Basil Ice Cream

This was written Sunday, September 5, 2010

It is such a beautiful, gorgeous day here in NC!  Scott is inside sleeping soundly after a long overnight call at the hospital where he was on his feet all night, so I’ve decided to come outside and bask in this glorious weather. I’m sitting on our deck as I type this, breathing deeply and relaxing under the giant trees in our backyard. This morning I had breakfast on our deck before going to church.  It was wonderful.  I felt like I was on vacation.  I leaned back in my chair, closed my eyes, and thought of nothing in particular.  It is so peaceful here on Sundays.  Everything is still.  Hardly any cars drive by, there’s no clanging from the garbage, recycle, and yard waste trucks, there’s no banging from the construction down the street, even my neighbor’s dogs have decided to give their nonstop barking a rest.  The only sound is the occasional shisss sound that the leaves make when a breeze drifts through.  The sun is warm, the breeze is cool; everything is harmonious, balanced, perfect.
Our garden is right next to our deck and sometimes, when the breeze is strong enough I get a subtle, delicious whiff of fresh basil.  Basil is Scott and my favorite herb with cilantro closely following.  It is probably most well known for use in pesto and caprese salads but there are many other delicious things to do with basil.  For example, basil ice cream.  I first had basil ice cream when Scott and I went out to eat for my birthday two years ago in Iowa City.  He ordered a flourless chocolate torte for dessert and I went the more adventurous route and ordered the restaurant’s strawberry basil ice cream.  I second-guessed my order as soon as I did it wondering why I always had to be so tempted to try something new.  In Italy I once tried a chocolate cigar flavored gelato, and for someone who doesn’t smoke, it tasted disgusting.  When my dessert arrived it was green.  In my head I had thought it would be pink from the strawberries with bits of green basil leaves, but this was the other way around.  It was a basil ice cream with slices of strawberry mixed in the ice cream.  Nervously I tried it, and I was pleasantly surprised!  It was very good!  I am not joking with you.  Scott had some and agreed that my order was the “winner.”  If you think about it, basil ice cream is not that weird.  Mint is used in savory dishes, but yet we love it in mint ice cream.  Why should basil, or any other herb, be different? 

About a year ago I tried to recreate that ice cream based off of my favorite mint ice cream recipe where I steeped the basil in the hot milk and then strained it out, but the result was not good.  This time however, I followed a recipe specifically for basil ice cream from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop where you leave the basil in and puree it in a blender and it turned out exactly as desired.  I made meringue “clouds” from the leftover egg whites to serve the ice cream in and topped the ice cream with strawberries in syrup.  The finished product looked beautiful and exotic, and it tasted like summer with the refreshing basil and sweet strawberries.  Scott and I ate our basil ice cream confection every night for four nights straight until we ran out.  If you have a plethora of basil or if you want to serve something a little different for company, try making this, I think you will find yourself, as I was, pleasantly surprised.

Basil Ice Cream Dessert
You can make everything in this dessert up to a few days in advance except I would make the strawberry syrup no earlier than four hours before you plan to serve it.  The ice cream will be hard directly out of the freezer so let it sit out for five minutes or so before scooping it.  If you make the ice cream the day you want to serve it, make it at least three hours ahead of time as the custard will need to cool for two hours before you can freeze it.

Basil Ice Cream:
1 cup (25g) packed basil leaves
¾ cup (150g) sugar
2 cups (500mL) heavy cream
1 cup (250mL) whole milk
Pinch of salt
4 or 5 large egg yolks (recipe calls for five, I did four because it is slightly healthier and the meringue recipe only calls for four egg whites)
1 lemon, preferably unsprayed
In a blender or small food processor, puree the basil leaves with the sugar and one cup of the heavy cream until the leaves are ground as fine as possible. (If this mixture ends up looking like whipped cream by the time the basil is pureed that is ok.)  Pour half of this basil mixture into a large bowl and add to it the remaining cup of cream. Place a mesh strainer on top of the bowl.
Warm the other half of the basil mixture in a medium saucepan with the milk and salt.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.  Slowly pour half of the warm milk and basil mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly so your eggs don’t scramble.  Then pour this mixture with the egg yolks back into the saucepan.
Stir this mixture constantly (so your milk doesn’t scald) over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, or a square-edged spoon, scraping the bottom as you stir. Stir and cook until the mixture thickens slightly and coats the spatula (happens between 170°F and 175°F or  77°C -79°C).  Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream mixture in the large bowl.  Zest the lemon into the custard, then stir until cool over and ice bath.  Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refridgerator.  Before placing it in the ice cream maker strain it one last time (to be sure to get rid of any curdled milk).  Freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Strawberry Syrup:
1 cup (250mL) of water
¼ cup (50g) of sugar
1 lemon, zested
1 pound (450g) strawberries
Place the first three ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil stirring until the sugar is dissolved.  Remove from the heat and pour into a small bowl and chill thoroughly.  Once the syrup is chilled, hull and quarter the strawberries and add them to the syrup.  Let the strawberries macerate for 1 to 4 hours.

Meringue Clouds:
These Meringue Clouds are nice for some added texture and crunch, but they are not essential.   So, if you’d rather make angel food cake or freeze your egg whites for another use that is fine, just make sure you label on the container you freeze them in how many egg whites are in there.
4 large egg whites (about ½ cup or 125mL), at room temperature
Pinch of salt
½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup (150g) powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 200°F (100°C).
Line a baking sheet with parment paper or a silicone baking mat.
In a large bowl whip the egg whites and the salt with an electric mixer on medium speed until frothy.  Then increase the speed of the mixer to high and whip until the egg whites begin to hold their shape.  Continue whipping and add the granulated sugar one tablespoon at a time.  Then add the vanilla and whip until stiff and glossy.  Sift the powdered sugar into the bowl and fold it in.  Divide the meringue into eight portions on the baking sheet placing them so that there is two rows of three lengthwise along the sides and two in the middle of the rows.  Dip a spoon into some water, tap off the excess, and make a well in the middle of each meringue for the ice cream.  Bake the meringues for one hour.  Turn the oven off and leave the meringues to dry out in the oven for another hour.  (I had to bake my meringues longer than one hour in order for them to be crisp.)  The meringues are done when they feel dry to the touch and lift easily off the parchment paper.  To store them, place them in a container that is completely airtight once they have cooled.

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