Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Fennel Blossom and Lemon Balm Ice Cream with Absinthe

Tucked into a corner of my vegetable garden you will find fennel and lemon balm growing in perfect harmony.

See them back there at the far end of the greenhouse?  Nice, huh?
Not long ago I was out picking the peas that reside next to this duo when the combined perfumes of the blooming fennel and sun-warmed lemon balm gave me a notion; I plucked a fennel blossom and chewed on it while holding a crushed lemon balm leaf to my nose.  Okay!  That works.

Tanna, this is for you!
Biting into tiny buds of fennel is like tasting sweetly floral licorice, one with which the lemon astringency of the balm plays nicely.  Ice cream was already a no brainer, I just had to find something to give it a little boost - you know, out of the garden so to speak.

Absinthe or, in its absence, Pernod (which you can buy in tiny bottles for just this occasion), - but really I don't want you to run out and buy absinthe for all of the several teaspoons you will use in this recipe, unless you really need to replenish your absinthe and if so, then go right ahead - was the kicker-upper I needed.

Ahhh, icy cold herbal perfume with a touch of hooch (thank you, Miles!).

Herewith is my notion:
Fennel Blossom and Lemon Balm Ice Cream with Absinthe

Using sharp kitchen scissors, snip the flower buds from their tiny stems.
Do this over a bowl as the buds tend to fly around when released.

Gently bruise the lemon balm leaves just before steeping them in the milk.

While the buds and balm are steeping, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and salt.

Strain the milk through a double-mesh sieve,
push on the herbs with the back of a spoon to extract all the flavors.

Mmmmm. Absinthe. But just a touch. (Thank you, Miles!!)

Eggs from my sweet hens have deep orange yolks.

Fennel Blossom, Lemon Balm Ice Cream with Absinthe
Christine's original recipe
2 tablespoons fresh fennel flower blossoms, snipped from about 3 large umbels
1 cup tightly packed fresh lemon balm leaves, lightly bruised in a mortar and pestle
2 cups milk (can be whole or 2%)
1 cup heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
1/2 - 2/3 cup sugar (I used 1/2 cup, you might like it sweeter)
pinch sea salt
1/2 to 1 tablespoon absinthe or Pernod (depending on your taste; optional)

  • Place fennel blossoms, bruised lemon balm leaves and milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Heat until milk forms small bubbles around the edge of the pan and steam begins to lift from the surface.
  • Remove the pan from the heat source, cover and let sit for at least 20 minutes to steep the herbs and extract their flavors.
  • While the herbs are steeping in the hot milk, whisk the eggs with the sugar and salt until well blended and the sugar begins to dissolve.  Set aside.
  • Strain the milk through a double-mesh sieve to remove all remnants of the herbs, pushing on the herbs to extract all of the milk and good flavors.
  • Rinse the saucepan and add the strained milk back into it.  Heat gently on low.
  • Whisking constantly, pour about 1/4 of the milk into the eggs.  Now pour the tempered eggs back into the milk and heat gently, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture coats the back of the spoon and you can leave a track through it with your finger.  Do not let the mixture boil or it will curdle.
  • Pour the mixture into a glass or ceramic bowl and let sit for about 10 minutes to cool slightly.
  • Stir the absinthe and cream into the milk-egg custard, mix well.
  • Cover the bowl and refrigerate 4 to 6 hours, overnight is best, or until the mixture is very cold.
  • Process in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions.

This ice cream may be soft served straight from the machine but will be better if placed in a lidded container (put a piece or wax paper or plastic wrap over the ice cream before placing the lid on) and frozen for at least an hour.

Fennel and lemon balm grow fast and tall in my coastal northern California garden once temperatures warm and days get longer. My garden soil is amended with a mixture of well-composted, organic horse and chicken manure and composted vegetable matter.  It drains well which is a must for these herbs.

Want to grow fennel and lemon balm in your garden? Try these links for growing tips and seed information:
For fennel -
For lemon balm -

Copyright © 2005-2012, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved