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I sort of made this ice cream on a dare. Fennel pollen ice cream with caraway was an experiment that went really well. If you’re a fennel pollen fan, please make this. You can leave out the caraway, but it’s a fun counterpoint to the fennel!
Don’t miss the round up of all my ice cream recipes.
About three years ago, I took part in a Spice Chat on twitter all about caraway seeds. As part of the chat, someone shared flavors that pair well with caraway, and the one that struck me was fennel. My brain immediately went to “fennel pollen-caraway ice cream.” Some of the others in the chat thought that it sounded delicious, and I tucked the idea away on a shelf until I had time–and an ice cream maker–to play with it.
Since I finally got a new ice cream maker in order to participate in the Scoop Adventures blog tour (enter to win a copy of the book by April 10!), the time had come to put my idea to the test. But what base to use? My go-to is usually the base that I made at the restaurant: rich custard base, but since I’ve been reading about starch-based ice cream bases, I decided to modify my standard base so I could use some corn starch in the mix. By simply cutting back on the egg yolks a bit and introducing a starch thickener, I ended up with a rich, creamy base about the consistency of crème Anglaise.
While some might think using yolks and corn starch might yield a too-rich base, I knew I wanted to have the extra fat from the yolks to help carry the fennel pollen flavor. Since caraway is so pungent and earthy, I decided to try and cut that a bit by encasing the strongly-flavored seeds in sheets of caramel. This turned out to be a great idea (yay) on a couple of levels. First, extra caramel sheets worked beautifully as a garnish for the ice cream. Second, the caramel folded into the ice cream sort of melts into the base providing a sweet-bitter counterpoint to the floral fennel pollen that I found quite lovely.
If you’ve never had fennel pollen before, to me it smells like a cross between sweet, anise-y fennel and mild, almost butterscotchy curry powder. The flavor is complex, floral and buttery.
A couple of things to note about this ice cream. It is very rich, so eating a small scoop is plenty. If you wanted to make it slightly less rich, you could certainly cut back on the yolks or even leave them out entirely. This ice cream is best eaten 2-3 days after churning. Press plastic wrap right down on the surface of the freshly churned base before storing in the freezer to ripen, and allow time to melt the shards of caramel into sticky, amber pools. Spending time in the freezer also allows the flavor of the caraway to marry more completely with the fennel pollen. I found the flavor to be good straight out of the churn, but it was definitely more harmonious after a couple of days.
If you are not a fan of caraway, or you don’t want the crunch, you can either leave it out entirely (although I’d recommend making some caraway sheets for garnish because they’re so pretty) or steep the seeds in the base right along with the fennel pollen before straining and churning.
For the Base
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 cup (8 oz) whole milk
- 1 cup (8 oz) heavy cream
- 1 Tablespoon corn starch
- 8.5 oz (about 1 1/4 cups) granulated sugar
- heavy pinch of fine sea salt, (about 1/4 teaspoon)
- 3/4 oz light corn syrup, (about 1 Tablespoon)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon fennel pollen
For the Caraway Caramel
- 2 oz (about 1/4 cup) granulated sugar
- tiny pinch of fine sea salt
- 2 Tablespoons water
- 1 Tablespoon whole caraway seeds
For the Base
- In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the yolks, milk, first quantity of cream, corn starch, vanilla and salt together.
- Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly.
- Once it reaches a boil, let boil, still whisking, for about fifteen seconds.
- Strain the base into a large metal bowl set in an ice bath.
- Add the vanilla, the second quantity of cream and the fennel pollen.
- Stir occasionally until cold, and then cover and refrigerate overnight.
For the Caraway Caramel
- In a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat (I used a small cast iron skillet), melt the sugar together with the water and the salt.
- Once it comes to a boil (this won't take long), add the caraway seeds and stir occasionally until the sugar is light amber in color.
- Pour onto a Silpat and spread in a thin layer with an offset spatula that you have sprayed with pan spray.
- Let cool completely.
- Break some of this caramel up into small pieces. You'll only need about 1-2 Tablespoons of small pieces. Leave the rest in larger pieces for garnish.
- Strain the fennel pollen base through a fine mesh strainer.
- Churn the mixture according to manufacturer's instructions until it reaches the consistency of soft serve ice cream.
- Fold in the small pieces of caraway caramel so they are evenly dispersed.
- Pack into a container and press plastic wrap down onto the surface of the ice cream.
- Cover the container and let ripen in the freezer for at least four hours. As mentioned in the post, for best flavor, I recommend letting it sit for a couple of days.
- Let the ice cream sit at room temper for 10-15 minutes before scooping. Serve each scoop with a shard of reserved caraway caramel as a garnish.
You'll notice this recipe doesn't call for tempering the eggs. The starch makes that step unnecessary, but if you are more comfortable tempering, whisk the yolks and the corn starch together in a bowl, drizzle in about half of the very hot cream mixture, whisking constantly, before whisking the yolk and starch mixture back into the pot. Allow it to come back to a boil for fifteen seconds, whisking constantly, before straining into a bowl set in an ice bath.
On a scale of 1-10 of adventurous ice cream flavors, I think I’d give this fennel pollen-caraway ice cream about an 8. If you’re feeling adventurous and you like the flavors, I encourage you to make this. The Beloved and I are both fans, and I hope you will be as well.
Thanks so much for spending some time here today. Have a lovely day.