Actually, right now I’m smelling coffee in Seattle but last week I smelled lilac and thought ice cream.
Now, it’s not the first time that I’ve stopped at the lilac bush outside my front door to inhale its glorious perfume. It’s also by no means the first time that I’ve thought about ice cream (I do that more or less every time the sun shines). It’s just the first time that I’ve known one to cause the other.
Yes, lilac ice cream. I was going to have to do something about that thought, but where to begin?
For starters, I wasn’t even entirely sure if lilac flowers were edible (but the Internet said they were, so I took that as a positive sign). It’s also fair to say that the culinary world isn’t exactly awash with recipes involving lilac. The flavour of lilac is reported as being quite variable from plant to plant, which might, perhaps, explain why you don’t see it used more. In any case, I did find a recipe for a lilac-infused pastry cream and took heart. The other feature of this little experiment was that I had never made ice cream before and was not the proud possessor of an ice cream maker. Undaunted, however, I forged ahead with my flower-powered ice cream dream.
In the end, after a couple of experimental batches, we did have some lovely ice cream, though it didn’t have that full floral perfume that had inspired me to try making it in the first place. My milk-infusion had tasted distinctly of lilac, though that dissipated somewhat with the addition of the sugar, eggs and cream. My tasters instead wondered if what they were sensing was vanilla but I could close my eyes and taste the flowers.
Lilac Ice Cream
I used David Lebovitz’s vanilla ice cream recipe as a template for this, though amounts have been changed to protect the innocent. If (like me) you don’t possess an ice cream maker, don’t be put off, he has guidelines for what to do here.
The total amount of ice cream in this is small (and the first batch barely lasted long enough to get to the solid stage) but I didn’t want to have to sacrifice too many ingredients if it all went horribly wrong. It can certainly be doubled up or more to make a more sensible amount.
I’m still experimenting with the amount of time to infuse the milk for and this will be somewhat dependent on your own tastes too.
- about 100 lilac florets
- 150ml milk
- 25g sugar
- pinch of salt
- 2 egg yolks
- 200ml heavy cream
- Pick the florets off a bloom of lilac and rinse them.
- Warm the milk, sugar, salt and lilac florets in a small, heavy saucepan over a medium heat, stirring to dissolve.
- Remove from the heat when the milk is starting to steam and before it actually starts to simmer.
- Taste at this point to check the level of lilac flavour, remembering that the flavour will dissipate somewhat with the addition of the other ingredients. For a stronger flavour, leave the mixture to infuse and taste periodically. When ready, strain off the lilac florets and warm (but don’t simmer) the mixture again.
- Break the egg yolks into a small bowl and stir them together.
- Gradually add some of the warmed milk to the yolks, stirring constantly, then add the warmed yolk and milk mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk.
- Cook the egg and milk mixture (or we can call it custard now) over a low heat, stirring frequently, until it’s thick enough to coat your spoon or spatula (this took me around 12 minutes or so).
- Now pour the custard mixture into the cream, stirring to combine.
- Chill the mixture by sitting it in an ice bath and then freeze either using an ice cream maker, if you’ve got one, or as follows, if you don’t:
- Put the mixture in a deep baking dish or bowl and place in the freezer. After about 45 minutes, once the mixture has started to freeze around the edges, remove the bowl and beat the mixture vigorously, using a whisk or a hand blender to break up any ice crystals that have started forming. Return the mixture to the freezer and repeat this roughly every 30 minutes until the ice cream is frozen which, depending on your freezer, may take take 3-6 hours.
- The flavouring here can really be whatever you care to infuse the milk with.
- 350ml of ice cream, which hardly lasts long enough to solidify properly.
Update 12/7/09: It’s July and ice cream season is in full swing, so I’m dusting this off and sending it along to Scotty Snacks, Tangled Noodle and Savor The Thyme for their Ice Cream Social. The lilac florets may be long gone but there are lots of edible flowers out there and there’s no reason not to think of including them in your ice cream!