Among all the varieties, Medjool dates are considered the largest, plumpest and most prized and should be readily available in your area. Dating back to Egypt in the 5th century BC, dates were transported by the Moors to Spain and thrived throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Medjool plantings originating from Morocco and Jordan are now cultivated in the Coachella Valley of California. I find the most beautiful specimens at my local Farmer's Market.
This ice cream captures the lovely balance of caramelized spiced dates and the bright citrus acidity of oranges. The dates are cooked for a few minutes with a splash of sherry, cinnamon and orange zest to bring out their creamy quality. This compote is then folded into an orange ice cream for a perfect contrast. Once a spoonful lands on your palate, each co-mingling of ingredients reveals itself in perfect order.
As we drift into a welcome season of spring fruit and flowers, Orange Date Ice Cream helps to bridge the waning days of winter and the sunny promise of lots of new spring ice cream recipes to come.
- You may sometimes see a white powdery film forming on the surface of dates. This is due to their high level of natural sugar and is not a cause for alarm. It’s just sugar crystal formation. You can warm them in the oven or steam them and the crystals will dissolve.
- I used a Lustau Amontillado Los Arcos Sherry. It has a nutty bouquet and just the right amount of dryness and sweetness. I also think a Rainwater Madeira, with its caramel, orange and hazelnut notes, would work very well in place of the sherry.
- Salt is a very important ingredient in pastry, especially when it comes to chocolate and citrus. Salt really brings out the truest flavor of orange in this ice cream. Keep adding a few crystals at a time and you'll soon see how significantly it changes the taste.
- If you prefer, you can strain out the orange zest just before you spin the ice cream. I left it in because I don't mind it and I like the splash of color it adds for plating and photos.
- If you don't happen to have Grand Marnier on hand, go ahead without it.
- For an additional textural element, you could also toss in or garnish with toasted almond slices.
Orange Date Ice Cream
zest of 2 large navel oranges
1 C whole milk
2 T honey
1/3 C sugar
4 egg yolks
1 C heavy cream
1/4 C orange juice
1 t lemon juice
1 t Grand Marnier
pinch of salt, to taste
1/4 C amontillado sherry
1 1/2 T water
2 T brown sugar
1/4 t cinnamon
zest of half an orange
6 Medjool dates
tiny pinch of salt
Place milk, honey and the zest of 2 oranges in a saucepan and bring to a low simmer. Remove from heat and steep for 30 minutes.
Combine heavy cream, orange juice and and lemon juice in a bowl with a strainer placed on top. Set aside.
Whisk the yolks and sugar until thick and pale. Add warm milk mixture in a steady stream, whisking constantly until combined. Pour mixture back into the saucepan and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until mixture coats the back of the spoon. Remove from heat and pour through the stainer into the bowl with the cream mixture. Whisk to combine and cool. Add Grand Marnier and a pinch of salt to taste and whisk until thoroughly combined. Place in a clean airtight container and chill overnight.
Chop the dates into small pieces. Place sherry, water, brown sugar, orange zest, cinnamon and salt in a saucepan over low heat. Bring to a slow boil for about 2 or 3 minutes, stirring continuously. Add the chopped dates and lower heat. Cook a few more minutes until the liquid is absorbed.
Freeze the orange ice cream base in your machine. Pour about half of the ice cream into a clean container. Dot the surface with half of the date mixture. Pour another layer of the ice cream on top. Dot the surface with the remaining dates and use the tip of a spoon to press them down into the ice cream. Press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface, cover and place in your freezer until firm.