Smoked Cardamom Ice Cream with Salty Honey Caramel Swirl
I make no secret of my love affair with cardamom. Whether it comes in the form of chai, cookies, granola, or cocktails, (or cake, or pancakes, or crumble…) I’m all over it. So when I learned that smoked cardamom was a thing, I thought my brain might explode.
But the other day as I packed some green cardamom pods into a bag in the bulk spices section, and I practically kicked myself when I noticed the gallon-sized jar of black cardamom pods sitting right next to their green brethren that I’ve been buying for the past ten years.
I felt like even more of a doofus when I learned that they’re also carried by Spicely, a local, organic spice company that I pretty much adore and is also stocked by our co-op.
Black cardamom pods come from a different plant than the green guys. They’re dried over an open flame, giving them an intensely smokey aroma that smells like my hair after an evening spent sitting by a campfire. I tucked the small paper bag of cardamom into the spice rack, and every time I walked by, I thought of camping. I also thought of ice cream. (But then, that’s not unusual.)
Black cardamom is usually used in savory dishes, such as rice, but I couldn’t stop
dreaming of a smokey, spiced ice cream swirled with gooey caramel. I mixed up the first batch with only black cardamom – 8 pods, gently cracked, steeped with cream and vanilla. This version was very smoky, a little too much for my taste, though Jay thought it was just right.
For batch number two, which turned out to be the final version, I decreased the black cardamom to six pods and added some ground cardamom. The seeds from the green pods have more gentle, aromatic notes, and I wanted some of that loveliness in there, too.
Since I like honey with cardamom, I added some to the caramel sauce. And since I like salt with caramel and smoke (and, well, everything), I stirred in some Maldon flakes.
I layered the churned ice cream with the caramel, which stays soft even when frozen and keeps the ice cream pliant straight from the freezer. I like the way the floral and slightly acidic notes of the honey rub up against the spice and smoke of the ice cream. It’s truly like nothing I’ve ever tasted.
Actually, that’s not entirely true; it reminds me a bit of some bacon ice cream I tried years ago – savory and sweet, a little earthy, and a surprise to the tastebuds.
Jay isn’t usually a big fan of ice cream, but he can’t get enough of this stuff. Maybe that’s because it’s smoky and therefore manly.
If you want to play up the smokey/savory factor, sprinkle scoops with flakes of smoked sea salt. For a dessert that’s more in touch with its feminine side, top bowls with a sprinkle of rosewater and some chopped pistachios. I bet this would be nice next to roasted pears or peaches, too.
I’m looking forward to playing around some more with this new-to-me ingredient, perhaps in a long-cooked stew, in rice pudding or other custards, or in a caramel-based confection like brittle or caramel corn. This morning, I made a take on my favorite masala chai, and I threw in some black cardamom and turmeric, which made a rich tea reminiscent of one from my favorite Indian restaurant in L.A. And I’m always looking for new ideas if any fellow cardamom-lovers out there feel like sharing. :)
Smoked Cardamom Ice Cream with Salty Honey Caramel Swirl
Look for black cardamom pods at well-stocked grocers or Indian markets, or order them from Spicely. If you prefer, you can use 1 cup whole milk and 1 1/2 cups heavy cream in place of the cream and half and half in the ice cream base. Begin this recipe early on the day you wish to serve it, or preferably 1-2 days ahead – ice cream base that gets to rest has a smoother consistency. To churn, I use the Kitchen Aid ice cream maker attachment; it’s inexpensive, uses the motor on any stand mixer, and stores in the freezer. For extra oomph, top the ice cream with some flakes of smoked sea salt; a sprinkle of rosewater and some chopped pistachios make a nice garnish, too.
I use the method that Cook’s Illustrated recommends for making caramel. Water goes into the pan first, with a little honey and lemon juice to help prevent crystallization, then the sugar is poured into the center of the pot, avoiding the sides of the pan. The caramel boils for a few minutes with the lid on, letting the steam wash down any sugar crystals that work their way up the sides. Do resist agitating the caramel beyond a gentle tilting of the pan, and keep a pastry brush and some water nearby to brush down any crystals that may try to creep up; if left to their own devices, they will form a matrix reminiscent of sludge. If this does happen, you can usually re-dissolve the sugar by adding more water and letting it do its thing again.
All ounce measurements are by weight.
Makes about 1 quart, 8 servings
For the ice cream:
1 cup half and half, plus another 1/2 cup (12 ounces / 350 mL)
6 black cardamom pods, cracked
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (the regular stuff, i.e., black seeds from green pods)
1/2 a vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
1 cup (8 ounces / 240 mL) heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (3.5 ounces / 100 grams) organic cane sugar
For the salty honey caramel (makes about 1 1/4 cups):
1/4 cup (2 ounces / 60 mL) water
1/4 cup (2.75 ounces / 80 grams) honey
1 teaspoon strained lemon juice
1/2 cup (3.5 ounces / 100 grams) sugar
1 tablespoon (.5 ounce / 15 grams) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (4 ounces / 120 grams) heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon flaky salt, such as Maldon (or a few pinches of sea or kosher salt)
Make the ice cream base:
In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the 1 cup half and half, black cardamom, ground cardamom, and vanilla pod and scrapings. Warm over a medium flame until hot and steamy, swirling the pan occasionally to prevent scorching. Cover and let steep 20-30 minutes. Re-warm the mixture until hot again.
Place the heavy cream the remaining 1/2 cup of the half and half in a large bowl, and place the strainer over the top. Set aside.
In a medium bowl set on a damp towel, whisk together the egg yolks, salt and sugar until combined. Whisking constantly, slowly pour the hot dairy into the yolk mixture. Pour the custard back into the pot, return the vanilla pod, and cook over a low flame, stirring constantly with a heat-proof silicone spatula, until the mixture begins to “stick” (form a film on) the bottom of the pot (you will have to tilt the pan to see this) or registers 170ºF on an instant-read thermometer, 3-5 minutes.
Immediately pour the custard through a strainer and into the bowl of cold dairy. (I rinse and dry my vanilla pods, and stick them in a jar of alcohol to make extract.) Cover and chill until very cold, at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, and up to 2 days.
Make the caramel:
Pour the cream into a small saucepan and heat over a medium flame until hot and steamy, swirling the pan occasionally. Cover to keep warm.
Meanwhile, pour the water into a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the honey and lemon juice, then carefully pour the sugar into the center of the pan. If any sugar crystals stick to the sides of the pan, brush them down into the water with moistened fingers. Cover the pot with a lid and, without disturbing the pan, cook over a medium flame until the sugar is dissolved, about three minutes (the steam will wash down any wayward sugar crystals). Remove the lid and continue to boil, without stirring, until the mixture turns a deep amber, gently tilting the pan to encourage even caramelization, brushing down the sides of the pan with a damp pastry brush if you see any pesky sugar crystals forming on them. This will only take a few minutes; watch the pot carefully toward the end, and reduce the heat to low if you’re nervous.
When the mixture turns a dark amber (if the mixture is bubbly, you may need to place a drop of caramel on a white, heat-proof plate to check), immediately swirl in the butter, then gently and slowly whisk in the cream. Return the pot to a low flame and whisk gently to dissolve any hardened caramel that may be hanging out on the bottom or corners of the pan. Strain the caramel into a heat-proof bowl, and let stand, stirring occasionally, until cooled and thickened slightly. Stir in the flaky salt, crushing any extra-large bits between your fingers.
Store the caramel in an airtight jar. It will keep at room temperature for up to a day, or chilled for up to a month.
Finish your creation:
Place the ice cream base in the freezer for 30 minutes to get it really cold, stirring it every 10 minutes. Place an 8×4″ or 9×5″ loaf pan in the freezer. Have the caramel at a drizzle-able room temperature. Churn the ice cream in an ice cream maker until it is the consistency of soft-serve. Working quickly, spread 1/3 of the ice cream in the bottom of the frozen loaf pan. Drizzle with 1/4 of the caramel. Repeat until you’ve used up all the ice cream and most of the caramel. Drag a toothpick or skewer back and forth through the top layer of caramel to give it a pretty swirl.
Freeze the ice cream for one hour, then press a piece of plastic wrap onto the top of the ice cream and continue freezing until firm, 2-4 hours, or up to several weeks.