Things have been quiet around here, but I've been in a groove lately and really focused...on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's. Topics none of you could possibly be interested in at this time. However, for me, it's that time of year when the holiday assignments start to swirl, and it's in my best interest to get into a warm and cozy mood.
But after a fruitful couple of weeks, firmly ensconced in holiday spirit, I'm ready to indulge in a little reminder of summer - like this peach leaf ice cream. In the spring I discovered fig leaf ice cream and I'm more and more intrigued by the concept of using leaves instead of fruit. Who knew that the inside of a peach leaf smells exactly like bitter almond and readily imparts its flavor to any custard based dessert? Well, obviously someone knew, but I didn't!
This ice cream is as easy to make as any other ice cream and the infusion is quick. In fact, steep the leaves too long and the bitter part of the almond flavor will take over. Something I should mention - perception of bitterness is subjective, determined by the number of taste buds you're born with. My husband and I once took a chemical test to determine our sensitivity to bitterness. He was a non-taster, meaning he can handle the most bitterness, and I was a super taster, meaning that I'm very sensitive to bitterness (which is probably why I need a little sugar in my coffee to take the edge off). So when you're steeping the leaves, start testing the custard base at about 9 minutes and test every minute, up to about 15 minutes. More than that is probably too long (mine was ready at 11 minutes), though I have found recipes that specify 20-25 minutes. Again, it's all about personal taste. You want to get right to the edge of the bitterness, without it overtaking the almond flavor. Other than that, it's a pretty basic recipe.
Of course you have to find peach leaves if you don't have a peach tree available to you. If you frequent a farmer's market, ask a peach vendor if they'll bring some young, fresh leaves for you next time they're at the market. You'll need 10-12 per batch of ice cream.
What to eat it with? I like to eat it by itself, but I have a feeling it would be an amazing accompaniment to a peach crisp! You can also try it with a peach compote, fresh berries, or a nectarine upside down cake.
Peach Leaf Ice Cream
adapted from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup 2% milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
10-12 fresh peach leaves (unsprayed or organic), rinsed and patted dry
5 large yolks
1. Infuse the Milk/Cream:
In a heavy nonreactive saucepan, stir together the cream, milk, 1/4 cup sugar, and the salt. Put the pan over medium-high heat. Gently make tears along the edges of the leaf to help release the flavor and add them to the pan. When the mixture just begins to bubble around the edges, remove from the heat and cover the pan. Steep the leaves for 9-15 minutes, or until you detect a mellow bitter almond flavor. (Taste it to monitor the progress; the mixture will become bitter if oversteeped.) Remove the leaves and cover the cream mixture.
2. Make the base:
In a heatproof bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolks to break them up, then whisk in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Set aside.
Uncover the cream mixture and put the pan over medium-high heat. When the mixture approaches a bare simmer, reduce the heat to medium.
Remove about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture (a ladle is helpful), and, whisking the yolks constantly, slowly and steadily pour the cream into the bowl with the egg mixture. Using a heatproof rubber spatula, stir the cream in the saucepan as you slowly pour the egg-and-cream mixture from the bowl into the pan.
Cook the mixture carefully over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it is thickened, coats the back of a spatula, and holds a clear path when you run your finger across the spatula, 1 to 2 minutes longer.
Strain the base through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean container. Set the container into an ice-water bath, stirring occasionally until it is cool. Remover from the ice-water bath, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate the base for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Freeze in your ice cream machine according to manufacturer's instructions. Transfer to a chilled container and freeze for at least 4 hours to firm it up.