I have a sweet tooth and I have a love for nature. What sends me off to a state of bliss is when those two passions merge, as they did on the dessert menu at Le Petite Grocery. Who could resist trying fig leaf ice cream with local honey and candied pecans? One bite and I understood why the waitress was having difficulty describing it. It was delicate and almost floral, but then a hint of caramel and marshmallow...and before I knew it, it was all gone. I went home and immediately started researching.
Research led me to The Sweet Life: Desserts from Chanterelle by Kate Zuckerman. There was a recipe for basil ice cream (which I've made and love) with a fig leaf variation. However, in this recipe the fig leaf was simply cut into small pieces before infusing the custard base. What I wanted was the toasted version and the densest, creamiest texture I could get out of a home machine.
Kate Zuckerman has a good amount of science on the subject and I tried her suggestions - which, indeed, gave me the best textured ice cream I may have ever made at home. Suprise ingredients - a whole egg (not just the yolk) and 1/4 cup of nonfat milk powder. The recipe called for skim milk powder which I wasn't able to find in my grocery, but the nonfat worked just fine. The resulting ice cream was incredibly rich and dense and delicately flavored all at the same time. Definitely a keeper.
I have the good fortune of having a fig tree in my courtyard. But if you can find fig leaves anywhere, this is a recipe worth trying. I also have a built-in grill on my stovetop, so I simply toasted the leaves there. However, you can do this with a culinary torch or on your outside grill. Just don't overdo it. I accidentally burned one of the leaves and the smell certainly wasn't anything like the toasted leaves! You're trying to achieve a warm brown caramel color.
Who knew fig leaves could be used in ice cream? Definitely one of my more exciting discoveries!
Toasted Fig Leaf Ice Cream
Yield: 1 1/2 quarts
(adapted from The Sweet Life)
3-4 medium fig tree leaves, washed and dried
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1 cup granulated sugar
8 large egg yolks
1 large, whole egg
Pinch of kosher salt
1/4 cup skim or nonfat milk powder
1. Toast the fig leaves over a flame until they're caramel colored. Set aside to cool.
2. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the cream, milk, and 1/2 cup of the sugar. Once the cream begins to boil, add the fig leaves (torn into small pieces), remove the pot from the heat, and set it aside for 10-15 minutes.
3. In a mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks, egg, kosher salt, skim or nonfat milk powder, and remaining sugar and briskly whisk for 1 minute. Using a ladle, slowly whisk some of the hot cream (with the fig leaves) into the egg yolk mixture to warm it. Gradually pour the warmed egg mixture into the hot cream, whisking constantly as you pour. Cook the custard over medium heat, stirring continuously and scraping the bottom with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove it from the heat.
4. Place the ice cream base in an ice bath to cool completely, stirring it periodically. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill a minimum of 2 hours. Before churning, strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any solids and fig leaves.
5. Churn it in an ice cream maker according to the machine's instructions (though ideally, you will only churn it for about 20 minutes). The ice cream is finished once it's increased in volume and it holds the lines from the stirring mechanism and mounds like softly whipped cream. Transfer to the freezer for 4 hours to attain a scoopable consistency.
*This ice cream is best if you serve it 4 to 6 hours after churning, but will keep in the freezer for up to 1 week.
NOTE: To some extent, you can control the intensity of the fig leaf flavor. For a very delicate flavor, you can infuse the custard and strain the leaves before putting it in the ice bath. For a more pronounced flavor, you can let it infuse overnight before straining. Or you can strain it somewhere in-between.