In terms of favorite ice cream flavors, it’s likely that Fig Leaf Ice Cream isn’t at the top of your list. But once you taste it, you’ll probably add it. It’s tricky to provide an exact description of the flavor, which is coconutty, and references figs, but is its own flavor in and of itself.
Living in a city, I don’t have a fig tree, unfortunately. There are some around town that I’ve had my eye on, but it’s probably best not to go around defoliating trees that aren’t yours. You might just need six leaves to make this ice cream…but what if fifty other people want to make it at the same time? Yes, it’s that good.
I was fortunate because I didn’t need to resort to any illicit activities. (I figured after moving from San Francisco, those days were behind me…) I was visiting friends in the countryside, who have a few fig trees that were almost ripe for the taking. The actual figs weren’t ready to be picked yet, but I snipped a few fig leaves to bring home, and later some dreamy, dewy, dead-ripe figs to serve alongside. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Getting back to the leaves, it’s preferable to pick the fig leaves when they’re young. They seem to have more flavor, likely because they haven’t been sitting out in the sun for days and days. That’s just a hunch. I don’t have 24/7 access to fig leaves to test out that theory, so I’m sticking with it. (People online keep imploring me to plant things, like fresh herbs in pots outside, exclaiming how easy they are to grow, etc., but friends who were staying in my apartment while I was traveling texted me one day to let me know a gentleman had just finished relieving himself in one of my planters outside. So for obvious reasons, I’m not too enthused about growing – and eating – anything grown out there.)
Although it’s not necessary to heat the fig leaves, the warming does bring out their flavors. You’re welcome to put them on a grill, but I used a cast-iron skillet. You can also make the ice cream without warming the leaves.
Once I churned up the ice cream, I began scoping out figs at the local market. The ones I saw weren’t quite ripe or ready, and I was losing hope, until I was shopping at Terroirs d’Avenir and saw they had perfectly ripe figs, cracking a bit around the sides, with the cracks oozing a little bit of the sticky sap that was threatening to burst the fragile skins. I knew I had to have them, and carried them home like precious jewels.
I have to say, as much as I love the Fig Leaf Ice Cream, which I sweetened with honey to accentuate the earthiness of the fig leaves, the combination with the ripe figs took it right up to the top of my list of favorite desserts. If you can get your hands on some fresh fig leaves, I think you’ll agree, and it’ll whizz (or zoom, I should say) to the top of your favorites, too.
Fig Leaf and Honey Ice Cream
- 6 medium fresh fig leaves
- 2 cups (500ml) heavy cream
- 1 cup (250ml) whole milk
- 6 tablespoons (75g) sugar
- pinch salt
- 5 large egg yolks
- 3 tablespoons (60g) honey, (warmed, if it's not pourable)
- In a cast iron skillet (or on the grill), heat fig leaves, turning a few times while warming until they are slightly dried out and fragrant - about 1 1/2 minutes. (Heat them in batches if your pan isn't wide enough.)
- Put the leaves in a medium saucepan. Add 1 cup (250ml) cream, and the milk, sugar, and salt. Heat the mixture until the cream is warm and sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, cover, and let infuse for one hour at room temperature.
- Remove the leaves with a slotted spoon and squeeze them over the infused milk and cream mixture, to extract as much flavor from them as possible. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.Set up an ice bath by filling a large bowl half full with ice, adding some water, then inserting a medium bowl over the ice. Pour the remaining 1 cup of cream into the medium bowl and set a mesh strainer over the top.
- Warm the infused cream and milk mixture then pour it into the egg yolks in a steady stream while whisking constantly. Scrape the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat until the mixture just begins to thicken; an instant-read thermometer will read 160ºF (71ºC).
- Immediately strain the custard into the cream in the ice bath and stir in the honey. Continue to stir gently until the mixture is cool.
- Chill the mixture well, preferably overnight, then churn in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.