Lavender-Honey Ice Cream

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We finally moved back to Santa Cruz a few weeks ago! The night of the move, with boxes still piled in every room and the blank walls standing expectantly for adornment, I took a breath and felt a deep calm, like I’d been holding my breath for the eight years we’d been gone. Though we made wonderful memories and friends during our time away, it still felt so right to be home at last, where we’re meant to be.

One of my biggest projects at the new place has been making the backyard a joyful and beautiful place to spend time. The man who lived here before was very reclusive due to his age and circumstance, so the spacious yard had clearly been ignored and left to fend for itself for quite some time. Our landlords (who we’ve been friends with for years) gave us free rein to do what we want with the landscaping, and I jumped at the opportunity. My dad practically lived here for ten days while we (let’s be honest, mostly he) built three large raised garden beds, both of us covered in dirt the texture of cinnamon as we dug out ten inches below the beds to add a layer of gopher wire, which made my dad’s legs look like he’d gotten into a fight with an aggressive cat. Then came the stapling, plus the backfilling of old dirt, then endless trips with the wheelbarrows to bring in the fresh dirt we’d had delivered to the back driveway. One morning while Phoebe napped I tucked four tomato plants and three pepper plants into one bed, and tenderly furrowed the dirt in the other two beds to make way for kale, chard, sunflower, and herb seeds. Each day a new sprout pops up, guarded by my makeshift gopher wire protector domes, bringing me a new jolt of joy.

After that, Dad came back to single-handedly sledgehammer his way through the random concrete on the edges of the house so we could prep the dirt and lay bender board to line a swooping flower bed, filled with bark and flowers to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Dad and Jonji spent a dusty day removing the large swath of asphalt by the garage, which will one day (hopefully) be host to grass and wandering native weeds. I went a little crazy buying plants and came home with five different types of lavender, ranging from bulbous, darkly purple Spanish lavender to delicate, pink (yes, actually pink!) lavender. I love them all, with their comforting, warmly floral scent, soaking in the sun that bakes our backyard almost the entire day.

I remember thinking my aunt went a little overboard in her love of lavender, twelve-year-old me noting all the little bottles and lotions she had in her bright bathroom with a touch of confusion. I don’t know if the infatuation with lavender only develops as an adult, or if my own personal tastes changed, but now I can’t get enough. I too, now have several lavender products in my bathroom. My mom recently made lavender tea and it was a revelation. And of course, I cannot get enough of it in ice cream, paired fittingly with honey.

This delicately flavored ice cream is refreshing and unique, and puts me in mind of lazy afternoons spent in the garden, surrounded by happily buzzing bees as they feast on Spring flowers. Unfortunately, the ice cream doesn’t turn purple, but perhaps that can add to the experience if you’d like to challenge guests to guess what the flavor is.

Let me just say: ice cream is not at all hard to make. To ensure success, lay out all of your bowls, ingredients, and utensils before you start cooking anything. The only part you really need to watch like a hawk is getting the hot milk into the egg yolks, then cooking the custard until just set. Everything else is really just a waiting game. If you’re worried, take a look at some videos online!

Lavender-Honey Ice Cream

makes about 4 cups (1 quart)  |  adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebowitz

1/2 cup mild honey
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp dried lavender
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar, divided in two
pinch of fine sea salt
5 large egg yolks

In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat 1/2 cup honey with 1/4 cup dried lavender flowers until hot to the touch. Stir to ensure all the lavender is covered in honey, then set aside and let steep for 1-2 hours.

Place the 1 1/2 cups cream in a medium bowl and set a fine-mesh strainer on top. Heat the lavender honey until warm just so it has a looser consistency, then strain the honey into the cream. Press down on the lavender to extract as much flavor as you can—really get in there! This takes me a few minutes of hard pressing with a rubber spatula. Ready an ice bath in a large bowl that can fit the bowl with the cream and honey—I use about 2 cups of cold water and several ice cubes.

Combine 1 1/2 cups of milk, 1/4 cup sugar (half of 1/2 cup), and a pinch of salt in a small pot and set over medium heat. Heat, stirring often, until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid feels hot (but not boiling) to the touch and a few little bubbles are popping up around the edges.

Meanwhile, place the 5 egg yolks in a medium heatproof bowl and whisk them lightly with the other 1/4 cup sugar until the mixture is light in color, about 1 minute. Set this bowl right next to the stove on a kitchen towel (this will ensure the bowl doesn’t slide around the counter).

Whisking the egg yolks constantly and quickly, slowly pour 1/2 cup (about 1 ladle full) of the hot milk mixture into the yolks. Repeat once more, with another 1/2 cup, continuing to whisk (if you don’t whisk quickly and constantly, some of the egg may curdle).

Pour the yolk mixture slowly into the milk mixture on the stove, while constantly stirring the milk mixture with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring all the while, for a couple more minutes or until thickened. To know if the custard is properly thickened, run one finger over the back of the spoon: if it is done, there will be a clean trail where your finger was (the mixture will hold the line relatively well).

Moving quickly, pour the custard through the strainer on top of the bowl with the honey and cream (the bowl should now be sitting in the ice bath). Remove the strainer and stir the custard and cream together with a clean spoon or spatula. Add 2 tbsp dried lavender flowers. Stir every few minutes, until the ice cream mixture is cool. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours, or overnight.

Strain the lavender out of the custard just before churning. Freeze the ice cream according to your mixture’s instructions—generally, it takes about 20 minutes to freeze. Set whatever vessel you’ll be storing the ice cream in in the freezer while it’s churning. Allow at least a few hours (but ideally overnight) for the now-frozen ice cream to set in the freezer. Enjoy!

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