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Ice cream

Last month, I received an invitation to visit the French Sénat. Like most of the government buildings here in Paris, this is one fabulous. Think wildly-ornate with lots of gilding and chandeliers and gardens that are plucked and shaved within an inch of their life. (‘Nature’ in Paris is meant to be looked at…ne touchez pas!) Plus there was a gorgeous dining room where les Sénateurs dine.

(Well, I should say, the real Sénateurs, since they didn’t seem to have my name on that list.)

I don’t know why the exhibition of foods and wines from the Lot-et-Garonne, was being held there, but I felt pretty special all the same. And who doesn’t like feeling special?


There was a decent selection of foods to try. Lots of foie gras, some nice Gascon cheeses, and of course, pruneaux d’Agen. And lots of ’em. Since they were free, I ate as many as I could, especially the ones stuffed with chocolate-flavored prune filling. I was in prune heaven!

Except the next day—I was in prune hell.
Like Armagnac (take it from me); it’s worth knowing your limits.

Plum Oil and Ice Cream Do Mi

But one of the most interesting things was huile de noyau, huile d’amandons de pruneaux, or simply plum oil—to us American-types. Actually, it’s the oil pressed from plum kernels, which have a deep bitter almond scent that I love. It’s a flavor that goes amazingly well with fruits like plums, apricots and raspberries, but I was little curious as what to do with oil

“Hmmm”, I thought, as I unscrewed the cap and took a deep sniff of the golden oil, which had the strong aroma of bitter almonds. And my mind started churning.

Plum Oil

While the reps gave me some savory suggestions, being a sweet kinda guy, I had other ideas. I poured a teeny bit into a batch of granola that I was mixing it up, which gave it a lovely almond under-note And I added a tiny drizzle to a bowl of steamy pumpkin soup (although, I swear…that was my last bowl of soup I’m eating this winter.) Since it’s pure oil, it can be added to cake batter or pure melted chocolate as well and I’m thinking of making a ganache with it when I get my act together. Might be fun with marshmallows too?

Yogurt & Homemade Granola


Honey Crunch Granola Topping from The Perfect Scoop

But it seems like most things around here eventually wind up in my ice cream maker. And this plum oil was no exception.

I’ve nicknamed this; The Ice Cream No One Will Ever Make, since it has a few esoteric ingredients. Although dried sour cherries are common in the states, in France, they’re practically impossible to get. A health food store near me sell them, and they cost 55€ ($80) per kilo, roughly $35 per pound.

That makes my Pistachio Gelato seem like a bargain!

Aside from the elusive plum oil, I marinated the cherries for a couple of days first in Metté eau-de-vie de cacao, a crystal-clear liquor distilled with cocoa beans. I discovered a bottle at Lavinia, the huge wine shop in Paris that has a gazillion other flavors of eau-de-vie (garlic or thyme anyone?), but of course I was so excited by the chocolate one.

However I started receiving bottles as gifts from friends who came for dinner who were just as excited as I was. The excitement wore off a bit as soon I had more bottles than I knew what to do with. Which you might not think is a problem, but how many bottles of eau-de-vie can you drink?

You may congratulate me; like a good Senator, I’ve finished off the last bottle—and I’m still standing. (And I’ve almost reached my deadline!)

And I thought the scent of cacao pods would pair well with the cherries and plum oil, especially since I served this for dessert on Christmas with warm chocolate sauce and either atop crispy meringues or in profiteroles, poofy cream puffs. I forgot which since it was almost a month ago.

And there was all that eau-de-vie, too.


Plum Kernel Oil Ice Cream

You can use a few drops of pure, top-quality almond extract in lieu of the plum oil. Add a few drops to taste, a little at a time. It’s a very strong flavor so proceed cautiously. Next time I make this, I’m going to use less of the sour cherries and fold in some salted candied almonds instead of scattering a few of them over each plate of dessert. Since spring is just around the corner (j’éspere…) I look forward to serving this ice cream, sans the sour cherries but alongside a plum tart, apricot and raspberry crisp, or with a ladle of warm cherry compote instead. The bitter almond flavor is pretty super with any stone fruit or berries. And, of course, chocolate.
  • 1 cup (250ml) whole milk
  • 2/3 cup (130g) sugar
  • big pinch of salt
  • 2 cups (500ml) heavy cream
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 6 tablespoons (90g) plum oil
  • 1/4 cup (30g) dried sour cherries, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons eau-de-vie, or another liquor*
  • Heat the milk in a medium-size saucepan with the sugar and salt.
  • While that’s heating, pour the cream into a metal bowl and set that bowl into a larger bowl with some ice, creating an ice bath. Set a mesh strainer over the top of the empty bowl.
  • Whisk the yolks in a small bowl and gradually pour some of the warm milk mixture over the yolks, whisking constantly. Scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan and cook the custard using a heatproof utensil, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture thickens. If using an instant-read thermometer, it should read 160-170F (71-77C).
  • Pour the custard through the strainer into the heavy cream set over the ice bath, then stir frequently until the mixture is cooled down. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or until thoroughly chilled.
  • Soak the sour cherries in the eau-de-vie, cover, and let them stand overnight, stirring occasionally.
  • Whisk the oil into the ice cream custard then freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Drain any liquid off from the cherries (which is a tasty little reward for your efforts) and when you remove the ice cream from the machine, fold in the cherries.

*Soaking dried fruits in alcohol prevents them from freezing too hard. If you don’t drink, you can cook them in a sugar syrup (1 part sugar to 1 parts water) until the liquid’s evaporated, or just plump them in hot water or fruit juice and spoon a few over the top. Since they’re pretty intensely-flavored, don’t go overboard on them. Especially if they cost what they do around here.

I don’t know of a source for plum kernel oil online or in the US—or in other countries for that matter. But if anyone does, you’re welcome to leave it in the comments. I know some natural food stores carry it, but be sure it says it’s suitable for consumption if you’re worried about toxicity.

(Update: I was tipped off by a reader who found a company in the US which sells plum kernel oil.)

In Paris, l’huile d’amandons de pruneaux d’Agen (oil from prune ‘almonds’ from Agen) is sometimes available at Lafayette Gourmet and Huilerie LeBlanc (map)

If you don’t have an ice cream machine, check out my post on Making Ice Cream Without A Machine.

Adn you might be interested in my post, Is it safe to eat apricot kernels?



    • Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy

    That was a large selection of prunes. I tend to overdo it with prunes, too. Then I pay! :)

    • bea at La tartine gourmande

    Feeling nicely inspired, as I can see. Only you David, the American, can be making ice cream in Paris in January!

    • Babeth

    You’re the master of ice-cream!

    • David

    Babeth: We have an expression in English; that someone who “wrote the book” on something is passionate about it.

    If so, it certainly fits the bill in this case!

    Perhaps I should write a book about eau-de-vie next, except it’s a little easier to taste ice cream than it is that high-test water-of-life.

    béa: Oddly, the woman at my local chocolate shop (that I don’t go to) told Molly; “Only an American would buy chocolate truffles in the middle of the summer.”

    We Americans are certainly a wacky bunch.
    Unlike the French ; )

    Sara: Boy, sounds like you’re up for another Prune Blogging Thursday!

    • Jenn S

    I have a new mission…find some Plum oil, it sounds devine! Thank you for sharing this treasure. We have many plum growers/prune dryers here (the land of Sunsweet) and they MUST have a lead…I’ll let you know what I find.

    • David

    Jenn S: I love a challenge too!

    So…I did more sleuthing and found a third company, Vivier, that makes one and it available in the US. Here’s a source for it, although I’ve never ordered from anything from them: huile de noyau

    (I added this to the original post too…)

    • Leah

    Prune-mania 2008! I mean, I know it’s the International Year of the Potato or whatever, but why can’t it just be International Year of the Wonderful Foods that Start with P?

    • Hillary

    Yep, totally never making that ice cream, but it looks divine!

    • StickyGooeyCreamyChewy

    The ice cream sounds so interesting. Since my chances of finding plum oil are basically nil, could I possibly substitute almond or hazelnut oil instead? I bought some when I was in Paris last summer and have only used them in salads so far.

    • Melissa

    Here’s a UK site that sells the plum oil online – at a price, though!

    Since I’m not quite ready to bankrupt myself for ice cream (though I’m tempted!) I’m wondering if a drop of bitter almond extract would be an acceptable substitute?

    • hag

    plum oil…how great. I have never heard of it. But I do recall that apricot ( peach) kernels have a lovely almond smell to them…so why not. Thanks for enlightening me to this new product ( new to me) I wonder how it is made? I guess the same way nut oils are made.

    • David

    Melissa: Yow! For some reason, that site I gave in the US is selling it for $8.25/bottle, whereas it’s around 16€ ($24US) here in Paris. You can certainly use almond extract; just follow the guidelines in the headnote. : )

    SGCC: I think you could, although the ice cream might taste kinda salad-like. What I would do is make the plain custard and pour a little out, add a few drop of the oil and taste it to help you decide.

    • Mercedes

    Ooo, you know that Spanish chocolate-olive oil mousse? I bet it would be fabulous with this, a chocolate plum oil mousse!

    Those same people actually sent me a bottle of plum oil to try (via their ny distributor), and it’s still sitting in the cabinet. I better get to work!

    • Tags

    How about a little lemon rind, maybe with the plum oil or almond extract?

    • Anne

    Can you tell me where it is possible to order pure almond or raspberry extract? I am still seething about the order form at Watkins (which is supposed to be so good.) I ordered vanilla and lemon extract for friends–and some of the almond and raspberry for stocking presents.
    Even though the price and size for the lemon extract was the same as the other two, they were artificial. That was not noted at all on the Web site, and when I called to complain I was told it was the result of FDA regs—the extracts were real. However the labels on the bottles were of chemicals.
    Is there another source that you can recommend?
    I really hate to see them getting away with such deceptive practices.
    Sincerely, Anne

    • David

    hi Anne: I’m using Star Kay White almond extract which is very nice. The Star Kay White site seems to be under construction so you can call to find out where it’s available. Their chocolate extract is amazing and they perhaps carry the others you’re looking for, so it’s worth a call.

    Usually natural foods stores in your area should carry good almond extract, too.

    If possible, look for the words: bitter almonds in the ingredients when shopping.

    Although not extract, American Almond Products has the best almond paste I’ve ever tasted. We used it at Chez Panisse and it has that very strong flavor of almonds.

    I wish they shipped to Paris!

    • June

    I found a U.S. company that sells Plum Kernel Oil for around $8 for 8 ounces. Here’s the link: Mountain Rose Herbs.

    Your ice cream sounds divine. Seems like a lot of plum oil but I guess it has a mild flavour? Anyway I have to try it with a plum tart this summer. Yum.


    • David

    Hi June: Thanks, although people ordering plum kernel oil should make sure that it’s intended for consumption.

    There are companies that sell it, but buyers should note whether it’s for cosmetic purposes or edible. If it’s not clear, folks should call or email the company prior to ordering for confirmation.


    (And yes, it’s outstanding with plums!)

    • Vicky

    pure almond extract is made with bitter almond oil though bitter almonds are banned in the US, right?

    • David

    Hi Vicky-Yes, bitter almonds contain prussic acid, which apparently is toxic. But it’s used as a base for almond extract. I toured the Blue Diamond almond plant once and when I asked how they de-toxified it, they said: “It’s a secret.”

    In Europe, bitter almonds are added to almond pastes, marzipans, and cookies (such as amaretti). I knew people in California with bitter almond trees & you can buy apricot kernels in Chinese herbalists, although I don’t think they’re legal since they’re often labeled as something else.

    Allegedly, they’re used for sinus ailments, although some people buy them for…um…other purposes.

    • Ian Benson

    You can get Plum Kernel Oil on-line from

    • Serena

    hi! i do not think i’ll manage to find plum oil…is there anything i can use instead of it?


    • Kate

    Hi David

    This looks lovely, but I’m wondering if this tastes different from noyau ice cream, and if so, how? Because I make noyau ice cream often, using apricot kernels which I infuse in the hot milk, and they’re a lot cheaper than apricot or plum kernel oil! Thanks.

    • David

    Kate: Yes, the flavor of the ice cream is nearly identical if you infuse the kernels. The oil gives it a creamier texture.


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