Go Beyond Plain Old Vanilla

For this Shavuot, try an avant-garde ice cream flavor: fig with orange and rosemary.

Jewish Week Online Columnist
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Can you guess America’s favorite ice cream flavor?

If you said vanilla, you’re right—by a large margin. Vanilla’s runner-ups, according to the International Ice Cream Association and the International Dairy Foods Association, are chocolate and butter pecan.

I knew that. Always did, even as a kid when my cousin told me the tiny black speckles in my favorite ice cream were dirt and that everyone else in the world preferred chocolate. No, they didn’t. Not then, and not now.

There’s no denying vanilla ice cream’s clean, milky appeal. But for those who like to venture, gastronomically speaking, beyond the usual suspects, there is more. I’m not talking about the typical competitors. Not flavors such as rocky road or cookies and cream or even heath bar crunch, all of which are, at their core, variations on vanilla or chocolate.

I mean ice cream flavors that are truly unusual, that titillate the tongue and excite the palate, because they taste new and bold and fresh. And even if they aren’t the stuff of daily indulgence, they are the ones we yearn for when we want a treat that will wow our friends and family, or serve something special for a holiday such as Shavuot, which begins next week.

I’m here today to talk about roasted fig ice cream with orange and rosemary. You’ve never tasted a flavor quite like this one: bright orange peel and fragrant rosemary provide a lively, refreshing, faintly grassy contrast to the intense, concentrated natural fruit sugars of the roasted figs. It’s earthy and sweet, but not cloying.

Ice cream is easy to make at home and this recipe is very forgiving. I’ve made it several ways, with different types of dried figs—I like Mission figs the best—as well as with prunes. Half and half is a nice compromise as a base. It’s not as rich as heavy or whipping cream, but still produces a smoother texture than ice creams made lots of milk.

You needn’t do anything more with this dish than serve it in a bowl, maybe with some fresh orange chunks or rosemary sprigs to pretty up the plate. A blob of whipped cream never hurts. Toasted almonds would be fine but aren’t necessary. But please, stop there: this is an ice cream flavor that stands up all on its own. 

Ingredients: 
4 ounces chopped dried figs
1 tablespoon honey
2/3 cup orange juice
3 cups half and half or light cream
½ cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 sprig fresh rosemary
Recipe Steps: 
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the figs in a baking pan. Pour the honey on top stir to coat, then pour orange juice over. Roast the figs for about 25 minutes, turning them occasionally, until they have softened. Remove figs from oven and set aside.
Pour 2 cups cream into a medium saucepan, add rosemary, and heat over medium heat until bubbles appear around the edges of the pan, being careful not to scorch. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 5 minutes. Remove rosemary.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the sugar, egg yolks and salt at medium speed for 3-5 minutes or until light and thick. Gradually add the heated cream and mix. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 8-10 minutes or until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour in the remaining cream and blend thoroughly. Add the figs plus any liquid, the orange zest and rosemary. Pour into a plastic container and refrigerate until cold. Freeze in an ice cream freezer according to manufacturer’s directions. Yield: about one quart

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