Thursday, April 20, 2006

The ice cream project: rice ice cream

Rice ice cream, more than one hundred years old, is Italian. Gelato di riso is still served in gelato parlors in Italy and perhaps elsewhere, though none I have been to anytime lately. I have had in mind to make this ever since the triumph of oatmeal ice cream many months ago. It has only taken me until now to do it because the cold weather killed my ice cream drive. Now that spring is back, so is the project.

The grains above are carnaroli, one of three great Italian rices. (The others are arborio and vialone nano, the latter still untried by me but the favorite of many an Italian peasant, says the internet.) All are good for making risotto, a dish that calls on rice to give up some of its starch to become, in effect, sauce. I wanted to use a risotto rice for this ice cream so that it would lend some starchy thickness to the custard base. I also happened to have carnaroli rice in the pantry, and if I had had arborio I would have used it instead.

Liddell and Weir caution against adding too many additional flavors to a rice ice cream. 19th century recipes that they describe contain herbs, spices and fruit. Better, say L&W, to let the flavor of rice shine through. This sounded like a plan.

The procedure here is not much different from making French-style vanilla. The first step is to cook the rice in sweetened dairy. Because I don't think it's possible for ice cream to be too rich, I resisted the Italian impulse to use milk in place of cream. I simmered the rice, half a cup, in three cups of half and half to which I added nine ounces of white sugar and the seeds scraped out of a Madagascar vanilla bean. I also added the deseeded pods. (Anyone think I should splurge on Tahitian or Mexican beans for making ice cream? The comments are yours.)

I simmered this mixture over the lowest possible heat for about an hour. Most rice ice cream recipes call for this step to be done in the microwave or over a double boiler. I didn't take that precaution. Meanwhile I whipped six egg yolks until pale. When the rice seemed just about cooked, still a touch chalky in the center, I tempered in the eggs and cooked to 170, which took only a second. Then I added a cup of heavy cream, fished out the vanilla pods, and put it in the fridge to chill. I cannot say why it took the rice so long to cook but it didn't bother me particularly and I'm not really dying to know the answer.

It was very thick when chilled and only needed to churn for five minutes. I really should experiment with still freezing, i.e., putting the custard mixture in the freezer without freezing in the ice cream machine. I don't know that churning for five minutes really introduces enough air to make much of a difference in texture. (Some still freezing techniques involve mixing the custard after an hour or two in a food processor or standing mixer, which seems like a needless hassle if you have an ice cream machine.)

It should be obvious that this ice cream would be good without the rice. Perhaps it would be better without it. But the rice, which is crunchy (it's both al dente and frozen), does have its own subtle and pleasant flavor. When you eat it, first the ice cream melts in your mouth, then the vanilla custard part goes down your throat, and then you are left with cold kernels of sweet, firm carnaroli rice against the tip of your tongue. This sensation is more than worth the small trouble it takes to whip the stuff up.

My other ice creams:

  • Egg ice cream

  • Black sesame ice cream

  • Green chile mint ice cream

  • Cardamom ice cream

  • Sour cream anise ice cream

  • Caramel ice cream

  • Apples and honey ice cream

  • Watermelon sour cream sherbet

  • Mojito cream cheese ice cream

  • Peach frozen yogurt

  • Oatmeal raisin ice cream

  • Mango cream cheese ice cream

  • Mocha ice cream

  • Berry buttermilk sherbet

  • Gingersnap ice cream

    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    *rice cream* is totally new to me. it's exciting to know. i love rice.

    10:04 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    This is charming.
    I have been looking at a morroccan recipe for a pudding made with milk and sugar, and thickened by slow cooking with a bit of rice flour. I wonder if that might make a nice ice cream too.
    I am foiled when making ice cream by my wonky apartment freezer, which won't freeze the cannister solid. meh.

    10:08 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I have a recipe for Rice Pudding Ice Cream, which looks decidedly downmarket compared to this one. Still, it definitely sounds worth trying ... Your description of the sensations that arise when eating rice ice cream pretty much sold me; it sounds incredible!

    11:11 AM  
    Blogger zoe p. said...

    hey lindy, if you want to walk around the block and make rice ice cream in my excellent freezer, please feel free!! this recipe sounds like SUCH a pleasure . . . but i've not got the ice cream maker or the patience, i think.

    i've been following a lot of the rice pudding posting here and at toast. i love rice pudding but usually take the kozy shack route . . . last week i dumped milk and sugar into my leftover quinoa and popped it in the microwave. the q. has such a rich flavor it was great without any further cooking or flavoring . . .

    11:23 AM  
    Blogger Jocelyn:McAuliflower said...

    Fun take on an ice cream. I once tried this with a black rice that turned my custard purple. The rice was very chewy when frozen.

    fwiw- ebay has had some excellent auctions of bundles of organic vanilla beans. I'm still working thorugh my 1/2 lb batch of tahitian :)

    11:47 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    One thing that you might want to try... from Chef Lefebvre.

    Try cooking the rice (including seasonings) then, when you achieve the doneness that you desire, purée the rice with remaining milk. Pass through a fine seive, then proceed.

    By distributing the rice more thoroughly, you achieve more of the rice flavor without having actual grains left over afterwards.

    Season it with some salt, soy, ginger or dried seaweed (don't purée the seaweed, though) and use this as a savory icecream to serve with sushi.

    2:43 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Every summer in my neighborhood, I indulge in the mexican ice cream bars brought around in carts, called paletas. My favorite flavor is arroz or rice. I've never found this anywhere else, so when I found this recipe, I was really excited. It tastes sooooo good. Like frozen rice pudding! Thanks for the recipe!

    8:25 PM  
    Blogger Dan said...

    I know I'm a little late to the game, but very nice post. ... I just had an article in the LA Times Travel section on gelato in Buenos Aires that you might find amusing.

    I made myself hungry for rice pudding ice cream and was casting about for a recipe when I came across this post. I'm looking forward to browsing your other flavors.

    11:02 AM  

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