What is more refreshing than a cup of chai on a hot day? Why, chai ice cream, of course!
This has got to be simply, my most favourite ice cream of all time, and let's just say, when it comes to ice creams I know what I am talking about. I love the way the spices infuse into the strong tea, and create, well, the only way to describe it is 'warmth'... and yes, I know I am talking about an ice cream here. Anyway, coming back to my point, I love the way the spices create a warmth to this ice cream, and give it a uniquely Indian taste. I can't think of a better dessert to finish off an Indian meal than this delightful ice cream.
The inspiration for this recipe came from Marcus Wareing's Earl Grey Tea Cream. Tea is a great leveller in India, as it is in England. In England we loved the ultra strong grit-your-teeth flavour of builder's tea (not to mention that its perfect for dunking those Rich Tea biscuits into) and in India, of course, there is nothing as special as chai.
While the word ‘chai’ actually means tea, (which is why you should never ask for ‘chai tea’, you are basically asking for ‘tea tea’), it is more often associated with tea infused with spices, or masala chai. Spices were infused into tea that was drunk by Indians, with the likely reason being to hide the fact that the tea was inferior to the one exported by the British. As time passed, however, masala chai or chai infused with spices became more and more popular, not just in India, but all over. Chai is now served all over the world, and of course, the actual taste and flavour varies wildly from person to person, with everyone and its Starbucks claiming to make the best chai. Personally, I think I make the best chai... but, as is usual in India, everyone claims to make the best chai.
It is probably the most democratic drink you will find, enjoyed by everyone from the street sweeper to the prime minister. To put it poetically, chai is India! With all its chaos and contradictions, yet sublime and spiritual, hot, sweet and dusty, loud and quiet at the same time, highbrow, yet common, manically busy, but somehow blending together in a magical way. Anyway you look at it, it is an experience to be savoured and remembered for life.
As is this ice cream, which blends all the character and warmth of that cup of chai into one divine dessert. Personally, I like making this ice cream with granulated (CTC) tea, that you can buy in a lot of Asian grocery stores (EZee Mart in Garneau has it) but you can use strong English breakfast tea instead. Just remember that teabags don't steep as well in milk, so adjust the strength of your ice cream accordingly. If you want to make this for kids, I suggest using decaffeinated tea.
The crystallised ginger adds a lovely crunchy texture in this ice cream, but you can easily leave it out if you find it too spicy. I have also served this ice cream with toasted almonds which greatly adds to the flavour as well. Experiment with various combinations of spices and ginger to find the taste that suits you best. After all, this is chai we're talking about!
The photographs for this recipe (all except Number 3) were taken by my hugely talented friend Chris Caldwell. Thank you so much, Chris!
1 cup heavy cream (250 ml)
1 cup half and half (250 ml)
1 cup whole milk (250 ml)
1 cup sugar
2 teabags, strong English or Irish breakfast tea (or 2 - 3 tbsp granulated tea, see note on how to use this very Indian tea)
Chai spice mix (see below)
6 large egg yolks
Chai Spice Mix
6 cardamom pods
3 inch stick of cinnamon or cassia bark
1 star anise
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, chopped
¼ cup crystallised ginger, chopped
Toasted almonds (optional)
Place all these spices for the chai spice mix (except the ginger) into a mortar and pestle and crush coarsely.
Place the heavy cream into a large bowl, and put it into the fridge until it is ready to be used.
In a heavy pot, combine the half and half, whole milk, sugar, tea bags, the chai spice mix and the fresh ginger. Place on a medium heat, stirring for about 4 – 5 minutes, until the sugar dissolves and the tea is a light golden colour. Fish out the teabags, and discard.
(Note: If you are using granulated tea, which is stronger and more Indian, you will need to modify step two of the method. Use the following instructions – In a heavy pot, combine the half and half, whole milk, sugar and the granulated tea. Bring to the boil, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Let the tea infuse for about 3 – 4 minutes, or until it is a golden colour. Strain, discarding the tea granules. Add the crushed chai spices and the fresh ginger, and then continue on the step three below)
Place a sheet of plastic wrap over the top of the milky, spicy mixture, and leave to infuse for about ½ hour.
Strain out the spices and gently rewarm the chai mixture.
Place the egg yolks in a bowl, and whisk until creamy. Slowly add the warmed chai mixture, whisking constantly, then scrape this mixture back into the pot.
Cook on a medium low heat for 8 – 10 minutes, until the custard thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon.
Take off the heat immediately, then strain the custard into the heavy cream. Stir together and let it chill, until it is completely cold.
When the mixture is cold, churn in an ice cream machine, following its instructions. Add the chopped crystallised ginger in the last five minutes of churning.