This was Rami’s and my first married New Year’s Eve, and we spent most of it apart. He had a gig playing Beatles tunes with the Austin Symphony. I stayed home in my PJs and rediscovered PhotoShop. (We just got the newest version. It rocks.) By the time he got home around 11:00 we both kinda wanted to go to sleep. But that didn’t feel quite right, with it being our first married New Year’s Eve and all, so we made some small talk about resolutions. As midnight approached, we decided to make a toast. We don’t keep champagne on hand, so I pulled out the fanciest thing we had in our kitchen: this Masala Chai ice cream. We dished it up clinked our spoons together as the ball dropped.
The first bite of ice cream was like hot snow, and we both moaned when we tasted it. Sweet cream brushed up against spicy chai as the ice cream swept our tongues. Each spoonful had a velvet finish, with hints of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and black pepper. By the time we lapped up the last bit, New Year’s Eve finally felt like something special.
I can’t take credit for the magnetism of this dish. The chai is from Austin’ own Zhi Tea Gallery, and the recipe belongs to my sister-in-law, Fatima. Her cream steeping technique imbues the ice cream with deep flavor using fresh or dried herbs, and the final product is infinitely better tasting than an ice cream flavored artificially. The best part is, you can adapt this recipe for any kind of tea or fresh herb by adjusting the amount of herb and steeping time according to taste.
Finally, a happy coincidence: I just saw that today’s Austin Groupon is $20 for $40 worth of merchandise at Zhi Tea! Since Masala Chai from Zhi Tea is the standout ingredient here, I couldn’t resist. And with almost 100 different flavors available from Zhi, just imagine the crazy ice creams you could make!! Just the idea of Honeybush Rooibos and Vanilla Rose ice creams has my mouth watering.
Masala Chai Ice Cream (yields 1.5 quarts)
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 pinch salt
1/4 cup loose tea, Zhi Tea Masala Chai flavor
5 large egg yolks
Before you begin, you’ll need some specific equipment for this recipe: a mesh strainer, a saucepan, a whisk, a few spoons, a 1.5 quart ice cream maker, and a few bowls: one large metal mixing bowl which will sit in an ice bath (use a bigger bowl or the sink for this) and a small mixing bowl. A kitchen thermometer isn’t absolutely necessary, but it is useful.
1. In a medium pan, warm milk, sugar, one cup heavy cream, salt, and tea leaves. Stir occasionally. Once mixture is hot, about 150 degrees, remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 30 minutes to infuse chai flavor.
2. Set a large metal bowl over an ice bath (a bunch of ice in your sink or in a larger bowl.) Pour the reserved cup of heavy cream into the bowl and set the mesh strainer on top. If you haven’t already separated your egg yolks, do that now, and set them aside until step 4.
3. Once 30 minutes has passed, remove the tea leaves from the infused cream by pouring the mixture through a mesh strainer into a small bowl. Use the back of a spoon to press down on the tea leaves, squeezing out any remaining liquid, then discard the tea leaves. Return the infused cream mixture to the pan.
4. Rewarm the infused cream mixture over medium low heat. In a separate bowl (the one you strained the cream into before is fine) whisk together the egg yolks. Temper the egg yolks by ladling the warm, infused cream into the egg yolks a little bit at a time, whisking constantly, until the egg yolks are warm. Pour the warmed egg yolks into the pan with the rest of the infused cream.
5. Cook the custard, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens and coats the back of your spoon, or at about 170 degrees.
6. Immediately strain the custard into the big mixing bowl with the reserved cream. Stir together over the ice bath until cool. Transfer cooled custard to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Overnight is better.
7. Freeze the ice cream according to the directions that came with your ice cream maker. When ice cream has reached soft serve consistency, transfer it to an airtight container and freeze for a few hours before serving. I sampled this recipe at both the soft serve and completely frozen stage (just doing my duty here!) and the flavor is better developed after a few hours in the freezer.