Inexplicably, this frozen quince blossom sent me into a frenzy of rosewater ice
cream making. The secret ingredient? Cortas rosewater from Lebanon.
This morning I woke up to a white winter wonderland. Two inches of powdery snow had fallen during the night. As my eyes fluttered open, the sun bounced off a glittering fretwork of branches rimed with frost.
The whole world was frozen. The only thing missing was the ice queen.
Happy April Fool’s Day…
I actually began working on this weeks ago when it really was a frigid 12 degrees and our little corner of the world was covered with snow. Any sensible person would have spent the day in front of a fire with an intriguing book—like Flying on Empty, my friend Patrick’s new novel—a cup of tea, and maybe a long-haired Springer spaniel to keep you warm.
But no. I was making ice cream.
Along the drive a few rosy quince blossoms had unfurled their petals, and in some indirect way, the ice-encrusted flowers reminded me of Mashti Malone’s rosewater ice cream. (The quince and the rose are members of the same family, Rosaceae, so maybe I didn’t wander too far off the track.)
I first tasted this exquisite frozen confection in San Antonio on a blistering-hot summer day—the kind of day when the heat rising from the parking lot hits you across the face like a blast from an open furnace and the asphalt seems to be oozing around your feet as you trudge slowly toward the promise of sub-zero air conditioning.
Once in the supermarket the first thing I saw was a display of Persian rosewater ice cream, conveniently positioned right in front of the door from hell. I bought a pint and devoured it in the car, so excited that I almost clipped a new white Escalade with darkened windows. It was like eating cold sugared flowers, and it was heaven.
Mashti Malone is the oddly named love child of two Iranian brothers, Mashti and Medhi Sirvani, who bought an existing ice cream store called Mugsy Malone in Los Angeles almost 30 years ago. According to The L.A. Times, they had only enough money to repaint part of the sign: Mashti replaced Mugsy, but Malone stayed put. Today the popular So Cal purveyor serves up a bouquet of exotic flavors—orange blossom, pomegranate, Turkish coffee—as well as rosewater with saffron, pistachios and ginger. But the one and only true flavor, as far as I’m concerned, is the incomparable original Creamy Rosewater.
The problem is, I can’t get it here, so the day the snow fell, I decided to make my own version of that Persian delight. It was not as easy as I thought it would be. First I tried dribbling the flowery elixir into a rich crème anglaise, into which I also grated fragrant Meyer lemon peel. (Yes, I know, this is already not the original, but I couldn’t help myself.) Then I tried a simpler base of milk, cream and sugar, and last, because I had some in the refrigerator, stirred it into coconut milk. All the ice creams were nice, in a polite sort of way….which is to say, a bit boring.
Then a package arrived from Nawal Nasrallah, author of Delights from the Garden of Eden, a cookbook and history of Iraqi cuisine. Nawal and I have been chatting by email about rosewater for some time, and after gently chiding me about the brand I've been using, she sent me two bottles of her preferred brands: Cortas and Cedar, both produced in Lebanon. I haven’t opened the Cedar, but the Cortas was spicy and pungent, yet not so overbearing that you would hesitate to use it in cooking.
Suddenly, my polite ice creams blossomed into luscious scoops of heaven.
I am actually giving you two recipes. First, the crème anglaise version, which is my own favorite. Then, the milk and cream version, which B prefers for its simplicity. In either case, go slow when adding the rosewater: start with a tablespoon and if that isn’t enough, stir in a little more, a teaspoon at a time, tasting after each addition.
Like all homemade ice cream, this is especially delicious if you eat it right out of the machine, when it is just softly frozen. If you have to freeze the ice cream for any length of time, let it thaw until it has softened and can easily be scooped.
You can find Cortas rosewater at amazon.com, and also in Middle Eastern food shops and the international aisles of some supermarkets.
Rosewater Ice Cream with Meyer Lemon Zest
Makes about 1 pint
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
2 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
Grated zest of a Meyer lemon
1 to 2 tablespoons rosewater, to taste
Unsprayed, organic rose petals for garnish, if desired
1. Add an inch of water to the bottom half of a double boiler and bring it to a simmer over a medium flame. (See below if you do not have a double boiler.)
2. Combine the milk and cream in another pot and heat the mixture gently over a low flame.
3. In the top of the double boiler, whisk the egg yolks and sugar to combine.. Set the mixture over the simmering water and keep whisking as you slowly pour in the warm milk and cream. Continue to whisk until the mixture begins to thicken—do not allow it to boil or it will curdle. When the mixture has thickened enough to lightly coat the back of a spoon, remove from the heat.
4. Stir in the grated lemon zest and let cool to room temperature.
5. Stir in one tablespoon of rosewater and taste. If a stronger flavor is desired, add a little more rosewater, a teaspoon at a time. Pour the mixture into a covered container and chill in the refrigerator for 3 or more hours.
6. Taste the mixture after it is cold and adjust the flavor if necessary. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions.
7. Serve as soon as it is ready, garnished with organic, unsprayed rose petals if desired.
Note: If you do not have a double boiler, you can approximate one by setting a large, heat-proof bowl into the top of medium, heavy-bottomed pot filled with an inch of water. Be sure that the simmering water does not touch the bottom of the bowl, or the ice cream mixture may curdle. The bowl should sit partway into the pot, but well above the water.
Simple Rosewater Ice Cream
Makes about 1 pint
1-1/4 cups heavy cream
¾ cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons rosewater, to taste
Organic, unsprayed rose petals for garnish, if desired
1. In a medium saucepan, combine the heavy cream, milk and sugar. Warm it over a medium flame and stir to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
2. Add the rosewater: first one tablespoon, and then a teaspoon at a time if a stronger flavor is desired.
3. Pour the mixture into a covered container and refrigerate for 3 or more hours until it is well chilled.
4. Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. 5. Serve immediately, garnished with organic, unsprayed rose petals if desired.