When I posted a photo of this ice cream on Facebook, a lot of guesses included cantaloupe, sweet potato, and even carrot! Those actually all sound pretty delicious (and my next projects) but for now, this is Thai iced tea ice-cream... ya know, like those delicious drinks you see at Thai restaurants? Orange on the bottom, milk on top, and you have the honor of swirling the two together and slurping it all up.
Thai tea is made from strongly-brewed black tea, but other spices like tamarind, star anise, or orange blossom water are infused as well. The drink is often served with milk (condensed or coconut or evaporated) on top with a ton of ice. It's hard to tell when a restaurant will make it well; a lot of places tend to serve it overly sweetened, masking the true flavors.
In recent years, I've really developed an affection for Thai iced teas... I never used to order anything but water from restaurants (and I still don't), but I make an exception for this brightly orange milky concoction. I've actually had the best ones in St Louis...My StL peeps, take note: both Thai Kitchen and Pearl Cafe make some delicious Thai iced teas!
I had just begun my search for the actual tea leaves when my friend Hao hooked me up with a bag of it from some Chinese stores in the StL area. Delicious! Ever since, I've been making a Thai tea concentrate and keeping it on hand; you just add milk.
I was actually surprised that adding water to the tea leaves turned them a bright, beautiful orange!
I wanted to incorporate the Thai tea leaves in other ways though, and I had spied Thai tea ice cream at the Asian stores for a long time...I was always tempted to try it, but what if it turned out to be terrible?! There are so many brands to choose from and the containers are enormous. It was time to make my own version and find out.
This definitely climbed the ranks of my top ice cream flavors. Everyone who tasted it was genuinely and pleasantly surprised at the strength of the Thai tea flavor. I didn't know what to expect and I guess no one else did either. The best was a friend who took her first bite, eyes widening as she slowly let the ice cream wash over her taste buds. Then she broke into a huge smile with her mouth full and only stopped between bites long enough to declare "This is amaaaazing!"
So the verdict on this Thai iced tea ice cream is that it's perfectly creamy and strong on flavor. If you've ever enjoyed a Thai iced tea, this one's for you. And if you're in the mood to try something exotic, this one's for you, too. I served this to pretty much anyone who came by the apartment and didn't meet a single person who didn't like it.
Also, just FYI, it tasted rather good with some chocolate sauce, if you dare...
*Update 8/20/13: Made these as macaron ice cream sandwiches for my best friend's wedding and they were a huge hit (albeit a little confusing for the French guests who had never heard of it)
Thai Iced Tea Ice Cream
Makes about 1 quart
Adapted from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1.5 ounces cream cheese, soft
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/3 cup Thai tea leaves
1 star anise
Stir two tablespoons of the milk with cornstarch in a bowl.
Combine the remaining milk, cream, sugar, and corn syrup in a large saucepan and bring to a rolling boil over medium to high heat.
Boil for a few minutes, then remove from heat and add the tea leaves and star anise.
Let steep for 10 minutes.
Strain the milk mixture through a fine sieve and press on the tea leaves to extract as much cream as possible, as well as remove the anise.
Return to the saucepan and set on medium-high heat.
Immediately whisk in the cornstarch slurry, allowing the pan to slowly heat up.
Bring back to a boil and stir with a spatula until slightly thickened (about 1 minute).
Remove from heat.
Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth.
Cover the bowl with a lid or plastic wrap and place in the fridge until chilled thoroughly.
Pour the ice cream base into your ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer's directions (mine say to churn for 20 minutes).
Pour into a container, and press parchment paper directly against the surface and seal with a lid.
Freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.
Serve with chocolate sauce (optional).
Thai Concentrate for Thai Iced Tea at Home
from an internet forum
1/3 cup loose Thai tea leaves
4 cups water
2/3 cup sugar
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan.
Bring to a boil and then lower heat to a simmer and brew for 20 minutes.
Pull off heat and cool completely and then strain out the leaves.
When cool, store as a concentrate.
Pour over ice and top with 2 or more tablespoons of half and half (evaporated or regular milk will work) to taste.