Up until a few days ago, our recent culinary acquisition — an ice cream maker — had been something I didn’t really want to talk about.
I ordered one during an after-summer sale. I used it once to make a roasted strawberry ice cream that was perhaps too ambitious for my first attempt. It left me feeling frustrated and defeated. We never finished those pints. This new machine was abandoned in a corner.
But this weekend, everything we did in the kitchen worked. Lasagna, Bolognese-style. Miso soup. And then, probably the star of this string of kitchen successes, a saffron-cardamom ice cream. It’s worth dusting off your ice cream maker for.
The flavor of saffron is about as difficult to describe as it is expensive and exotic. Maybe that’s because this flavor doesn’t play a role in everyday meals. Earthy is a word you often hear associated with saffron. Here, it tints the ice cream yellow as expected, but then it infuses the cream with a taste that is more rich and complex than we could have hoped for. Dark flecks of ground cardamom and whole pistachios are tossed into the mix, adding more flavor and texture. After paella, ice cream is the next best thing to happen to saffron.
To guarantee success, I suggest tempering the eggs. It takes a little more time but it’s a sure way to get the custard right. And if like me you’re interested in homemade ice cream and are buying high-quality ingredients to do so, then I don’t think you’ll mind taking care with this step.
The rest is straightforward. I churned the cooled custard for 20 minutes, spooned it into cleaned-out ice cream containers and waited. On the same day it’ll be thick and cold but more like soft serve. Give it a chance to freeze overnight and by the next day the ice cream will have a perfectly creamy texture. The recipe made enough to fill two pints. I’d be surprised if they last another week.
One spoonful was enough to convince me that this was not a foolish endeavor. The ice cream maker stays.
saffron cardamom ice cream with pistachios
This is the recipe that made me realize buying an ice cream maker was worth it. The instructions are easy enough to follow, and they lead you to a rich, golden ice cream that keeps you coming back for more. Move over, chocolate and vanilla. I’ve got a whole world of ice cream flavors to discover now. This recipe is adapted from a feature on uncommon ice creams in the August 1993 issue of Gourmet magazine.
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
8 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup pistachios
Combine milk, heavy cream, and saffron in a heavy saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and let the cream mixture sit, covered, for 1 hour. Return the pan to the stovetop and bring the mixture just to a boil. Remove from heat.
Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Combine the cream mixture with the egg mixture gradually by tempering the eggs. To do this, place the bowl of egg yolks on a tea towel to keep it from slipping. Whisk the eggs while adding in the hot cream mixture in a slow stream, just a ladleful at at time until it is all incorporated. (Step-by-step instructions with photos via Food52).
Pour the mixture back into the pan. Cook the custard over medium-low heat, stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 170°F. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve set over a large bowl. Stir in the cardamom. Don’t worry if the spice clumps a bit; it’ll distribute in the ice cream maker.
Let the custard cool completely. Freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. Toss the pistachios in in the last few minutes of churning. After 20 minutes of churning, the ice cream is about a soft-serve consistency. Place in containers and freeze overnight before serving for the ideal texture.
Makes about 1 1/2 quarts.