Persian restaurants and markets serve a lovely floral ice cream, fragrant with the scent of roses. Once you taste it, you’ll know that you have discovered the essence of summer. Unfortunately, not everyone has a Persian market nearby—but this rose water ice cream recipe is easy to make.
The key ingredient, of course, is rose water. It’s said that rose water is the vanilla of the Middle East, and it’s true that it flavors sweets throughout the region, just as vanilla is pervasive in the U.S. What is rose water exactly? Very generally speaking, it’s made by simmering rose petals (and only the petals) in water
and either collecting the rose-scented steam that is produced—the rose distillate—or more simply by draining the rose petals, which are discarded, and keeping the water. Since roses are so often grown with a lot of pesticides, it’s safer, as well as easier, to buy commercially produced rose water.
It’s readily available online if you can’t find a local purveyor. Once you have your rose water in hand, you can make your own ice cream. (You can also get rose extract and use that if you prefer—but it is much stronger than rose water; add barely a quarter teaspoon to your ice cream batter.) Start by making a custard base, similar to a gelato.
Rose Water Ice Cream Recipe
3 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
½ – ¾ cup sugar
3 egg yolks
2-3 tablespoons rose water
Combine the cream, milk and sugar in a medium saucepan and place it over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is hot. (Do not boil.) Remove from the heat. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl and slowly stir in a cup of the hot cream mixture to temper the mixture (this keeps the eggs from curdling). Stir the egg-cream mixture into the saucepan with the rest of the cream and return the pan to the heat. Stir constantly over medium heat until the mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. (It will not be as thick as a pudding; it’s more like a crème anglaise.) Remove from the heat, stir in the rose water and taste. Add a little at a time until it has the flavor you want.
Remember that freezing modifies the flavor of ice cream—once it’s frozen, it will not taste as sweet, so if you like a sweeter ice cream, use the larger amount of sugar. If you love the flavor of rose water, add a little more of it.
Strain the custard into a bowl to make sure you get a nice smooth ice cream. Chill the custard (if you are in a hurry, place the bowl of custard over an ice bath and stir it until it’s cold; if you’ve got plenty of time, just put the bowl in the refrigerator). Once the custard is nice and cold, process it according to the instructions on your ice cream maker.
Lots of variations are possible. A shop in Los Angeles, Mashti Malone’s, is famous for its rose water ice cream mixtures—rose water and saffron with pistachios, rose water and ginger—and there’s no reason you couldn’t experiment too. Try adding vanilla or cardamom as well as the rose water.
Once you start experimenting with ice cream flavors, it’s hard to stop, especially once you have found a good source of culinary flowers and flower extracts. You can follow the basic recipe above and use orange blossom water rather than rose water to create another Middle Eastern treat.
Because homemade ice cream lacks the stabilizers found in commercial ice cream, it may well form crystals after a few days in the freezers—but that’s not really a problem. It will be devoured within a day.