I've decided to get involved with Weekend Herb Blogging, which is being hosted this week by Cinzia from Cindystar. This basically entails blogging about using a herb or plant ingredient in cooking. I always think it's rather a nice idea to use a recipe to showcase a single element, particularly where it's used in a way that you might not have considered before. This lemon thyme ice cream does exactly that: highlights the sheer beauty of what I believe is a sadly underrated herb, but in a surprising context: sweet rather than savoury. At the moment I'm rather excited by the potential of herbs in ice cream: I've already tried bay leaf ice cream (brilliant with orchard fruit crumble) and basil ice cream, and I have a (top-secret) list of other ideas I can't wait to try out. I can't resist lemon thyme in my cooking lately. It has an indescribably alluring aroma, with citrussy overtones as the name suggests, but tangy herbal notes like you might find in coriander. I'm always surprised at quite how lemony it tastes. Adding it to a dish results in a burst of freshness, with a wonderful floral backnote.
I used a simple cream, milk and egg yolk ice cream base, but infused the milk and cream with a big handful of beautiful lemon thyme. The combination of the tangy, almost grassy herbal notes with the rich cream is delightful (I tasted the mixture as it infused, to make sure the strength of the herb was right). I was very excited when I put it in the freezer, and had to taste a bit left over in the ice cream machine; beautiful.
I was set on using the herb in ice cream, and debated about serving the ice cream pure and unadulterated. However, I love serving unusual ice cream with otherwise fairly standard desserts, particularly warm ones: the contrast of cold cream and warm, crunchy, doughy or cakey textures is a sensation I defy anyone not to love.
I had two ideas for pairings: chocolate, or orange. I also considered combining the two, but I only recently made a chocolate and clementine cake and wouldn't want my beloved readers to think I was a one-trick cook. It was also a lovely spring day, too sunny for chocolate somehow. I'm sure many of you are currently gawping at the screen, mouths open in outrage, "it's never too anything for chocolate", but to be honest I'm not an enormous chocoholic...I didn't even eat the stuff until I was fifteen. It'll be no secret to anyone who reads this blog regularly that I'm more partial to fruit-based desserts (and, in fact, fruit-based main courses), so the oranges won. Sorry.
Another reason I favoured oranges is because the beautiful blood orange is still sitting proudly in the market at the moment. I can't resist the gorgeous marbling of crimson and marigold that you find in a blood orange; I always enjoy slicing off the end in preparation for segmenting them; you never know quite what pattern you'll find. Some are a rich scarlet all the way through; others are bright orange at one end and dappled patchily with red in the middle. It's like looking at a stained glass window, when you slice off that first piece of peel.
I thought I'd have to serve some oranges as they were, segmented and sprinkled with a little orange flower water for that beautiful floral note; I figured it would go well with the herbal flavour of the ice cream. But I also decided to make orange soufflés. Spongy and warm enough to feel like a proper pudding, yet easy on the waistline and light enough to serve after a risotto, they seemed the perfect idea. They also pleased my inner home economist, because they were a great way to use up the egg whites left over from making ice cream. (I currently have twelve egg whites in my freezer - if anyone wants to partake in a truly epic meringue at some point, let me know).
It would be a bit of a cliché to go on about how soufflés are supposed to strike fear into the heart of any cook. I don't really understand this: I can't see where you can go wrong. At least not with this recipe - it just involves mixing an orange cream into a meringue mix, putting into buttered and sugared ramekins, and baking. I guess I may have had beginners' luck, but I've made chocolate soufflés before and never had a problem there either. I've clearly jinxed my abilities, and my next effort will be an abject failure: watch this space.
Look at that beautiful puffy top. I was worried they wouldn't rise, and I'd be embarrassed in front of my four dinner guests; I should have denied there would ever be soufflés for dessert, just in case, but it's quite hard to hide soufflé-making from four people sitting about a metre away from the oven, particularly if you need to use a very loud electric whisk. Fortunately, all turned out very well. I think they would have risen even higher if I'd used smaller ramekins and filled them more: I only filled them about two thirds full.
Orange soufflé, hot from the oven; sliced blood oranges mixed with orange flower water, and finally, a scoop of home-made lemon thyme ice cream. This ice cream is unbelievably tasty. It's like a sexier, more intriguing version of the humble lemon ice cream. It also works very well with the subtle orange flavour of the soufflé. However, it is also excellent on its own, where the herbal notes can really shine through. You could serve it adorned with some lemon or chocolate (or plain) langue du chat biscuits and no more.
Lemon thyme ice cream (makes half a litre):
250ml whole milk
250ml whipping cream
Bunch lemon thyme
4 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
Place the milk and cream in a pan with the lemon thyme (use about 20 sprigs), bring to the boil, then remove from the heat and leave for an hour to infuse. Keep tasting it - if the flavour isn't strong enough after an hour, add more thyme, bring back to the boil, and then leave again. Strain and remove the thyme.
Beat the yolks with the sugar until pale, thick and creamy. Slowly add the milk and cream mixture, whisking. Then pour the whole lot into a pan and heat gently, stirring constantly, until it thickens and becomes custard-like. This will take about ten minutes - be very careful not to let it boil, or you'll end up with scrambled egg (though if it does boil a little bit, just strain it - it's never done my ice cream any harm).
Chill in the fridge, then churn in an ice cream machine and freeze about 2-3 hours before you want to serve it, to allow time for it to firm up.
Orange soufflés (makes four):
100ml freshly squeezed orange juice (2-3 oranges)
2 tsp arrowroot
1 tbsp water
3 egg whites
50g caster sugar
Butter and caster sugar, for the ramekins
Place the orange juice in a pan with the sugar. Heat to dissolve the sugar. Mix the arrowroot in the water to form a paste, then stir into the orange juice. Stir over the heat until it has thickened and become glossy, then chill in the fridge.
When ready to make, pre-heat the oven to 180C. Butter four ramekins using a pastry brush: use upward brushstrokes along the sides. Sprinkle all over with sugar.
Whisk the egg whites until thick and you can hold the bowl over your head without them falling out. Add the sugar gradually, whisking until the mixture has the consistency of shaving foam.
Add a spoonful of the egg whites to the orange cream to loosen it, then fold all the whites into the orange mixture. Do this gently; you don't want to knock out any air.
Spoon the mixture into the four ramekins, and bake for 10-15 minutes until risen and golden. Do NOT open the oven door for the first ten minutes. Serve immediately: they start to deflate as soon as they're out of the oven.