Step by step images to accompany this recipe can be found at
I could forgive you for thinking that I am burdened with an unhealthy fascination for all things ice cream. Really I could. Running a quick count through my write-ups, it seems that I have added something in the order of 14 iced confection recipes to the database... and this one rounds it out to an even fifteen. On these stats alone, I can plainly see why you would assume that I'm an incorrigible ice cream nut. Strangely enough, my appetite for ice creams is nothing remarkable... tell you the God's honest? I would normally prefer a glass of good sticky dessert wine over ice cream to finish a meal any day.
So what is the impetus behind this ice cream fascination that they take close to a 5% share of my overall write ups? Well, of late I can lay the blame squarely with my boss who seems to have gone more than a little ice cream mad himself. He owns the joint, so he is well within his rights to bring a swag of ingredients in and ask me to ice creamify them - which he has been doing quite often of late. Think of it as your own 33 Flavours without a menu, but simply your imagination dictating the choice. Gladly, this has been testing my patience for only a short while, so it can't be counted as the main factor behind my ongoing iced obsession. In essence, I think it is the simple, satisfying alchemy that contrasts keenly against the devilishly slippery goal of perfection that drives me to keep churning this stuff that I have no appetite for. Let me elaborate here a tad.
Once you have yourself an ice cream machine to play with, it won't take you long to realise that good, and I mean really good ice cream is well within your grasp. You will have to drive a long, long way to beat a basic, slap-up vanilla ice cream that you churned yourself. This is where an aspiring iced confectioner can get a little cocky. Hell - the vanilla worked a treat you say to yourself... what about something more exotic? Say... pomegranate and Campari? This is where a sap like myself can get addicted. What is the best way to imbue the pomegranate flavour? Will the acidity in the fruit curdle the cream? How much Campari can I add before the alcohol affects the freezing point, resulting in a too-soft ice cream? These variables start to pile up and with each, the amount of possible outcomes increases exponentially. If you manage to nail it, the final result can be a magical, lust-worthy treat that boldly displays the following characteristics: It will taste predominantly of the major ingredients, and if these have a strong colour, they will be reflected in the final hue. It will set firmly, and scoop smoothly within 5 minutes of removal from the freezer. It will have a luscious mouth feel that depending on the ingredients will either be satiny smooth, or bracingly sharp - and this texture will be achieved not simply with the addition of extra sugars to soften, but via a careful alchemy between the amount of fats, the density of sugars and the stage any protein ingredients are cooked out to. See how a fool like me with too few hobbies can become obsessed?
The single overriding quality however, that will let you know you have struck pay dirt with your ice cream is an elusive element I like to call the M Factor. The M Factor comes into play when your lucky ice cream tasters let out a long, slow, sinful "M", followed with several more - as in; "Mmmmmm..". When all the above elements come into play, the "Mmmmm's" will come thick 'n fast, because there is nothing quite so hedonistically satisfying as the perfect ice cream. Being brutally honest with myself, I have only hit this high note a few times. Once it was with a pineapple and black sambucca sorbet that Jesus... still leaves me weak at the knees to think about. Another was with this one - Fig, Cinnamon and Pistachio Ice Cream.
A few years back, I read an article in the food supplement to my town's daily broadsheet. In it, the author lovingly details a fabulous sounding ice cream she tried while travelling in the Middle East. She had the recipe, but the copyright was beholden to its creator - so she included her email address along with an offer to send the recipe individually to anyone interested. I only had to read the title once to know that I was in. Fig, Olive Oil and Pistachio Ice Cream. It all sounded so exotic and evocative of the Mediterranean. And the inclusion of olive oil in an ice cream had me genuinely intrigued. I received the recipe in my inbox, printed it, and as is my usual modus operandi - promptly lost it. Move forward several years to 2005 - I was recently cleaning out one of my recipe boxes, when I came across, then made this forgotten gem. Things looked very promising after the stage of cooking the custard. A portion of milk had been replaced with olive oil which left an indelible richness and velvety mouth feel. The flavours were a knockout, and irresistibly addictive - vanilla, lemon and cinnamon all in perfect balance.
I should have trusted my instincts. Some of you may be thinking "Hell.. won't olive oil end up icky when frozen?", and you'd be goddamn spot on. What a shame too, because the flavours were just so blindingly wonderful. I decided to reverse engineer as they say, and paint the same flavours onto an entirely new canvas. Ready? Pass the scoop.
Makes 750 ml (1 1 /2 pints)
Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthways and scrape the seeds into a heavy-based saucepan. Follow the seeds with the bean itself, the 2 cinnamon quills, the lemon peel and the milk. Place over the absolute minimum heat you can manage. If you see the milk coming to a simmer in less than 20 minutes, then aim for a gentler heat, even if you have to set the pot to one side of the heat source. The longer and slower you can manage to infuse the milk without letting it boil the better. I managed to infuse for 60 minutes before moving on with the recipe.
Meanwhile, bring 250 ml (1 cup) of water to near boiling. Place the figs in a heatproof bowl and pour on the hot water. Allow the figs to soak and soften while the milk infuses.
Heat your oven to 180 °C (360 °F). Place the nuts on a baking sheet, spread out evenly in one layer and toast for 10 minutes til they have a gently bronze tint to their exterior. Remove from the oven and cool slightly, then using a sharp knife, cut into rough chunks somewhere in the vicinity of half your pinky nail in size. This is only a guide. As long as there are no whole nuts, and as long as you don't mince them, all will work out splendidly.
Place the yolks, lemon juice, sugar and ground cinnamon into a large bowl and whisk well to combine (See photo Step 1). For the best results, take a few cinnamon quills and grind them yourself in a spice grinder (See photo Step 2), being sure to sieve the cinnamon before measuring and using. Of course, packaged ground cinnamon will work as well - just be sure to use the freshest you can find. Pour the hot milk though a fine strainer directly onto the yolks, and whisk immediately to prevent the eggs from turning lumpy. Rinse out the saucepan, then pour the milk mix back and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture has thickened like a custard. A good indicator is to lift your spoon out and run a finger through the custard. If a distinct line is left behind, it is cooked enough (See photo Step 3). Remove from the heat, then pour on the cold cream. Strain again into a clean container and refrigerate til cool.
Drain the figs, then cut into small chunks similar in size to the pistachios. Mix together and set aside. When the custard is cool, churn in an ice cream machine until almost set. Add the figs and nuts, letting the churner mix them all thoroughly (See photo Step 4). Churn for another 3 or 4 minutes, then spoon out into a clean container. Cover and place in the freezer for 6 hours or overnight before serving.