The first time I tasted bay leaf ice cream, I was at Nostrana in Portland, Oregon. (If you’re ever Portland, I highly recommend this restaurant. It will change the way you think about food… obviously.) I was so intrigued when I saw it on the menu. I couldn’t imagine how an herb that I use as an aromatic or as a savory ingredient could translate into a sweet, delectable dessert. Little did I know that fresh bay leaves are tender, fragrant and full of sweet after notes.
When I put that first spoonful of bay leaf ice cream on my tentative tongue, I almost cried. I’m not even kidding. It was such a warm, yet clean taste with hints of nutmeg and a sweetness I’d never tasted. I savored every single moment of that dessert, rolling the flavors around in my mouth, trying to figure out the conundrum of its complexity and simplicity.
It has been nearly a year since then, and for the entire year I haven’t been able to get that taste out of my mind. So, I decided that my first attempt to make ice cream should be a tribute to the bay leaf.
I looked through numerous online resources for ice cream recipes, falling short at the bay leaf. I turned to the Williams-Sonoma Ice Cream cookbook, and again, nothing was exactly what I thought I needed or wanted for this recipe. I finally gave up looking for someone else’s rendition of the perfect ice cream, and created my own (which is actually pretty dangerous because I could eat this by the gallon and now I can make it myself!).
I hope you enjoy this ice cream as much as I do. (And for taste’s sake, this creamy, decadent ice cream is best enjoyed all by itself – no need to add any “fixins’.”)
*You will need an ice cream machine for this recipe.
Bay Leaf Ice Cream
Makes about 1 quart
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
8-10 large fresh bay leaves
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Light dusting of fresh nutmeg
Start by pressing and rolling the back of a spoon onto each bay leaf. This will release the oils from the herb and allow more flavor to seep into the milk mixture.
Heat the milk, cream and bay leaves in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Watch this mixture carefully so it doesn’t scorch. Bring it up to a low boil and remove from heat. Cover, and allow the bay leaves to steep in the hot milk mixture for 20 minutes.
In a large, non-reactive mixing bowl, combine the eggs, sugar and cornstarch, whisking together until thoroughly blended.
When the bay leaves are finished steeping, remove them from the milk. Slowly and carefully temper the eggs by pouring in the milk mixture in a steady stream, whisking constantly, until all has been incorporated into the egg mixture. (If the eggs scramble at this point, run the mixture through a fine mesh sieve.
Return the custard base to the saucepan and set over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Be sure to make contact with the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching or scrambling the eggs. Heat custard until it thickens (coats the back of a spoon) and just begins to bubble. Remove from heat immediately.
Pour custard into a bowl using a fine mesh strainer to remove any bits from the bottom of the pan. Allow to cool for about 15-20 minutes, then add the vanilla and nutmeg. Refrigerate the custard 3 hours or overnight (preferable).
When you’re ready to churn the custard (after freezing the ice cream bowl), follow the instructions for your ice cream maker. (Typically, you will have to churn the custard for 20-30 minutes for this amount.) Pop it back in the freezer for a couple of hours before serving.