July is National Ice Cream Month. But when it comes to the shivery, sugary treat, who needs a national designation to indulge? And who says we need to be tied to convention in creating spectacular, even healthier flavors?
Tinged with mint, fraught with fudge, or streaked with strawberries from the season’s sunny bounty, the ice cream adventure has always been a comestible soundtrack for summer–and most of us aim to keep it that way.
In fact it would appear we have an ancestral connection to frozen desserts with historical records tracing the first incarnations of a glacial delicacy to ancient Persia, where sweets-seeking citizens poured juice from grapes over snow (pass the shovel, please). Later on, the same nation invented a chilled confection made with rose water, vermicelli, saffron, and various fruits. In 200 B.C. China concocted a frozen mixture of milk and rice, and Roman Emperor Nero reportedly had ice carted down from the mountains in the hot, lazy days of summer, topping it with fragrant fruit.
Ice cream recipes first appeared in England and America in the 18th Century with the Quakers cited as the first to bring the delicacy to the new colonies, and with the earliest reference provided by the Oxford English Dictionary in 1744. Founding Fathers Ben Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson were reportedly among its most creative connoisseurs, both making it and serving it to guests.
But when it comes to a cool dessert (and by cool we don’t necessarily mean the temperature)on a hot day–though certainly with a nod to palette pioneers like Haagen Dazs, Baskin Robbins, and Ben & Jerry’s–do you ever long to break from traditional flavors and even their cookie dough-or M&M-laced variations? Does the idea of adding red beans, lavender, green tea, garlic, ginger, fig, green chilies, rhubarb, bacon or cardamom to your ice cream prick up your ears and pinch your palette? For some, combining gifts from the garden such as tomatoes, beets or sweet potatoes with cream and ice is the ultimate expression of a healthy dessert (well, almost!). If you long to chill this summer with exciting ice cream flavor alternatives, here are some recipes that may just end up vanquishing vanilla for good.
Sweet Potato Ice Cream
1 15-ounce can sweet potato puree
1 1/2 cups cold half-and-half
1/4 cup dark beer
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
The day before making the ice cream, freeze the ice cream insert for a full 24 hours.
Add sweet potato puree to a large bowl along with half-and-half, beer, light brown sugar, cinnamon, ground ginger, allspice, and salt. Whisk together until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and chill mixture thoroughly before pouring into ice cream maker. Follow manufacturer’s directions for churning and/or freezing.
Lavender Ice Cream
2/3 cup half-and-half
1/3 cup fresh lavender flowers or 2 tablespoons dried lavender flowers
2/3 cup sugar
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
In a small saucepan, heat half-and-half to 175°. Remove from heat; add lavender. Cover and steep for 20 minutes. Strain, discarding lavender.
Return to the heat; stir in sugar until dissolved. Whisk a small amount of the hot mixture into the egg yolks. Return all to the saucepan, whisking constantly. Cook and stir over low heat until mixture reaches at least 160° and coats the back of a metal spoon.
Remove from heat. Cool quickly by placing pan in a bowl of ice water; stir for 2 minutes. Stir in whipping cream to form a custard. Press waxed paper onto surface. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
Fill cylinder of chilled ice cream maker and churn and/or freeze according to manufacturer’s directions.
Note: Look for dried lavender flowers in spice shops. If using lavender from the greenhouse or garden, make sure it is pesticide-free.
Kicked Up Citrus Beet Ice Cream
3 large beets
1 cup orange juice
12 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
2 vanilla beans
2 1/2 cups cream
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Roast beets in 350-degree oven until tender–about 2 hours. Peel and cut into small pieces. Place beets in blender with orange juice and puree until smooth. Split vanilla beans, scrape, and add seeds to the cream and scald. Whisk together egg yolks and sugar and then stir into cream mixture. Stir over low heat until mixture begins to thicken (enough to coat the back of a spoon)–about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in remaining ingredients: heavy cream; cinnamon; cayenne. Let ice cream chill in refrigerator. Pour into ice cream maker that has been in freezer and proceed according to manufacturer’s instructions.