Nothing heralds the coming of winter like the excuse it provides to stock up on festive, warming spices, and sprinkle them liberally into everything you cook, eat, and drink. There’s something so exotic and alchemical about rolls of tree bark and ugly little nuts that can release the flavours these do. One whiff of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg or allspice, and it seems as though the windows of the house burst open, and suddenly you’re on a galleon, drifting towards a spice island you can smell before you see, or bouncing on the back of a camel, caravaning through the dunes of a starry dessert. But then, some people claim that in the right quantities, nutmeg produces similar effects to ecstasy, so perhaps I’ve had a little too much.
Chai tea (properly called masala chai in India), which combines all the spice you could want a cold day with hot, sweet milk, is up there with the best of guilty winter pleasures. This recipe, from Elise Bauer at the excellent simplyrecipes.com takes all that’s great about chai tea, and puts it into a lusciously smooth ice cream. Freezing dulls the effect of the spices at first, but as the ice cream warms and melts in your mouth, the spices slowly burst into life and their flavour goes on and on. It’s certainly the best and most interesting ice cream I’ve ever made.
Here’s the recipe, slightly modified from the original at simplyrecipes, which I found didn’t set properly for me the first time, and was (hard to believe, I know) slightly too rich for me. For English readers, I’ve kept the American cup measurements, partly because I can’t be faffed to change them, and partly because I’m starting to think cup measurements are a brilliant idea, far simpler than the hassle of scales and grams and measuring jugs.
- 1 star anise star
- 10 whole cloves
- 10 whole allspice
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 10 whole white peppercorns
- 2 cardamom pods, opened to seeds
- 1/4 cup full-bodied black tea (Ceylon or English Breakfast)
- 1 1/2 cups of milk
- 1 1/2 cups heavy (double, in England) cream (divided, 1 cup and 1/2 cup)
- 3/4 cup sugar
- A pinch of salt
- 5 egg yolks
- Into a heavy saucepan put 1 cup of the milk, 1 cup of the cream and the chai spices – star anise, cloves, allspice, cinnamon sticks, white peppercorns, and cardamom pods, and a pinch of salt. Heat the mixture until steamy (not boiling) and hot to the touch. Lower the heat to warm, cover, and let stand for 1 hour.
- Reheat the mixture until steamy hot again (again not boiling), add the black tea leaves, remove from the heat, stir in the tea and let seep for 10 minutes. Use a fine mesh strainer to strain out the tea and spices, pouring the infused milk cream mixture into a separate bowl. Return the milk cream mixture back to the heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the sugar to the milk cream mixture and heat, stirring, until the sugar is fully dissolved.
- While the tea is infusing in step 2, prepare the remaining 1/2 cup of cream and 1/2 cup of milk over an ice bath. Pour the cream into a medium size metal bowl, set in ice water (with lots of ice) over a larger bowl. Set a mesh strainer on top of the bowls. Set aside.
- Whisk the egg yolks in a medium sized bowl. Slowly pour the heated milk cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly so that the egg yolks are tempered by the warm mixture, but not cooked by it. Scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.
- Return the saucepan to the stove, stirring the mixture constantly over medium heat with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spoon so that you can run your finger across the coating and have the coating not run. This can take about 10 minutes. The minute this happens the mixture should be removed from heat immediately, and poured through the sieve over the ice bath to stop the cooking (step 6).
- Pour the custard through the strainer (from step 2) and stir into the cold cream to stop the cooking.
- Once initially chilled in the ice bath, chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator (at least a couple of hours). Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Store in an airtight container in your freezer for several hours before eating. Note that the ice cream will be quite soft coming out of the ice cream maker. It will continue harden in your freezer. If stored for more than a day, you may need to let it sit for a few minutes to soften before attempting to scoop it.
I served this to my family on Christmas Eve, and it went down splendidly. Afterwards we discussed the issues of the day, and resolved all of them to our satisfaction.