I knew essentially nothing about Mexican ice cream before diving into Fany Gerson's new book, Mexican Ice Cream (Penguin, 2017). But after reading it, I feel totally schooled in the unique flavors incorporated into these south-of-the-border frozen confections, created with ingredients such as avocado, rice, chamoy, hibiscus, and — yikes!— even grasshoppers.
Chamoy is an ice cream topping sauce made from plums or apricots that have been pickled in brine, sometimes with the addition of vinegar. It is likened to Japanese umeboshi, plums that have been salt preserved. There are other unexpected-for-ice-cream ingredients in Gerson's recipes, which create her spin on the traditional with things like tamarind, nopales (cactus paddles), and also different types of cheese: goat, cream, queso fresco.
I tried the Horchata ice cream, Gerson's adaption of her sister's favorite agua fresca, an enticing combination of toasted almonds, rice, and cinnamon simmered in half and half, then pureed and strained. The recipes are superbly written, with precise instruction aimed at the home cook. The resulting confection was smooth and refreshing, with the perfect notes of cinnamon and almond.
My next attempt was the walnut ice cream with pomegranate (helada de nogada). It was inspired by a savory dish, chiles en nogada, that was created to honor the emperor Agustin de Iturbide, a leader in Mexico's fight for independence from Spain. The ice cream uses both soft goat cheese and cream cheese in the cooked base, which is then pureed with walnuts. Sherry and cinnamon are added before the ice cream is churned. Pomegranate seeds are mixed in after churning. The result is a delight, visually and culinarily.
In addition to both classic and modern Mexican ice creams, Gerson offers recipes for sorbets, including Oaxacan lime, and corn and cacao. There's a chapter for "Spicy, Boozy Flavors," think mole, chocolate-chili, and caramelized fig ice cream with mezcal and queso fresco. Another chapter provides recipes for cones, toppings, and sauces, adding another layer of options to the ice cream repertoire.
There is something to please every palate, from the traditional to the adventurous, in Mexican Ice Cream, from a classic peach sorbet to the edgy tamarind-chili sorbet with grasshoppers. Myself, I will take a pass on the grasshoppers.
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
1½ cups walnuts, soaked in water or frozen to keep from turning brown
½ teaspoon ground Mexican cinnamon
2 tablespoons sherry
1 cup pomegranate seeds
- Partially fill a large bowl with ice and water. Place a medium bowl in the ice water, and set a fine-mesh strainer across the top.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and ¼ cup of the milk.
- In a saucepan, combine the remaining 1¾ cups of milk with the cream, sugar, and salt, and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Stir the cornstarch mixture to recombine, and stir it into the milk mixture. Cook, stirring continuously, until the mixture returns to a simmer and has thickened slightly, about 6 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the goat cheese and cream cheese, and whisk until smooth. Pour the mixture through the strainer into the prepared bowl and stir until cool.
- In a blender, working in two batches, puree the cooled milk mixture and the walnuts until the nuts are pulverized (some small bits may remain), 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the cinnamon and sherry. Cover and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours and up to 4 hours.
- Freeze and churn in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. When the ice cream has finished churning, mix in the pomegranate seeds. For a softer consistency, serve the ice cream right away; for a firmer consistency, transfer it to a container, cover, and allow to harden in the freezer for 2 to 3 hours.