Saturday, December 15, 2007

Chai ice cream (as promised)

I've had chai ice cream on my to-do list for a while now and the sudden surfeit of honey from CSA week three was as good a reason as any to get around to it. This is going to be my last ice cream for a while; everyone's going to be swearing off rich desserts after the holidays, I figure. I've got enough egg whites accumulated for another angel food cake for January and then I've got a few ideas for my February return.

As usual, I poked around online to look over some recipes before deciding how I want to go about making a new dish. There are lots of recipes called chai ice cream, but I think they miss an essential chai-ness. If you're just adding spices to a basic ice cream base what makes it chai and not just spice ice cream? Of course, there are a wide range of chai recipes too so defining just what a chai ice cream should be is pretty tough.

I decided what I really wanted to emulate was a variety called cooked chai where the spices are boiled in water for up to forty-five minutes before milk is added. Some of these include black tea for the whole boiling time, but that seems a pretty bad idea if you don't want a nasty astringent flavor. Some also start with twice the amount of water wanted and then boil it down. So that's condensed water? It's more traditional than logical, but I decided to try it anyway. I figure that's going to give me full flavor extraction from the spices (for which I used the Masala mix from Theine tea salon). I started with two cups of water and four heaping teaspoons of spices. After it boiled down, I took it off the heat, let it cool slightly and then let an industrial sized teabag (a Luzianne brand mix designed for ice tea) steep for four minutes.

The final step to making chai would be to add a cup of warmed milk and copious amounts of sugar or honey. For the ice cream, I mixed a half cup of honey with three egg yolks to which I added the still warm brew to temper the eggs. Then, finally I added a cup of cream and a dash of salt. This went back on the heat to 170 degrees to cook the custard, then into a container to cool overnight.

The next day, into the churn it went. Not too surprisingly, it didn't really want to thicken up. I was hopeful the custard would help, but with the mix over half water (including all the water in the honey), there was bound to be trouble. I did manage to get it to milkshake thickness and I have my fingers crossed that ripening in the freezer will at least get it to soft-serve consistency. [I checked it a few hours later and it seems to have solidified a bit though it is still very soft and creamy. Not a bad thing really since it will be a nice texture straight out of the freezer instead of having to sit on the counter for five minutes.] The flavor, at least right out of the churn, was a good strong typical chai. I think there's a distinctive flavor chai gets from boiling off the aromatics in the cloves, cinnamon, etc.

How to solve the texture problem is a tricky question. Most infusions just replace the water with milk and then add the powdered version of the flavor to the milk instead. Plenty of powdered chai mix about so that's the simple solution, but those mixes never taste quite right to me. Maybe next time, I'll increase the cream to water ratio and then add some spices when I cool it overnight for a cold infusion. That might work.

I might post a picture of the final ripened ice cream later if anyone really needs to see a scoop of khaki-colored ice cream illustrated. And speaking of illustrations, I changed some settings on my phone's camera and I think I'm getting clearer pics now. It turns out I had to lower the resolution so a) the jolt when I hit the button caused less blurring, and b) there was less distortion when the pictures were shrunk to fit. So it's a technical thing and not a sudden increase in skill that's reducing your eyestrain, in case you were wondering.

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