Santa Lucia Saffron Raisin ice cream
Do you know Saint Lucia? Every 13 December, candle-carrying, singing processions of youth, clad in white and Christmas glitter and headed by a young woman (the Lucia) wearing a red girdle and a crown of lights, light up the winter darkness all around Sweden (and elsewhere too, by the way).
Delivering Christmas carols (including the obligatory Santa Lucia-signature song itself) and sometimes also the traditional Lusse buns and Christmas gingerbread, the Lucia processions appear in most schools and workplaces throughout the country on 13 December.
Given the state of relatively constant darkness during the Swedish winter days, this celebration of light is extremely cherished amongst Swedes, and is considered as an indispensable part of what makes it possible to endure life leading up to Christmas.
The historical Saint Lucia was an early 4th century Christian martyr from Sicily, now patron saint for the blind.
The Lucias of today are often selected based on the drawing of lots, or following some sort of election. In true inclusive spirit, and particularly amongst younger children, everyone who so wishes can usually dress up as Lucia for the procession (most boys, however, still tend to end up as accompanying so-called ‘Star boys’, or possibly – in these secular times – as Santa’s little helpers).
Ice cream may not be the first on many peoples’ minds in the middle of the darkest winter. However, the recipe I will share draws inspiration from the traditional sweet saffron buns and the glögg (Swedish mulled wine) so typical for the Lucia-celebrations. Swedish glögg is a sweet and alcoholic wine (usually keeping around 10-15 %) , often served warm with blanched almonds and raisins.
The ice cream, accordingly, is made up of a saffron ice cream base, with raisins soaked in glögg.
In case you don’t have access to glögg, similar results could likely be achieved with other types of mulled wine, appropriately sweetened. If you don’t have any mulled wines, you could always try to improvise – mix a little red wine with sugar, and infuse for a few hours with a minor portion of a mix of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves and bitter orange.
Or skip the glögg, grab a bottle of Rhum and make a pirate version with Rhum raisins added in!
If you do not like the idea of alcohol in your ice cream, you might soak the raisins in some non-alcoholic glögg (which exists) or some suitable soft drink (like the Swedish Christmas favourite Julmust). Just remember to sweeten the liquid considerably with added sugar or equivalent. Alcohol will ensure that the raisins do not freeze solid when put in the ice cream. So if you omit alcohol, you will have to rely on (some extra) sugar to accomplish this task!
So, what about the ice cream? Showing appropriate respect for such an exclusive and particular spice as saffron, I opted for a custard-based ice cream with egg (read more about such preparations here). While I’m normally very fond of leaner ice creams with at least 50 % milk, this time I opted for a bit more cream than milk. Together with the eggs, this ensured a nice and stable build – a perfect foundation for the exquisite saffron flavour. A little vanilla was added to increase the flavour complexity, though without ever challenging the saffron. While this is optional, I also added a little inverted sugar (honey will do fine, as will corn syrup or agave nectar) to improve the final texture (= to make sure the ice cream did not freeze too hard).
Like with most custard based ice cream, the base should preferably be allowed to settle overnight in the refrigerator before being churned in the ice cream maker: this will improve both the final taste and the final texture of the ice cream.
The glögg-soaked, sligthly chopped raisins were only added towards the very end of the churning – otherwise, they would probably all have ended up on the bottom, instead of – as now – being evenly spread out throughout the ice cream.
- 400 ml (1.7 cups) cream
- 300 ml (1.3 cups) milk
- ½ vanilla bean (cut in half, and with the seeds peeled and collected for use) or ½ teaspoon of genuine, good quality vanilla powder
- 0.6 gram saffron
- 125 ml (a full ½ cup) sugar
- 5 egg yolks
- 1 egg
- optionally) 1½ tablespoon inverted sugar (honey, agave nectar, corn syrup or similar)
- 100 gram slightly chopped raisins
- About 6 tablespoons glögg (10-15 % alcohol)
- Slightly chop the raisins, put them in warmed-up glögg and leave aside to soak at least one hour, preferably longer.
- Whip together the sugar, the egg and the egg yolks. Put aside for now.
- In a sauce pan, mix the cream, the milk, the vanilla, the saffron and the inverted sugar. Bring close to a boil.
- Little by little, and while whisking constantly, add the hot milk/cream mixture to the egg/sugar mix (the tempering phase).
- Pour everything back into the sauce pan, and - while stirring constantly with a spatula - bring the mixture to about 82-84 degrees Celsius (179-183º F) on low-moderate heat.
- Quickly take off from the heat - remove the vanilla bean now - and cool as quickly as possible (in waterbath, ice bath or cold exteriors).
- When cooled down, chill the ice cream base in the fridge, preferably over night and at least a few hours (this will improve both the final taste and the texture).
- Churn the chilled ice cream base in your ice cream machine according to instructions. When the ice cream almost is ready, add the glögg-soaked raisins and any remaining glögg to the base.
- When churning is finished, put in freezer-proof container, cover with plastic film and seal with lid.