Horchata, a mexican rice milk flavored with cinnamon, can be the perfect beverage for putting out the fire in your mouth while you put away a spicy taco or chile relleno. Imagine those sweet, delicate flavors conveyed in a buttery soft scoop of ice cream, and you’ll know what’s currently taunting me in my freezer.
With the amount of mexican food that the doc and I consume, it’s a shame there aren’t more taquerias using local, organic ingredients. We try to do most of our cooking at home, bojon style, but in a pinch nothing beats a seven-dollar veggie taco platillo from El Metate, brimming with sauteed carrots, broccoli, cabbage, salsa, crema, queso fresco, guacamole, rice, beans, lettuce and escabeche. I’ve been meaning to tackle horchata for a while now, made with happy ingredients, but have yet to find a reputable recipe. I made a batch of coconut milk horchata a couple years ago, from a recipe clipped from a magazine, and found it quite satisfactory. But when I gave a sample to a mexican friend, he balked at the flavor of ‘raw rice.’ When I tried to wrangle a recipe from him, all he would divulge was the toasting of the rice in a skillet. I recently asked another co-worker, who knows everything about the cuisine of his culture, how to make the stuff; he only shook his head, saying it was ‘muy complicado’.
So while I still have yet to make bona fide horchata, which I know little about, I decided to make something I know a lot about instead: ice cream. Contrary to what you may think, ice cream is one of the easiest desserts to make. You know how people get all crazy about making things they think are hard? Pie dough, bread, creme brulee, chocolate mousse; all of these things have their tricks, but when it comes right down to it, the processes and ingredients are all quite simple. It’s like how a handful of obnoxious people travel to Paris and act like doofuses, then they come back here and spread rampant rumors about how the French are snooty and rude. Stop freaking everyone out ’cause of your own dumb mistakes, people!
For this recipe, the rice gets toasted in a skillet until golden, then steeped in milk with a cinnamon stick. The whole deal gets cooked with sugar and egg yolks, mixed with heavy cream, strained, chilled, and spun into ice cream. The whole process takes a bit of time what with all the steeping and chilling, but the active time for the whole recipe is minimal – maybe half an hour, tops.
I am fascinated by ice creams and custards which, though frozen, taste of warming flavors. The toasty rice and spicy cinnamon in this ice cream accomplish just that, making it welcome on either a hot summer day or chilly winter night. As an added bonus, the rice starch, which leaches into the custard base, works as would gums or stabilizers in commercial ice creams, or cornstarch in gelato, lending a voluptuous mouthfeel and making the cream soft and pliable right from the freezer.
This ice cream is delicious served on its own, with a bit of cinnamon grated over the top, especially after a hot and spicy meal. You could also use it to top an apple pie or tart, along with a drizzle of cajeta. Or serve with some ripe berries, sliced peaches or poached apricots in the spring or summer.
Horchata Ice Cream
Makes about 3 cups, or 6 servings
Start this recipe at least a day before you want to serve it. Ice cream base should be chilled for at least 4 hours before churning, but chilling it overnight will yield a smoother, creamier texture and improved flavor. The ice cream needs to ‘cure’ in the freezer for a few hours after churning, too, unless you’d rather put the ice cream maker on the table, with spoons, and let your guests eat out of it like pigs feeding from a trough.
1 cup whole milk
1/3 cup medium or long grain white rice
3″ cinnamon stick, plus an extra one for grating over the finished ice cream (optional)
4 or 5 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup heavy cream
In a dry, medium saucepan, toast the rice and cinnamon stick over medium heat until the rice is fragrant and barely golden, 1 – 2 minutes. Pour in the milk and heat until small bubbles appear around the sides of the pan, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, cover and steep for 30 minutes, or whenever you are ready to get on with the rest.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the yolks, sugar, cinnamon and salt to combine. Pour the cream into a quart sized mason jar or metal bowl and set a fine mesh strainer over the top. Reheat the ricey milk until the small bubbles appear again, then slowly pour into the yolks, whisking constantly. Pour the whole deal back into the pan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or heatproof rubber spatula, until the mixture just starts to thicken on the bottom of the pan (170º). Immediately strain into the cold cream, stirring to combine.
Refrigerate the ice cream base for at least four hours or up to a couple days. Spin in an ice cream maker until the ice cream reaches the consistency of a very thick milk shake. ‘Cure’ in the freezer for an hour or two to firm to a scoopable consistency. Grate a bit of cinnamon stick over the ice cream to serve, if desired.