An Ode to Spring: Almond Wood Smoked Cherry Blossom Ice-Cream + Two Extra Flavours to Indulge Your Japanese Wanderlust

I have spoken often about daffodils and their sunny disposition as of late. After snowdrops, which I unfortunately did not come across at the beginning of the year, daffodils are next in line to awaken to bare hope and to sound the call of an approaching Spring. And yet, somehow, my heart still holds on dearly to the idyllic scene of streets and parks, lined with flowering trees displaying their array of voluptuous bouquets of blossoms. But, nothing gives onlookers more pleasure, than the sight of the cherry blossom.

For the last few weeks, I have patiently awaited the blossoming of my neighbours cherry blossoms across the street. They seem to be a late blooming variety, although the amount of snowfall we seem to have had this week probably did not encourage them either. Only now have they begun to show their abundance of delicate buds and I imagine (hope) that, given one or two weeks more, they will begin to showcase themselves, in all their blushing pink glory. Naturally, my perhaps rather childish excitement to see them has led me to imagine all the wonderful things that I can do with them, particularly in my little kitchen. Of course, the cherry blossom fever that I have been having for the last week or so has also been influenced by the confirmation that Djamo and I will be venturing back to Japan in early Autumn. Although cherry blossoms will definitely not be around during that particular time of the year, I am overly excited to see our friends again and discover the wonderful abundance of seasonal foods that will be on offer.

If you remember, a number of weeks ago, I decided to experiment with making a homemade sakura extract, which I am rather pleased to say, worked out rather well. Like rosewater, a small delicate hint of sakura is all you need to flavour desserts and whilst experimenting with making the sakura ice-cream for this post, it became more apparent that one teaspoon would be more than enough to bring this beloved flavour to life. As the extract is extremely concentrated, if used too much, like rose or orange blossom, it will taste rather medicinal. Of course, I did not want to solely depend on using my sakura extract for this ice-cream in order to bring out the flavour. Instead, I decided to use a small drop of extract in conjunction with a cherry blossom syrup and the pickled sakura. I am fortunate enough to know and have befriended a few people who (coincidently) happen to own one or two ornamental cherry blossoms in their gardens and they have allowed me to to pick a number of flowers that I pickled to preserve them for later enjoyment in the year. Thank you.

This post, as with quite a number of my posts as of late, has had me indulging my sweet tooth. However, cherry blossoms are by no means sweet on their own. I’ve noticed that flavoured salts have really taken off in the last couple of years and are still a trending culinary endeavour. This is easily done with the sakura by just simply grinding the pickled cherry blossoms coarsely in a coffee grinder (2-3 blossoms would be enough) and adding 1tbsp of sea salt. This provides a lovely, fragrant Cherry Blossom Salt which is wonderful with seafood and tempura.

A word of warning before journeying any further: the recipes I will be sharing in this blog post are, on the whole, not only long, but extensive in number. I have tried to be as thorough as possible, so for all who wish to really experiment with sakura, you can easily find all the recipes required to make the ice-cream below right here. I have also provided two additional Japan-inspired ice-cream flavours that complement the floral richness of the sakura: silken tofu with a sencha caramel ribbon, and the classic black sesame.

Almond Wood Smoked Cherry Blossom Ice-Cream

The almond wood, rather than providing a heaviness to this floral flavour, provides more deeper, creamier notes of sweet almonds, and the minutest hints of smoke. It is perhaps strange to say that cherry blossoms taste nothing like cherries, but in fact, faintly of plums, flowers and almonds.

*UPDATE* I used beetroot powder now to achieve a lovely pink hue. Simply use 1tsp or so until desired colour is reached instead of the liquid colouring.

Makes: 6-8 scoops
Cooking time: 1+ hours

Ingredients:

300ml milk
300ml heavy cream
1 cup of almond wood chips, dampened
1/2 cup caster sugar
1tbsp vanilla sugar
1tsp sakura extract
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup sakura syrup (recipe to follow)
12 pickled sakura blossoms (recipe to follow)
4-5 drops natural pink food colouring, or until desired colour is achieved (recipe to follow)

Begin by turning on the oven to a high heat. Place the cup of almond wood chips in a roasting pan with approximately 4 tablespoons of water. Ensuring that the middle section of the foil has a slight dome shape and cover the edges tightly to ensure that no smoke can escape. Place in the oven for 20 minutes or until smoking and browning.

When ready, turn off the heat and remove the roasting pan from the oven. Remove the aluminium foil and spoon the wood chips quickly into a saucepan filled with the milk and cream. Stir once or twice and allow to infuse for 30 minutes to an hour.

Using a sieve, separate the wood chips from the cream into a jug or bowl. Clean and dry the saucepan before pouring the cream back into it. Place the saucepan onto the hob and turn on the heat to medium. Stir occasionally. Meanwhile, mix the egg yolks and the sugars together in a bowl until creamy.

When the cream begins to simmer, take it off the heat and pour a couple of tablespoons into the egg yolks, stirring continuously to ensure that egg does not cook and scramble.

Now, pour the yolks back into the milk, very slowly, continuously stirring away. When all of the yolks have been poured into the milk, place the saucepan back onto a medium heat and stir until it begins to thicken and the custard base coats the back of a wooden spoon. Take off the heat again and pour in the extract and sakura syrup.

Whilst the custard base begins to cool, select 12 pickled sakura and rinse to remove excess salt. Pat dry gently. Add to the custard and stir.

Pour the custard into a bowl and place this into a larger bowl filled with ice cold water. Stir occasionally and allow to cool down. When at room temperature, place the custard base into an ice-cream maker and follow the instructions. Alternatively, pour into a container and place in the freezer, stirring the mixture every hour or so for the first 3 hours before allowing to freeze overnight.

Pickled Sakura
Source: Wagashi Chronicles  

Cherry Blossom tea: my first experience with pickled sakura. Definitely an acquired taste. Pickled sakura are used to flavour rice and onigiri, as well as to flavour sweets, such as mochi (see also: Sakura Extract). I have used the directions set out by The Wagashi Chronicles Blog  (the blog provides some wonderful recipes to make some exquisite Japanese delicacies, so if you have a chance, please check it out) and even though the process may seem long, rest assured it is not overly complicated nor difficult. It is, however, definitely worth the effort. Of course, pickling sakura may not be practical for many. If you do not have the time or access to the ingredients, there a number of Japanese websites that do ship internationally and are well worth a look.

Cooking time: 8 days
Makes: 200g

Ingredients:

200g cherry blossoms with stems (e.g.Prunus Serrulata)
100g sea salt, fine
4tbsp ume plum vinegar

Day 1: Remove the cherry blossoms from the branches (when choosing the cherry blossoms, make sure that they are either still in bud or are only half opened). Rinse and clean with cold water (make sure there are no insects etc. amongst the petals) and gently pat dry with a paper towel. In a bowl, toss the cherry blossoms and 50g of the salt, before placing a plate (small enough to fit into the bowl) and a heavier object on top (e.g bag of flour weighing about 400g) over the cherry blossoms. This will draw out extra moisture from the blossoms. Wrap the bowl in clingfilm and leave overnight on the counter.

Day 2: Remove the weight and plate from the bowl, take out the cherry blossoms and squeeze out any excess liquid. Clean the bowl, and ensure that it is dry before adding the cherry blossoms once again, after which you sprinkle the ume plum vinegar over them. Place the plate on top of the blossoms, with a lighter weight (e.g a tin of tomatoes weighing about 100-150g), cover the bowl with clingfilm and set aside for three days on the counter.

Day 5: Remove the cherry blossoms from the bowl. Cover cooling tray with a paper towel (or a cheesecloth) and place each cherry blossom on top of this (ensure they do not over lap). Leave in a dry place with no direct sunlight for another three days.

Day 8: Place the dried cherry blossoms back into a bowl with the rest of the salt. Toss gently before placing the contents of the bowl in a a sealable glass jar, or, a plastic sealable bag within a glass jar in a dark, cool place.

Use within 1 year.

Sakura Syrup

The first thing that came to mind when I first made this syrup was how amazing it would be on baklawa (pronounced bak-lawa, where I come from, not baklava) instead of the orange blossom syrup or rose water syrup that usually is used to drench and elevate the humble dessert to a heavenly status. I can imagine using this with confectionary sugar to ice little cookies and buttery biscuits, or simply drizzling it over roasted fruit, with vanilla.

Makes: Approximately 400ml

Ingredients:

2  cups caster sugar
2 cups of water
1 cup pickled sakura, rinsed in warm water to remove excess salt
4 pickled sakura leaves, rinsed in warm water and torn (recipe to follow)
3-4 drops of natural pink food colouring (recipe to follow) (optional)

Place the sugar and the water into a saucepan over a medium heat. Stir occasionally until sugar dissolves, then add the sakura flowers and leaves to the saucepan. Allow the solution to come to a boil. Leave to boil for approximately a minute then turn off the heat. At this point, you can either leave the flowers and leaves in the syrup to infuse for approximately 30 minutes before discarding the contents and pouring the syrup into a sterilised jar. Or, you can completely skip the infusion step and simply leave the contents in the syrup. Use within 2 weeks.

Pickled Sakura Leaves
Adapted: Wagashi Chronicles

The leaves of the sakura tree retain most of the scent of this seasonal flavour. This does not take as long to prepare as the pickled blossoms and I absolutely adore their slight saltiness, particularly when it is used in desserts such as sakura-mochi with their sweet adzuki bean fillings. When you are pickling the leaves, you can calculate how much salt is required for the recipe (20% of the weight of the leaves in grams) and how much salty water to use (same weight as leaves). The water to salt has an approximate ratio of 2:1, but this does not need to be too accurate. 

Cooking time: 4 days +
Makes: 40 leaves

Ingredients:

40 young and tender sakura leaves, 1cm of stem attached
27g sea salt, fine
36ml water

Wash the leaves in cold water before patting dry and placing in a sieve. Pour boiling water over the leaves and place them into a bowl of cold water and ice immediately. Remove from the water and gently pat dry with a paper towel to remove any moisture. Stack the leaves into groups of 10-12 leaves (with all leaves facing the same direction).

Add 3g of the sea salt on to a tray or baking dish (e.g. lasagne dish), evenly distributed on the bottom before taking the stacks of leaves and placing them on top of the salt while ensuring that they do not overlap each other. Add another 4g of salt on top of the leaves. Add the water and the rest of the salt into a measuring jug and mix until the salt has dissolved (or most of it has dissolved). Pour this over and around the leaves.

Now, directly cover the leaves with some clingfilm before placing a rectangular plate or tray (one that will fit into the dish) and place a bag of flour or another heavy object on top. Leave for three days.

When ready, place the leaves into sealable bags without rinsing or removing any of the salt (this can be in their stacks of 10-12, or can be reduced to 5 each, depending on how much you see yourself using for future recipes). Remove any air from these bags before storing in a freezer, or refrigerator. Use within two years.


Natural Pink Colouring

Sadly, cherry blossoms do not provide any colour of their own when it comes to infusions, so all the cherry blossoms related treats usually have some form of red colouring in them to produce their delicate pink colour. By all means, this step can be skipped as the ice-cream itself will still look lovely, however, to achieve that beautiful blush colour of the season, this natural pink colouring is a great alternative to synthetic dyes.

Cooking time: 30 mins
Makes: 25ml

Ingredients:

3 beetroots, peeled and diced
700ml water
2tsp granulated sugar

Place the peeled beetroots into a saucepan, and pour the water over them. Turn on the heat to medium high and allow to come to boil. When boiling is reached, allow the beetroots to cook for 10-15 minutes or until soft enough to your liking.

Take the beetroots out of the saucepan, and add the sugar to the water. Allow the pink liquid to continue cooking on a simmering heat (the beetroots can be eaten straight away or stored in the fridge for approximately 3 days).

Continue cooking the liquids until it is reduced and it slightly thickens, which may take approximately 5 minutes.  Once done, pour into a sterilised jar and seal. Use within 6 weeks.

Silken Tofu Ice Cream with a Sencha Caramel Ribbon

I remember being in Kyoto when I first tried tofu ice cream and I must say, I was completely hooked! As you all know, I love to infuse flavours, so I could not resist experimenting with the Sencha green tea that my mother gave me. You can use any loose tea you like, but I absolutely adore this caramel with its slight hints of green tea flavour paired with this creamy ice cream, as well as with the cherry blossom flavoured ice cream.

Serves: 4 scoops
Cooking time: 1+ hour, plus freezing

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups silken tofu (1 x 300g tofu package)
2 egg yolks
100ml heavy cream
100ml milk
1/3 cup caster sugar
2tsp vanilla sugar

Sencha Caramel

3/4 cup heavy cream
1tsp sencha loose green tea leaves
1 cup vanilla sugar
1 pinch of himalayan pink salt

Place the sencha loose tea leaves into a saucepan with the heavy cream and allow to heat up over a medium/high heat until the cream begins to simmer. Take off the heat and allow to infuse for 30 minutes. Strain and discard tea leaves (I left some of the tinier shreds of the tea to remain in the caramel).

When ready, in a frying pan or another saucepan, pour in the sugar and over a medium/high heat, allow to melt and turn a golden brown colour (stir only occasionally). When desired colour is reached, take off the heat and pour in the heavy cream (be careful as it will splutter). Turn down the heat to medium and stir until the sugar lumps that have formed melt again. Turn off the heat and add the salt before allowing it to cool down (alternatively, place in a heatproof jar).

Next, mash the tofu until fine with no lumps and place  in a saucepan filled with the heavy cream and milk over a medium/low heat (alternatively, place the cream, milk and tofu into a blender and been until smooth). Stir occasionally (do not allow to boil). Meanwhile, separate the eggs (keep the egg whites for later use for other recipes). Whisk the caster sugar and vanilla sugar into the yolks until it forms a creamy colour.

Continue to stir the milk mixture until just before it begins to simmer. Take the saucepan off the heat and pour a couple of tablespoons into the egg yolks, stirring continuously to ensure that egg does not cook and scramble.

Now, very slowly pour the yolks back into the milk, continuously stirring away. When all of the yolks have been poured into the milk, place the saucepan back onto a medium heat and stir until it thicken slightly and the custard base coats the back of a wooden spoon.

Pour the custard into a bowl and place this into a larger bowl filled with ice cold water. Stir occasionally and allow to cool down. When at room temperature, place the custard base into an ice-cream maker and follow the instructions. Alternatively, pour into a container and place in the freezer, stirring the mixture every hour or so for the first 3 hours before allowing to freeze overnight.

After the first hour in the freezer, take out the ice-cream and drizzle the caramel into the container, fold the ice-cream around. Place back into the freezer.

Black Sesame Ice Cream

This is perhaps my favourite ice cream flavour in the whole world (at least on par with rose petal ice cream). Simple, creamy, nutty. Perfect on its own and in its unadulterated form.

Serves: 4 scoops
Cooking time: 1+ hour, plus freezing

Ingredients:

5-6tbsp black sesame paste
200ml heavy cream
200ml milk
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup caster sugar

Black Sesame Paste

5tbsp black sesame seeds
3tbsp caster sugar

Place the black sesame seeds in a frying pan over a medium/high heat. Stir occasionally until they begin to turn slightly golden and fragrant. Take off the heat. Place in a coffee grinder with the sugar and blitz until well ground.

Place a saucepan filled with the heavy cream and milk over a medium/low heat and add the black sesame paste. Stir occasionally. Meanwhile, separate the eggs (keep the egg whites for later use in other recipes). Whisk the caster sugar into the yolks until it forms a creamy colour.

Continue to stir the milk mixture until just before it begins to bubble and boil. Take the saucepan off the heat and pour a couple of tablespoons into the egg yolks, stirring continuously to ensure that egg does not cook and scramble.

Now, pour the yolks back into the milk, very slowly, continuously stirring away. When all of the yolks have been poured into the milk, place the saucepan back onto a medium heat and stir until it begins to thicken and the custard base coats the back of a wooden spoon.

Pour the custard into a bowl and place this into a larger bowl filled with ice cold water. Stir occasionally and allow to cool down. When at room temperature, place the custard base into an ice-cream maker and follow the instructions. Alternatively, pour into a container and place in the freezer, stirring the mixture every hour or so for the first 3 hours before allowing to freeze overnight.

Thank you for reading.
Enjoy x

Comments

  1. mama raj
    May 2, 2016 / 8:50 am

    Making my mouth water .
    Look forward to trying them out …..

    • Sumac & Dutch
      May 2, 2016 / 10:22 am

      Thank you, Mama Raj! I think you will enjoy them, especially with a cup of green tea.

  2. May 2, 2016 / 6:48 pm

    Wow so creative I can only begin to imagine what almond wood smoked cherry blossom tastes like Ive never tried cherry blossom but I image it tastes heavenly and that the aroma must play a huge part in the experience.

    • Sumac & Dutch
      May 2, 2016 / 7:58 pm

      Thank you, Rebecca! It is definitely one of those flavours that you have to experience. Personally, I was introduced to the flavour on my first trip to Japan, and I’ve been hooked ever since. If you like, I could provide you with some good websites that sell both sakura and the pickled leaves? 🙂

  3. May 2, 2016 / 7:53 pm

    what utterly incredible recipes! rather complicated for me to attempt but i do love looking at your amazing photos and flavours. x

    • Sumac & Dutch
      May 2, 2016 / 8:09 pm

      Thank you so much 🙂 Some of the recipes might seem challenging, but the hardest part, for me, is sourcing the ingredients. The rest is just simply having fun and playing with flavours. I think out of all the ice-creams on this post, the easiest and fastest to make has to be the tofu ice-cream. The caramel can be made in advance and the ice-cream itself takes about an hour at most. The rest is simply freezing. xx

    • Sumac & Dutch
      May 3, 2016 / 10:42 am

      Thank you, Angela! 🙂 I agree, the black sesame ice-cream is very striking and some people may be put off by its appearance, but I think its almost obsidian colour makes it more mysterious and the flavours are absolutely incredible! x

  4. Misrii - Homemade Food
    August 10, 2017 / 12:23 pm

    Sounds like a delicious ice cream recipe which has just the flavors I love
    http://www.misrii.com/

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