Lavender is a surprisingly versatile dessert ingredient with a strong affinity to cream. It's a love-it-or-hate-it kind of herb, but the creaminess subdues its at-times overwhelming intensity. Hyssop has largely fallen out of Western culinary use, which is a shame given its long history dating back to ancient times. Fortunately it's increasingly common in gardens and at farmers' markets.
Though somewhat minty, it has a full-bodied, rounded flavor that makes mint look like toothpaste fodder by comparison. A whiff evokes wide-open meadows and bright summer days and tea sandwiches on the veranda.
If you can score some fresh hyssop, by all means use it, but this herb takes well to drying and the dried leaves have plenty of flavor. Both it and lavender pair beautifully with the complex sweetness of honey, so using that as our sweetener was a no-brainer. Honey also makes for a velvet-smooth texture.
Both herbs can become bitter if used too heavily or steeped for too long. While a bunch of mint leaves is best steeped for up to two hours, much smaller amounts of these herbs reach their optimum flavor after half an hour to forty five minutes. The process, however, is the same: bring your dairy to a bare simmer, stir in the herbs, kill the heat, and cover. Just be sure to strain them before tempering your eggs. With this technique in hand, there's very few ice cream flavors out of your reach.
Max Falkowitz writes Serious Eats' weekly Spice Hunting column. He's a proud native of Queens, New York, will do just about anything for a good cup of tea, and enjoys long walks down the aisles of Chinese groceries.
- Yield:8 (makes about one quart)
- Active time: 1/2 hour
- Total time:3 hours, plus an overnight rest
- 2 cups of cream
- 1 cup of whole milk
- 6 large egg yolks
- 3/4 cup of light honey
- 1 tablespoon of dried lavender flowers
- 2 tablespoons of dried hyssop
- Pinch of salt
Combine the cream, milk, and salt in a pot. Slowly bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat and stir in the herbs. Cover and let sit for half an hour to forty five minutes.
When the cream mixture tastes herby enough, whisk together the egg yolks and honey. Reheat the cream mixture again till just hot but not simmering. Pour in the cream mixture through a strainer, making sure none of the herbs remain in the liquid or the pot. Whisk everything to combine, then pour it all back into the pot.
Slowly bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently to prevent curdling or sticking to the bottom of the pot. After a few minutes, when the custard starts to feel thick, dip in a spoon and run your finger along the back. When the custard holds the line you drew without dripping, it's done.
You can chill it and spin it in your ice cream machine, but custards' flavor and texture benefit greatly from an overnight rest. Freeze according to manufacturer's instructions.