I have had a thing for ice cream for as long as I can remember. The cool, smooth texture, melting as it meets the heat of your mouth. The happiness contained in that one complex, and yet simple bite. Its comfort food, and yet it can be incredibly sensual. I love imagining different ice cream flavours, and when I found the amazing Kashmir chili powder at O’Gourmet, my senses went into overdrive. What would happen, I wondered, if the cool of ice cream met the deep dusky heat of chili?
As it turns out, very very good things. I made a basic vanilla ice cream – heavy on the vanilla – and added the chili powder at the end. The interesting part for me is that when you first taste it, you dont really feel the heat of the chili. It seems subtle … nuanced … just a hint. The overarching flavour and scent, at first, is vanilla. And then, the chili wraps itself around your throat, your taste buds, and you get a flash of heat. Amazing. When people taste this ice cream, they mmmm at the flavour of the vanilla, and say they cannot taste the chili. Seconds later, their eyes light up, they smile, and they go ohhhhh. There it is!
And I was also inspired by a beautiful gift from my dearest Adi – cocoa nibs that she brought back from her journeying. Cocoa nibs are the bean of the cocoa plant, before its made into chocolate. Roasted, to bring out the oils and the flavour, and then crushed, the nibs have a deep, intense and complex chocolate flavour without any added sweetness. I added the nibs to the ice cream right at the end – to give texture, almost like a chocolate chip ice cream, and also because chocolate and chili are such lush and symbiotic bed mates.
Such an amazing contrast. And such a wonderful aphrodisiac. Capsaicin, the compound which gives chili its heat, is considered an aphrodisiac the world over. It stimulates our nerve endings, gives us a rush of endorphins and makes our pulse beat faster. Pretty sexy, I would say. And combining the chili with chocolate, another well known aphrodisiac, is like a partnership made in heaven. You could serve this ice cream unadorned, and it would be a revelation. Combined with hot fudge sauce and port pear chili jam, it becomes a sundae that over takes the sense, strokes the fires and makes people melt. It really is that good.
And to be honest, its preparation is pretty simple. You need to make it at least a day before serving, to allow the ice cream to ripen in the freezer. Get the absolute best quality chili powder you can find – and add it to the vanilla ice cream base carefully. Not all chili powders pack the same punch. Some are much more complex than others, and some have significantly more fire. In total, I added about 1 and a half tablespoons of chili powder, but you may need much more or much less. Add by the quarter teaspoon, and taste and adjust as you go. You will know its right when after the first flush of vanilla and cream have abated, your mouth is aflame with the heat of chili – for one brief, beautiful, blazing moment. And then, as it dissipates, you get that urge and you want it to start all over again 😉
Makes about 1 quart
- 3 cups milk / cream – I used 1 cup milk + 2 cups cream. You can certainly change the ratio, but the more cream you use, the smoother the finished product
- 2 vanilla beans or 2 tbsp vanilla essence or 2 tbsp vanilla paste
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup caster or light brown sugar
- 5 egg yolks (whites reserved for another use)
- 1 – 2 tbsp chili powder, added in increments of 1/4 tsp at a time – to your taste
- 2 – 3 tbsp cocoa nibs (optional, but wonderful)
Pour the milk / cream into a large saucepan. Split the vanilla beans, and scrape out the seeds into the milk / cream. Add the beans to the milk as well. Add the salt and half a cup of the sugar, and stir to combine.
Place the milk mixture on low heat, and bring to about 170F (77C). The mixture will start to steam. Stir to ensure all the sugar has been absorbed, and set aside.
Whisk together the egg yolks and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, until the yolks are thick and lemon coloured. When you lift the whisk, the yolks should form a ribbon.
Temper the yolks by pouring about 1/4 of the hot milk mixture into the yolks and whisk well. Pour the yolk/milk mixture back into the saucepan, and stir. Place back on low heat, and bring the mixture back up to 170F (77C), stirring all the while. The mixture should coat the back of a spoon.
Strain the custard through a fine sieve. Discard the vanilla beans (or wash and dry them, and pop them in a canister of sugar) and allow the custard to cool to room temperature.
Refrigerate the cooled custard for at least 1 – 2 hours.
Once the custard has cooled, begin to add the chili powder, 1/4 teaspoon at a time, whisking well after each addition. It helps to sieve the custard back and forth between two large bowls, as you add each 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder. This ensures that the chili powder really gets integrated into the vanilla custard, and allows you to taste its heat.
Once you have reached your optimum chili level, add the custard to an ice cream maker, and process according to the maker’s directions.
As soon as the ice cream has been processed, scoop it out into a container (it will be very soft, and you will need to work quickly), and fold in the cocoa nibs, if using. Sprinkle a few cocoa nibs on top, and freeze overnight to allow the ice cream to ripen.
Serve as is, or with hot fudge sauce and pear port chili jam for a wicked and decadent sundae.