I made this Cardamom-Strawberry Frozen Custard with one hand tied behind my back. Really it was one hand tied up in a cast…because…it still is, but I did it one handed-ish. Springtime treats aren’t all created equally. There are those sickly sweet marshmallow birds. No one can throw a rock without hitting a fondant-filled chocolate egg these days, either. Seems like sugary-sweet is the name of the Springtime game. Not here, though. We like our desserts full of flavor and rich, but not necessarily sweet. The reason this Cardamom-laced frozen custard is so loved is because of its sophisticated flavor. Sophisticated, yet edgy…so, it’s basically a frozen version of me!
Now, I’m not trying to start no beef, but have you taken the time to read the ingredients list on your ice cream? I’m not being messy. Promise. It’s not always good. See if you can pronounce half of the stuff on that carton of ice cream. If you can, you’re probably shelling out more than a quarter an ounce because it’s a “gourmet” ice cream. Of course I know what you’re thinking, “A quarter an ounce isn’t going to break the bank, Marta.” You’re obviously not a military spouse if you think that. LOL! I jest! I kid. (Not really) While a quarter an ounce may not be an exorbitant amount for a PINT of ice cream, imagine for a quart…or a gallon.
Personally, I not only love the money I save by making my own frozen desserts; I love the freedom I have to create my own flavors. I wouldn’t say my frozen custards and sorbet flavors are weird- they’re…eclectic. This Grilled Peach and Buttermilk version was one of my proudest moments. My Gin Rickey Sorbet was a close second…that is- until this Cardamom-Strawberry number sashayed into my brain. I take ice creams and sorbets very seriously. Like, seriously serious. I dedicated a whole post to different popsicle creations, type of serious.
What birthed this ice cream passion? I used to make ice cream to put myself through culinary school, is what. I’ll concede that it’s not as exciting as other things college kids did for money, but it was mine. Moxley’s Ice Cream Parlor in Towson, MD was a hour and a half bus ride from my
tenement apartment. That’s after a ten minute walk through the ‘hood. A bus ride through the parts of Baltimore they don’t bother to put on postcards. The part of Baltimore that ended up on The Wire. THAT part of Baltimore is where I lived. Where I worked? That was like someone had opened up a J. Crew catalog and shook the models out. I totally stuck out. But, I loved my job.
I was hired to bake all of the desserts: pies, cookies and cakes. It just so happened, I was promoted to store manager within a month. Occasionally, Tom, the owner and an investment banker who was hipster before hipster became cool, would let me make the ice cream. While we did cheat with a pre-mixed, bagged ice cream base; the flavor combinations were all our ideas. White Chocolate Chip (instead of the regular version) and Coffee Cookies and Cream were my babies. Flavors like jalapeño and Old Bay® weirded people out…until they tried them; then they were hooked. This life as an ice cream maker spawned a love for quality, handmade ice cream that I now use in my kitchen on a regular basis.
**moment in character building: there were plenty of times kids from the universities (Towson, Loyola, and John’s Hopkins were all nearby) would come in and talk down to me. I guess they felt sorry for me because I was “relegated” to working in an ice cream shop. What they had no idea about was that I was actually the store manager in charge of the entire staff (8 people) and responsible for a lucrative start-up. And that I was only nineteen.
A few years after I’d moved on from that job, I went back for a visit. I saw one of my “regulars”, a kid who always made it a point to let me know that she was “pre-med”. What that had to do with her single scoop of cinnamon ice cream was beyond my brain capacity, but I digress. She was now slicing cold cuts at the deli on the corner. Of course, I had to ask why she wasn’t a doctor. Turns out, alcohol and residency don’t mix. I wished her well and told her it was good seeing her. So, the lesson in this? Don’t be a jerkwad.**
Back to Cardamom-Strawberry Frozen Custard.
My first taste of cardamom ice cream was in an Afghani restaurant in Springfield, VA. The Afghan Bistro is a must if you’re in the DC Metropolitan area. I loved the idea behind the dessert, but thought it fell flat in that it was just vanilla ice cream with cardamom sprinkled on top. More was needed- for me, at least. Infusing cardamom into the custard base AND adding ground cardamom. Overkill? I think not. The infusing would cut down on the amount of cardamom speckled throughout the base, while not compromising that prominent flavor I wanted in the finished dessert. It would also stand up to the sweet strawberries I wanted to fold into the custard.
The best fruit to use in frozen desserts like this one are fruits that are overripe. Not rotten, mind you, but a little on the fragrant side. These strawberries were about a week old and were just perfect. The reason behind using overripe fruits is that they tend to be sweeter than those that are perfectly ripe. The less sugar you have to add, the better. When hulling strawberries, there’s all sorts of methods and snake-oil salesmen tricks. I keep it simple by sticking the tip of my very sharp paring knife into the underside of the stem and at 45° angle. Always use your dominant hand to hold your knife. Your non-dominant hand is used to twist the strawberry in a counter-clockwise direction while you cut away the yellowed stem portion. A cone-shaped stem is easily pulled away once you’re done.
Discard all of your stems.
Recipes are made to be altered. In my case, this is where I want you to do your thing. As crazy as it may sound, I like the texture that a frozen strawberry chunk gives to this frozen custard. For this reason, I cut my strawberries into a medium dice (about 1/4″ cubes). If you prefer to have a smoother custard, mince yours finely. Set those aside in a bowl for stirring in later. That’s the most labor-intensive part of the prep work done.
I lied. This may be more labor-intensive. Smoosh your green cardamom pods with a mallet…or a glass jar…or a rock- whatever. Just bust them open so the seeds are exposed. That’s the best way to get that cardamom-y (<—totes a word) flavor infused into your custard base. Now all of the work is done. If you’re not sure about cardamom pods, I speak more in-depth about them here and here. If you don’t have cardamom pods, just omit them and double the amount of ground cardamom. the frozen custard will look heavily speckled, but will taste perfect.
The first step in making a frozen custard is heating your milk and cream, or in my case, half-and-half (which is half milk, half cream, TADAAA!!!). You don’t need to scald it, just warm it. Scalding milk for ice cream is an old-fashioned way of making sure no one dies from disease. These days, with pasteurization and all, we need not do it. Since we’re making frozen custard and not ice cream, however, we do need to heat our milk to steaming. This also allows us to infuse that cardamom flavor into the custard base. Add the cracked pods to the half-and-half, along with a pinch of salt and a dash of vanilla extract. I’m a loyal user of Nielsen-Massey vanilla extract if I don’t have a batch of my homemade vanilla extract ready. With the price of vanilla beans, I’ve been without homemade vanilla for a minute now.
Stir all of this together and allow the milk to come to a steam while you separate your eggs.
Separating eggs efficiently is not glamorous. You can use those new, fandangled egg separators, or do as I do: use the egg separators that God gave you. Whichever you choose to use, make sure you have two clean bowls to separate in. Always crack your egg on a flat surface, not the rim of the bowl or on the edge of your countertop. Not only will doing that create a greater amount of broken shell, it increases the likelihood of puncturing the egg yolk. Not a big deal if you don’t plan on saving your egg whites, but I try not to waste ingredients. I save my egg whites for these meringues, more often than not. You could also use them to make egg white omelets or angel food cake. Break the whole egg into a larger bowl.
Then use your precious little hand to scoop out the egg yolk. I get it, I get it. You may have an aversion to slimy things. With all due respect- and a lot’s due you- suck it up. This is the way 95% of chefs separate eggs. It’s easy, it prevents sharp edges from busting the yolk, and it’s easily cleaned with a quick hand-washing. Trust me on this one. Just scoop the egg yolk into your hand and allow the egg white to run through your parted fingers. You may have to “juggle” the yolk slightly to loosen it, but it’s the best way to do the deed. Now, go wash your hands.
By now your milk should be steaming. If it is, lower the heat, or turn it off altogether. Add the sugar to the egg yolks and whisk until you have a runny mixture. Tempering eggs is a fundamental culinary technique. It prevents the eggs, which we’re using to thicken our custard, from scrambling. If we skipped this step, the eggs would be cooked to curdling by the sudden introduction to the hot milk mixture. Instead, we are gradually warming the eggs to a temperature that’s closer to the milk’s.
To do this, use the same measuring cup you used for the sugar. Scoop out about a cup of the hot milk mixture and, in a slow, steady stream, add it to the mixed egg yolks, whisking continuously. (you can see it in action here) If your eggs start looking extremely “chunky” you added the milk too fast and you’ll need to start over again. If it’s just a little clumpy, strain the mixture. It’s always better to go too slow than too fast when adding the hot milk.
Once the eggs have been tempered, pour the mixture slowly into the cardamom infused milk base- whisking constantly. Bring the mixture up to a gentle simmer- don’t allow it to boil- and allow the mixture to thicken. The bubbles should just barely break the surface. It should look like those Nat Geo documentaries were they’re showing molten lava bubbling. The bubbles go like this- they whisper, “bloop!” and not “SPLOOSH!!!” You’re looking for “bloop”, remember that.
After you add the tempered eggs to the pot, but before it thickens, add the ground cardamom. Again, if you’re only using ground cardamom, double the amount called for. Whisk this in and allow the mixture to thicken.
Nappe is what we’re looking to achieve in this custard. This is a French culinary term meaning to “lightly coat”, or “enrobe”, in a sauce. In this case the “sauce” is the custard base. The thing we are looking to coat is the back of our wooden spoon. Why a wooden spoon? Well, because it actually allows things to coat it. The slick metal of a stainless steel spoon would work, but it’s not ideal. Dip your spoon into the thickened mixture and quickly run a finger down the middle. The custard should hold its place and the mark left by your finger should be quite apparent. Don’t get all gung-ho and do it straight out of the pot like I did, though. I burned the crap out of the finger on my one good hand.
If the custard runs, just continue to cook a little while longer before testing it again. Once you have achieved a proper nappe, pull the custard off of the heat and allow it to come to room temperature.
Now we’ve come to the point where your patience will be tested.
Have you ever had ice cream that tasted “thin”, for lack of a better word? How about an ice cream that tasted almost fluffy in your mouth?
The difference between the two was patience on the part of the ice cream maker. Aging an ice cream or custard base allows the emulsifiers in the base to get nice and fat. This, literally, churns out a smoother, creamier frozen custard. Not only does the fat help, the cooling time helps avoid a longer churn time and rids the base of any pesky water droplets. Those water droplets turn into ice crystals, which is just whack. Do you have to age your base? No. But, do you have to eat crappy frozen custard? Also no.
Strain your room-temperature custard into a glass or plastic container to remove the cardamom pods. Discard the pods and cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. Age it in the fridge for eight to twenty-four hours.
Now for the second most fun part- because eating is obviously the first. Pour your cold custard into your ice cream maker. Churn your custard according to your ice cream machine’s instructions for soft serve ice cream/yogurt. You don’t want to churn it until it’s firm.
We want to pull it while it’s still soft serve because we want that creaminess. Once it’s reached this stage, turn off the machine and remove the top and blade of your ice cream maker.
Now, stir in your chopped berries and transfer it to an ice cream container or a plastic storage container. Freeze, upside down to eliminate any air pockets, for at least four hours. This gives the custard time to set up.
Scoopin’ time!!! Oh, who are we kidding…
THAT’S more like it! You can enjoy this for up to two months…but, there’s no way it’ll last that long.
Pin this recipe for later and tell me in the comments: What’s the craziest ice cream flavor you’ve ever tasted?
Cardamom-Strawberry Frozen Custard
Yield 1 1/2 qt
Whole pods of cardamom are steeped in a rich half-and-half base.
4 cups half and half (or two cups whole milk and two cups heavy cream)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp green cardamom pods, crushed
1 tsp vanilla extract
12 large egg yolks
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cardamom (2 tsp if you're not using cardamom pods)
1 dry pint overripe strawberries, hulled and small diced
- In a heavy-bottomed stock pot, heat the half and half over medium heat. Stir in the salt, cardamom pods, and vanilla extract. Allow the milk to come to a steam.
- In a medium size bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until you have a runny mixture. Scoop out a cup of the hot milk mixture and, in a slow, steady stream, add it to the yolks, whisking continuously. See note in post in the event of curdling.
- Once the eggs have been tempered, pour the mixture slowly into the warm milk base, whisking constantly. Add the ground cardamom. Bring the mixture up to a gentle simmer and allow the mixture to thicken. The bubbles should barely break the surface.
- Once the mixture has thickened, dip your spoon into the mixture and quickly run a finger down the middle. The custard should hold its place and the mark left by your finger should be quite apparent. If it doesn't, allow it cook a few minutes longer before testing again. Once you have achieve a proper nappe, pull the custard off of the heat and allow it to come to room temperature.
- Strain custard into a clean container- removing the cardamom pods, discard the pods. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. Cool it in the fridge for eight to twenty-four hours.
- Pour the custard into an ice cream maker. Churn your custard to soft serve ice cream/yogurt consistency. Once it's reached this stage, turn off the machine and remove the top and churning blade.
- Stir in your chopped berries and transfer it to an ice cream container. Freeze upside down (to eliminate any air pockets) for at least four hours.
- When ready to serve, remove from the freezer and allow to warm for ten-fifteen minutes on your countertop, then enjoy.
Time includes aging the custard base overnight (recommended, but optional) and set-up (freeze) time of 4 hours.
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