Jalapeño Ice Cream

A few weeks ago, my friend Rose e-mailed me with an unusual request. She wanted to know if I could help her track down jalapeño ice cream here in the city. "Or," she added, "perhaps you know how to make it?"

"I have no idea where to buy it," I told her, "but I can definitely figure out how to make it." Even as I typed, I was envisioning little green jalapeños steeping and bobbing in a saucer of cream.

The idea of a jalapeño-flavored ice cream might seem a bit odd on paper, but if you think about it for a bit, the idea starts to make sense. Anyone who has ever taken a bite of anything a bit too spicy will know that the most commonly offered remedies are dairy products: a glass of milk ordered at the Mexican restaurant, the dollop of sour cream on a bowl of chili, or a ramekin filled with blue cheese dressing planted in the center of the buffalo wing platter. Serious cooks (or trivia fanatics) may also know that a spoonful of sugar or a drizzle of honey is a smart way to quell the culinary flames brought on by a loose top on the cayenne spice jar.

Taking these factors into consideration, the idea of a cool and creamy ice cream laced with the grassy heat of jalapeño peppers really seems quite fascinating!

Like with most recipes, I decided to look back into my archives to see what's worked in the past. Custard ice creams, rich with copious egg yolks, are popular, but of all the frozen treats I've ever made, my favorite is still the Lebanese milk ice cream which uses cornstarch in it's base.

Essentially a frozen pudding, the texture is thick and velvet-like and it scoops beautifully. And because there are no yolks in the batter, the flavor of the ice cream really has a chance to shine through sans competition. The kicker is that it's quick, and virtually fool-proof--a bonus for those of you who have had trouble with custards breaking or curdling.

For flavorings, I used 3 jalapeños, one vanilla bean (I buy them inexpensively in bulk from this online shop), and a 1/4 cup of molasses; the latter which brought out the naturally earthy and muddy tones of the jalapeño in a way that I never expected.

Honestly, it was the addition of molasses which made me fall in love with this recipe and what has me craving another bite as I type this. Unfortunately, i don't have any ice cream left in my freezer. I packed up the entire batch I made, surrounded it with ice packs, and handed it off to Rose and her boyfriend Mike who made the trip here expressly to pick it up.

And the reason for the request? It was their anniversary, and Rose wanted to surprise her guy with this treat, which had caught his eye in a magazine ages ago.

I think it goes without saying that this ice cream is an acquired taste. As Rose described it to me in her e-mail the next day, "It was really interesting and complex - starting off on one note, and ending on another (hot!) one! It was like mind-trick ice cream, because it felt so cool but tasted so hot."

If the above appeals to you. If you're into spicy cocktails and keep a bottle of hot sauce at your desk (I always do!), well then I say go, run, make it now and tell me what you think!

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Jalapeño Ice Cream

Makes about 6 1/2 cup servings
This egg less ice cream uses cornstarch to form a creamy, almost velvet-like base. Depending on how spicy you would like it, you can adjust the number of jalapenos in this recipe. Don’t skip the molasses because that brings out the earthy tones of the jalapeño (trust me on this!)

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 fresh jalapeño peppers, split in half
1 vanilla bean, split in half
1/4 cup molasses
3 tablespoons cornstarch
A few drops green food coloring (optional)

Combine the heavy cream, whole milk, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Add the molasses, jalapeños, and vanilla bean. Place over medium heat and heat just until bubbles start to form (it happens quickly so stay with it), stirring to dissolve the molasses and sugar. Remove from heat, cover, and let cool to room temperature.

Once the cream mixture has cooled, use a sieve to strain out the jalapeños (and any accompanying seeds) and vanilla beans, and return the strained cream mixture to a saucepan. Use a measuring cup to scoop out about 1/2 cup of this mixture (doesn't have to be exact) into a separate bowl or cup and whisk in the 3 tablespoons of cornstarch to form a slurry. Pour the cornstarch slurry back in with the rest of the cream and return to the stove.

[If a green tint is desired (totally optional!), this is the time to whisk in a few drops of green food color.]

Over medium heat, cook the cream mixture while stirring constantly in one direction until the mixture thickens. Continue to let it cook for an additional few minutes, tasting it occasionally until you can no longer detect the taste of cornstarch. Once the starch is completely cooked and the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, turn off the heat.

Pour the mixture into a large bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface (this will help prevent a skin from forming on it while it cools). Chill in your refrigerator for 3-4 hours until completely cool (you can make this up to 24 hours in advance).

Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Once it's the consistency of soft-serve, pour into an air-tight and freezer proof container and freeze for at least 4 hours (again, overnight is also OK) before serving.

The ice cream will keep in a sealed container in your freezer for up to 2 weeks.

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