Thyme Flower Ice Cream - glace aux fleurs de thym
There is something magical about herb flowers. Don't you agree? They are like a softer, more feminine, and altogether prettier version of the herbs themselves. It's a pity they are not used more often in the kitchen. That might perhaps be because they are not easy to come by, if you buy herbs at the store you probably wouldn't see the flowers. Most commercial growers - or even the more diligent of home gardeners - snip them right off as soon as they appear, to prevent the herbs going to seeds and die. But if you're one of the lucky ones with an herb pot or two growing by the window, or better yet a patch of herbs in your garden, try letting a few go to flower, you'll love the results. Rosemary flowers are great sprinkled over meat dishes, especially the ones cooked with the herb already. I love using cilantro flowers in salads, they work wherever I'd use regular cilantro leafs. And my current favorite, thyme flowers.
Most people think of thyme as a rather strong herb, suitable for something equally strong, like lamb chops. I beg to differ, use judiciously, thyme can be subtle and don't overpower more delicate dishes like fish or even -wait for it- ice cream. Yes, ice cream.
I'd take credit for coming up with this brilliant idea but, as Goethe purportedly said, there's nothing new under the sun. I remember having an ice cream made with thyme flowers in France years ago. I also remember tremendously enjoying the deliciously creamy, old-fashioned custard-based ice cream and being delighted by the unexpected and savory flavor of thyme in it.
So, when my thyme bloomed this year, I set out to replicate that ice cream.
I use a recipe for ice cream base that I adapted from one in David's tattered old notebook. I'm not sure even he knows where it came from anymore. It calls for cooking only half the amount cream, adding fresh cream at the very end just before churning. This is great if you could find superb quality cream, as it retains the fresh flavor of uncooked dairy. I especially love it when I have spare raw cream from making butter to use in the recipe. If you could find a source for raw cream, definitely use it.
Thyme flower ice cream - glace aux fleurs de thym
8oz whole milk
10 yolks (yes, ten, I don't eat ice cream on a diet)
about 10 sprigs of thyme flowers, rinsed and dried thoroughly
salt to taste
In a medium pot over low heat, bring the milk, cream, and half the amount of sugar to a simmer. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the rest of the sugar and the yolks until well blended. When the milk/cream/sugar mixture comes to a simmer, pour about half a cup's worth into the sugar/yolk, whisk again to incorporate, then pour the mixture from the bowl into the pot. Stir to blend and bring the mixture back to a simmer, stirring continuously. This last bit shouldn't take more than a minute. Remove the pot from the heat immediately. Add the thyme flowers into a clean, large bowl and pour the hot ice cream base over it. Add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt (more or less as you like it). Cover and let stand until completely cooled.
16oz cream (superb quality raw cream if you could find it)
When the custard base is ready, pour the second amount of cream (16oz, cold and direct from the fridge) over it, stir to mix. Cover and let rest in the fridge until it's cold before churning.
Strain the ice cream base into the bowl of your ice cream maker. Churn according to the manufacturer's directions. This recipe makes just over 1qt of ice cream.
P.S. Just before the ice cream finishes churning, I like to add a big pinch of fleur de sel, I like the crunch and the burst of flavor when you bite into a flake, and I love salt. This is, however, entirely optional.