I should call my lemon basil plant ‘the little herb that could’. It was just a wimpy little thing when I got it from the Herb Society’s annual plant sale, but as I used it more and more it really bushed out and exceeded my expectations. I know it’s big in Indonesian cuisine, but I’ve kind of been scratching my head why everyone doesn’t grow and use it. It brightens up virtually everything I’ve thrown it at: fish, veggies, eggs, salad, sandwiches, fruit… I could go on. And its citrusy and touch-of-cool-mint flavor (basil is a member of the mint family) makes a great ice cream that would be perfect with a summer cobbler or on a blueberry pie.
I don’t normally get my ‘mise en place’ when say, making dinner, but when making ice cream, I make it a point to get the various bowls, whisks and ingredients at the ready. You could easily wind up with cream boiling over the pot if you aren’t keeping a close eye, or scrambled eggs if you overcook your custard. Been there, done that.
After washing and drying 2 cups of the leaves, I brought milk, cream and half of my measured out sugar just to a boil. And then I decided to take a picture, which was frankly almost too late, 2o or 30 seconds more and it would have been kaboom, game over.
I steeped the basil leaves into the hot milk off heat for 10 minutes. If I was set on having my basil ice cream green-tinged, at this point I could’ve put the mixture in a blender. But I’m more a “steep it gently like a tea” kind of person and whatever color it wants to be, it will be.
In the last 2 minutes of waiting I briskly whisked together my yolks and the other half of the sugar for about a minute or so.
I poured some of the hot cream mixture into the yolk mixture while whisking it and then poured the tempered yolk mixture into the cream mixture. Then I returned it to the stove over low heat and slowly and continuously stirred at the bottom.
The custard mixture should be cooked until it coats the back of a spoon; this occurs between 160 and 180F. If you have an insta-read thermometer nearby it can help you to know if you are getting close. Mine looked good on the spoon right after this, at around 170 degrees. (photo courtesy of husband. See, I can learn…!)
I poured the cooked custard into a bowl over my ‘ready and waiting’ ice bath, straining out the basil leaves on the way into the bowl.
The mixture sat over the ice bath for about 20 minutes to cool to room temp. I stirred it a bit at the beginning to help the heat escape a bit quicker. After it cooled it went into the refrigerator to chill and the next day I spun it in the ice cream bowl attachment on my mixer.
Lemon Basil Ice Cream:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1 oz. (about 2 packed cups) lemon basil leaves
1/4 tsp vanilla
Have a strainer in a bowl ready over an ice bath.
Bring the dairy and half the sugar to a simmer in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Remove from heat when it just comes to a boil. Add basil leaves and steep in mixture, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, beat the eggs, the second half of the sugar, and pinch of salt into a thick paste, for about a minute. Stream a third of the dairy in slowly while stirring the egg mixture and then pour the tempered egg mixture back into the cream mixture.
Return pot to the stove and cook over medium-low heat. Stir gently, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pan.
The sauce is ready when it looks silky, has thickened so it coats the back of a wooden spoon, and has reached a temperature of about 170 degrees. Strain it (and the basil leaves out) into a bowl set over an ice water bath and stir in the vanilla.
When cooled, freeze mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.