When we think about making ice cream — trust me, a couple of weeks from now the idea will occur to you again — we think of fresh fruit. Understandably. Fresh is good, and hardly anything beats homemade peach ice cream.
But the fruits you want aren’t always in season. Sometimes nothing worth making ice cream is in season. Don’t tell me how great apple ice cream is, pally, because I just won’t believe you.
Meanwhile, there are some flavorings available all year long. I refer to spices.
Before you object, ask yourself what vanilla is. And remember that some of the first ice cream recipes were flavored with spices. Most have been forgotten, though you sometimes run into candied ginger ice cream, which is certainly excellent — you add minced candied ginger to the custard base while you’re cooking it.
Just the right cinnamon for ice cream
I want to speak for cinnamon ice cream, or, more exactly, ice cream flavored with Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), sometimes known in this country as Mexican cinnamon. The usual American cinnamon (Cinnamomum aromaticum) is much more pungent and it’s wonderful for many uses, but Ceylon cinnamon has a more complex aroma — along with the cinnamon flavor, it contains a little eugenol, the aromatic element of cloves (maybe this is why American pie recipes often add a dash of cloves along with cinnamon).
Some people make cinnamon ice cream even more complex by adding other flavors. In “The Book of Ices” (1885), the famous Victorian ice cream maker Mrs. A.B. Marshall threw in a bay leaf and the peel of half a lemon.
The first time I made this ice cream, it was to go with an 18th-century French pastry called petits puits d’amour — disks of puff pastry cut with a cookie cutter so you can fill them with apricot jam. I wanted to have ice cream with them, but vanilla seemed … plain. Fresh apricot ice cream would have been wonderful if fully ripe apricots were available, which they scarcely ever are, even in apricot season.
Cinnamon, now that was the ticket.
The basic recipe for Fromage Glace a la Cannelle is adapted from “L’Art du Distillateur et Marchand des Liqueurs” (1779) by a cafe owner named Dubuisson (first name unknown), as discussed by Elizabeth David in “The Harvest of the Cold Months” (Viking, 1994). It’s an ice cream made with a custard base, essentially a creme Anglaise, except that it’s made with full cream, so it’s pretty rich. In the 18th century, the French referred to ice cream as “frozen cheese” to distinguish it from frozen flavored ice. If using regular American cinnamon, reduce the amount to ⅜ teaspoon and throw in the tiniest of pinches of ground cloves.
Fromage Glace a la Cannelle
- Put the yolks and sugar in a mixer and beat until it “forms the ribbon” — that is, the sugar is dissolved and the mixture has thickened enough that when you raise the beaters, the mixture draining off the beaters forms a ribbon on the surface that persists for a couple of seconds.
- Mix in the cream and add the cinnamon stick.
- Transfer to a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens. The sign that it’s done is that when you lift your spoon after stirring around the pan, the mixture doesn’t keep moving but comes to an almost instantaneous stop.
- Remove from the heat and fish out the cinnamon stick. (If using ground cinnamon, take ¼ cup of the custard base from the pan and put it in a bowl. Whisk in the cinnamon until completely dissolved and stir back into the custard base. This step is necessary because Ceylon cinnamon resists dissolving. Add more if you want — remember that the base should be strongly flavored because freezing muffles flavors. If you used a cinnamon stick and find you want a stronger flavor, you can add ground cinnamon this same way.)
- Allow the base to come to room temperature and freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.
Zester Daily contributor Charles Perry is a former rock ‘n’ roll journalist turned food historian who worked for the Los Angeles Times’ award-winning Food section, where he twice was a finalist for the James Beard award.
Photo at top: Cinnamon ice cream. Credit: Charles Perry