I first experienced bay ice cream many years ago on the only occasion I was ever invited to the British embassy in Rome for lunch. I can’t for the life of me remember why I was invited to the embassy for lunch. In fact, the only thing that sticks in my memory – apart from the revelation that all the electrical sockets in the Rome embassy are of the silly lumpy Brit variety, rather than the more sensible slim-line Euro-sockets – is the bay ice cream. Why it suddenly occurred to me today to try to recreate the ice cream is anybody’s guess… though noticing as I passed that the standard bay tree in the herb garden is full of funny little flowers and brilliant green new leaves may have had something to do with it.
The embassy version was a lovely deep limey green. Mine is rich vanilla colour, which makes me think that perhaps my model had food colouring in it. Cheating!
Very pungent, very grown-up, bay ice cream tastes almost like something that might go with savoury dishes. But I prefer it for dessert when it’s a fine palate-cleanser with a very particular kick.
Bay leaves – 15
Milk – 800 ml
Sugar – 2 tbsp
Honey – 2 tbsp
Eggs – 3 yolks
Chop or rip the bay leaves into smallish pieces and put them in a saucepan with the milk. (I use semi-skimmed milk, which makes a sufficiently rich ice cream for my tastes, though you may prefer whole milk or even a blend of milk and cream for something even creamier.) Bring it almost to the boil then turn the heat down as low as possible and leave it simmering for 15 minutes or so. Cover the pot and leave the leaves to steep for a couple of hours or more.
You’ll make the flavour stronger if you let the liquid cool, then heat it up again; let it cool and heat it up again. The longer you leave it, the stronger the bay flavour will be.
Separate the eggs, dropping the yolks into a large-ish bowl. Add the sugar and honey to the yolks, and whisk them well.
When the milk is thoroughly flavoured, heat it up again to somewhere just short of boiling. Now pour it gradually through a strainer into the egg, and whisk the mixture as you do so. This is the base for your custard. When you’ve whisked it all together well, pour the mixture back into the saucepan and put it on a low heat.
This is the point where you are likely to find everything going pear-shaped: custard made like this tends to separate and curdle in a most disheartening way. But the more slowly you bring it back to an almost-boil, and the more assiduously you alternate stirring and whisking of the mix as it heats, the less likely it is to turn into a nasty-looking mess. And take heart: if the worse comes to the worse, a good, hard, off-the-heat whisk will bring it all back together again.
When you have a mediumly-thick custard, plunge your saucepan into a bowl of cold water to bring the temperature down. You might like to change the water from time to time to speed things up.
When it’s cool, you can pour your custard into an ice cream maker. (If you don’t have one, there are hand-making instructions here.)
© Anne Hanley, 2014