The first days of spring bring many welcome changes.
The days are longer, temperatures are warmer and plants that lay dormant over the winter are beginning to come back to life. In Northern California, no plant better illustrates this cycle of death and rebirth than the pernicious wild fennel. At the end of every growing season, after the fennel has gone to seed, it leaves behind its towering stocks to die, a sort of skeletal reminder of the once-strong plants that lined riverbanks, hillsides and any stretch of clearing where it’s allowed to take hold.
In spring, new fronds rise up alongside the dead stocks, and the cycle begins again.
While small, these young fronds are incredibly fragrant, and possess a sweetness that’s absent in older, more weather-worn plants. In other words, they’re perfect for dessert. This recipe calls for a good deal of these fresh fronds, a half pound to be exact, and creates an intense liquorice flavor that pairs perfectly with the creaminess present in the custard base.
Spring is here and the days are getting warmer. Might as well cool off with a cup or cone of the good stuff.
Prep Time: 2 hours
Freeze time: Varies
8 ounces young fennel fronds, chopped
4 cups heavy cream
5 cups whole milk
20 egg yolks
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
This recipe relies almost entirely on the infusing of the fennel’s liquorice flavor into the milk and cream mixture. To accomplish this, we’ll be using the tried and true combination of heat and time, steeping the fennel just long enough to add the desired flavors, but not too long where things start to taste grassy. Add the cream, milk and fennel to a heavy bottomed saucepan and place over medium heat. You’ll need to be continuously stirring the mixture to prevent the milk from burning. Just before the milk begins to boil, remove it from the heat, cover and allow to sit for 90 minutes.
At the end of the steeping period, run the mixture through a fine mesh strainer, pressing the last bits of cream from the fennel using the back of a wooden spoon. Discard the fennel and place the mixture back over medium heat.
In a large pot, combine the egg yolks, sugar and salt, whisking the mixture together thoroughly. Add a ladle full of the warm cream to the eggs to bring up their temperature and help prevent them from scrambling in the next step. Now, slowly pour the egg mixture into the cream, stirring the whole time. Allow this newly created custard to cook until it’s thick enough to coat the back of spoon without running.
Chill your mixture in an ice bath or refrigerator. When it’s cool, pour into your ice cream maker and run according the manufacturer's instructions.