring slowly to an almost-boil, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquorice has melted and the cream has taken on a nice, brown colour.
  2. Whisk together the egg yolks and the sugar.
  3. Blend the egg yolk-sugar mixture with the hot liquorice cream. Stirring incessantly, bring the blend towards a boil, taking the sauce pan off the heat once the first bubble breaks the surface of the ice cream base [the more scientifically minded makes sure that the pasteurising stage of about xxxx º C / ºF has been reached; the nappe stage].
  4. Once cooled down, let the ice cream base chill in the refrigerator for at least a few hours. Transfer to an ice cream machine and churn according to instructions.
  5. Store in a freezer-safe container and cover with plastic film and a lid.



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