Sweet Basil ice cream
Basil? In ice cream? Can that be nice? The answer is a resounding “YES”!
Sweet Basil ice cream
Yes, I was pretty sceptic for a long time. I’m not overly fond of “savoury” [not-sweet] ice creams and I didn’t think that basil would be a very appetising ice cream flavour. Thanks to lyrical testimonies from good friends like Eleonora, however, I decided to give it a try. And my friends were right – basil turned out to be a great ice cream flavour, and tasted quite unlike what I had expected too.
Basil – a story of love, death and the gates of heaven
Culturally, basil has been a quite prominent herb: many traditions claim that it has therapeutic and tonic qualities, the Greek and several other Orthodox churches use basil to sprinkle or prepare holy water, and the ancient Greeks and Egyptians believed that basil would open the gates of heaven for those about to die. Yes, a pot of basil even figures prominently in a tale of tragic love (see below!) in Boccaccio’s 14th century classic The Decameron.
I wanted a custard-based recipe, but basil is a delicate herb and quite heat-sensitive – how to “save it” through the cooking process?
Turning to the incomparable ice cream guru David Lebovitz, I found what I was looking for!
David’s recipe is a quite typical and straightforward custard one, based on egg yolks and 2 parts cream to 1 part milk. However, his idea for how to keep (at least half of) the basil out of the heated cooking is quite ingenious!
Adapting the recipe, I – as usual – opted for a slightly quicker method when preparing the custard: instead of the “classic” staged approach with tempering of eggs etcetera in David’s recipe, I went for the more “modernista” approach and simply put all the ingredients – eggs and dairy – together in the saucepan from the very start. With good eggs and some whisking, this simplification should provide you with equally excellent results.
In short, we start by processing the basil leaves together with sugar and cream into a smooth pasty cream.
Only half of this mix will continue down into the saucepan with the milk and the egg yolks – the other half will be mixed with the remaining cream and remain “uncooked”, only to be fused with the rest of the [then cooked] base at the very final stage.
Cooking the custard base is straightforward: While whisking along the way, bring the mix of egg yolks, milk and half of the basil-cream paste (along with a pinch of salt) up to the so-called Nappe-stage (about 82-84º Celsius /180-183 º F): at this point, the egg yolks contribute what they can in terms of stabilisation and the base should also be duly pasteurised.
Take off from the heat and mix the cooked base with the remaining cream and basil-cream you set aside before. Then add the lemon zest to this base.
As usual, make sure that the base has cooled down and preferably also chilled for a few hours or over night before churning. The cooler the base, the quicker your base will turn into ice cream … and preventing the formation of pesky, large ice crystals!
Basil – a surprising and very pleasant ice cream experience
Being used to basil in “ordinary” cooking, I had no idea that sweet basil ice cream would taste so sweet and nice! The particular “foody” basil-flavour many of us are so used to changes character when mixed with the sweetness of sugar and turned into ice cream. Several friends have had difficulties to correctly guess the flavour – while all agreeing that it tastes deliciously – and I don’t blame them!
So how to describe it? “Tasty, mild and smooth” comes to my mind, but those words don’t really tell much about the flavour itself, do they? So my best recommendation for you is to get hold of a pot of fresh basil and make the ice cream yourself! You won’t be disappointed, and if you’re really lucky, perhaps you’ll even feel like the gates of heaven are opening up when you have a taste 😉
- about 25 gram of packed fresh basil leaves (about 1 pot's worth)
- 200 ml (3/4 cup) sugar
- 500 ml (about 2 cups) heavy cream
- 250 ml (about 1 cup) whole milk
- 5 egg yolks
- zest of 1 lemon
- pinch of salt
- Using a household blender or food processor, grind the basil leaves together with the sugar and half of the cream until the mix is very smooth.
- Put half of the basil mix in a bowl together with the remaining half of the cream and set aside for now..
- Put the other half of the basil mix in a saucepan together with the milk, the salt and the egg yolks.
- While whisking, bring this basil-milk mix to an almost-boil (or, to be specific, to the so-called Nappe-stage: about 82-84º Celsius /180-183 º F).
- Take the resulting custard off the heat and pour it into the bowl with the remaining basil-cream mix that we put aside before (if you're worried about possible bits of scrambled egg or larger remaining pieces of basil leaves, pour the custard base through a sieve or a strainer!).
- Zest the lemon directly into the base in the bowl, stir and let cool down.
- Preferably chill the base in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours or over night before churning.