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Smells Like Ice Cream To Me

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.

Lilac florets

Do these smell like ice cream to you?

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.

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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.

lilac ice cream

You’ll need:
  • about 100 lilac florets
  • 150ml milk
  • 25g sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 200ml heavy cream
The Steps:
  • 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 Variations:
  • The flavouring here can really be whatever you care to infuse the milk with.
The Results:
  • 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!


  1. mom, again

    Now, see, I would have just made the lilac infused pastry cream that you used as reference and ice creamed it. Cause a custard is a pastry cream is an ice cream base as far as I’m concerned!

    When I was in my first pastry class at culinary school, during the week of custards/fillings/creme anglais I practised much at home, esp. the creme anglais as I’d never made it. I grew up in a baked custard kind of family & wasn’t too fond of it. I’d seen recipes for ‘boiled custard’ but, other than for an ice cream base, I didn’t see the point. Bland, eggy stuff. (My mom’s baked custard recipe used skimmed milk…)

    During that week, when I practised to make sure I could pull off any of three custard variations sans printed ingredients or directions for my exam, my husband happily poured the results over all sorts of fruits & other desserts. I was floored. I’d been married to this Brit for 10 or 12 years at that point and he’d never expressed a need for this garnish. “Duh,” he said, “why do you think the french call it creme anglais? We pour it over anything & call it dessert. I mean, pudding!”

    When I came home on the Friday, pleased at getting the much practised creme anglais as my random exam assignment, he asked ‘if we could just call it custard now?”

  2. Sophie

    hahahaha,….lovely story! Your icr cream looks so delcious!! yummie all the way!!

  3. gastroanthropologist

    I’m not sure what I’m more excited about that you are enjoying coffee in Seattle or that you’ve made lilac ice cream…
    I’m always pleasantly surprised by floral flavors in food – rosewater, elderflower, jasmine…
    Lilac – I can’t say that I’ve eaten anything lilac infused, but the ice cream sounds lovely…I’m wondering what this ice cream would go with…

  4. Jennifer @ maplencornbread

    WOW WOW WOW. I love lilacs!! I can just imagine how wonderful it must be in ice cream! so creative!

  5. Erica from Cooking for Seven

    Wow. I never dreamed of using lilacs in food, besides as a garnish. You have intrigued me. I don’t generally like floral flavors, but I might have to give this one a go.

  6. Daily Spud

    mom, again: gosh that punchline made me smile (and I bow to your superior custard / creme anglais experience :) )

    Sophie: thanks – it wasn’t bad for a first attempt :)

    gastroanthropologist: I’ve been thinking about what it would go with too – I had some just with fresh blueberries – but there’s more experimenting to be done on that front

    Jennifer: welcome and thanks! It was something that, once the idea had occurred to me, I had to try…

    Erica: thanks for dropping in! As regards floral flavours, the best thing to do I guess is to smell some lilac and see what your own reaction is to the thought of that flavour in ice cream – if it’s a positive reaction, then it’s worth a try

  7. anna

    I really love the smell of lilacs and often use floral flavors in my desserts but didn’t know lilacs were edible! I’ll have to try it out sometime, maybe even as ice cream. I make homemade ice cream without a machine pretty regularly now.

  8. OysterCulture

    I’m with Gastroanthropologist, I am not sure I would have had the genius or inspiration to come up with a lilac dish. I was just enjoying your picture so much that taking it to the next level of consumption just would not have entered my brain. I am now inspired to think of a flower tasting extravaganza. Thanks for the enlightenment.

    I cannot wait to see what the whiffs of coffee aroma do for you. =)

  9. Jenni

    Lovely, Spud! Dairy always seems to dampen delicate flavors–maybe you should try a lilac sorbet just for fun?

    You might also try this: 3 parts sweetened condensed milk, 4 parts hot water. Stir and stir. Vanilla to taste; steep anything in it to your heart’s content. Churn. This takes on basil wonderfully–I bet it’d be good w/flowery-type steepees, as well. Since there’s no egg in it, it might allow the lilac to come forward a bit more.

    Hope you are having a great time on the West Coast!

  10. Diva

    What a great idea, Spud! I happen to really like the flavor of violet, so I’m certain I’d enjoy a lavender themed ice cream. I think it would be mighty good when mixed with chocolate as well. I’m just so impressed by this. Wow!

  11. The Duo Dishes

    It looks like creamy goodness. It must’ve been really good.

  12. Phoo-D

    This is a brilliant idea! The smell of lilacs is intoxicating and I had no idea that they were edible. Ours should be in bloom when I get back from the IFBC…we’ll give it a try!

  13. jenn

    Whoa…that’s new me. I’ve never thought of lilac in ice cream . I guess I’m now used to seeing flowers as edible food even though I know they are.

    I love the first photo!

  14. Angry Brit

    I’m always vaguely suspicious of flowery ice cream. Too much and I always feel like I’m munching through one of those pot-pourri sachets that my grandmother likes to keep in her closet.

    I had an absolutely beautiful rose ice cream in the south of France a couple of years ago. I would definitely be interested to see how lilac ice cream tasted.

  15. Reeni

    I have lilacs right outside my kitchen window. The smell of them is one of my favorites. Lilac ice cream is very interesting!! I would love to try it.

  16. noble pig

    What a great idea! Now I need a lilac bush.

  17. Natasha - 5 Star Foodie

    How unique and delightful! A lilac ice-cream sounds amazing! I would looove to try it!

  18. Angela@spinachtiger

    If it tastes as good as it looks, it gets my gold star.

  19. Daily Spud

    anna: thanks for dropping in – I reckon if you like floral flavours, it’s worth a try

    OysterCulture: well, with any luck, you will see, in person, what Seattle in general and coffee in particular has done for me next week :)

    Jenni: thanks for the ideas chef – I really like the condensed milk option ‘cos I do indeed think losing the eggs would help the lilac flavour to flower as it were – it’ll be something for me to try when I finally stop eating my way around the West Coast!

    Diva: oooh, with chocolate? now you’re talking!

    Duo Dishes: very creamy, very good :)

    Phoo-D: ah, if you like that lilac fragrance, do try – thanks for stopping by and maybe see you at IFBC

    jenn: thanks – I guess even though we know that some flowers are edible maybe there’s still something that feels a little strange about eating them!

    Angry Brit: it’s always a danger with flowery flavours that you can go too far and end up with potpourri – here I think I was paranoid about that and, as a result ended up with quite a mild flavour

    Reeni: I’ve always loved the scent of lilacs and this is one I’ll want to try again

    noble pig: ah, lack of lilac (lilack?) would be somewhat of a problem in this case!

    Natasha: I should send some over :)

    Angela: why thank you! And delighted to have you visit.

  20. Sapuche

    This sounds like the height of luxury, and your creative inspiration inspires me! Where I grew up, our yard used to have two or three beautiful lilac trees (and lots of bees buzzing almost drunkenly between them during spring and summer), but now I’m utterly lilac-less. :( Which means no lilac ice cream for me. The lilac-infused pastry cream sounds incredible, too – I’m sure it would go excellently with a cup of Seattle coffee!

  21. Jamie

    Lilac ice cream sounds so dreamy and romantic. I am glad you tried it!

    I must start making ice cream, machine or no machine!

  22. Mindy

    I can smell the creamy lilac ice cream as I type…mmm!

  23. Tangled Noodle

    To be so inspired by the perfume of blossoms . . . ! I wonder if adding bits of lilac florets to the mixture would allow for pops of more intense floral flavor. Quite frankly, even a hint of lilac on the tastebuds would be lovely.

    Hope all is well in Seattle and safe journey down the West Coast!

  24. zerrin

    I’m in love with various lilacs. They are so charming with both their smell and their appearance. But I’ve never thought them in a food. I’m learning a lot from you.

  25. gaga

    How interesting! It’s so pretty yet so delicious.

  26. Daily Spud

    Sapuche: I think the lilac pastry cream and a Seattle cup of coffee would do nicely together :)

    Jamie: one of the great things about this experiment was that I now know that “no ice cream maker” does not have to mean no homemade ice cream!

    Mindy: enjoy that thought :)

    Tangled Noodle: I did try eating some of the florets but there’s a slight bitterness that you don’t necessarily expect; when they’re infused, though, it’s all about the perfume :) – meanwhile all is well here in Seattle and busy (but in a good foodie way :) )

    zerrin: well, it was a first for me to think of them as food too (and I’ve been sniffing lilacs since childhood…)

    gaga: it certainly made for an interesting (and pretty) experiment!

  27. Marybakes

    Delighted with this post!! I recently bought some lavender hoping to make cookies with it and now I am going to have try ice-cream! Love the link for making it without a machine too as my ice-cream maker broke after two uses…Thanks for great idea!

  28. Chef E

    Oh that is an interesting flavor…I love lilacs too. My most cherished memory of training with a fabulous pastry chef in Dallas was he taught me how to infuse cream with things such as this for creme brulee and other desserts!

    Thanks for this reminder, as it made me smile!

  29. Lori

    How interesting! I have to admit I’m a novice when it comes to florals and food. It does sound delicious though. Sounds like I need to get more creative with my ice cream. :)

  30. Daily Spud

    Marybakes: delighted to have been an inspiration!

    Chef E: flowers and smiles do have a way of going together :)

    Lori: to be honest, I’m a novice myself with floral infusions and I have lots more experimenting to do!

  31. megan (brooklyn farmhouse)

    Brilliant, brilliant idea. I so love the smell of lilacs…eating it would be even better! I wonder if you can candy the flowers a la candied violets?

  32. Daily Spud

    I’m pretty sure you could candy the lilac flowers Megan – they’d make a great garnish for the ice cream!

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