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Vietnamese Cinnamon Ice Cream

Tue Oct 28, 2008

Vietnamese Cinnamon

Vietnamese Cinnamon

Share a meal with Diane and Todd from White On Rice Couple and you know you’ll learn something or eat something you’ve never tried before you leave. So when Diane excitedly handed out mottled grey branches at a dinner party a few weeks ago and told us to nibble on them, I went with it. I bit, rabbit-like with my front teeth, slowly breaking down the small, fibrous piece, mixing it with my saliva as instructed. Slowly my mouth filled with a sweet heat. The branch I was eating tasted exactly like the cross between an Atomic Fire Ball and Red Hots. I was struck at first by the spicy, lingering flavor, then by the idea that Fire Balls and Red Hots actually tasted like anything in nature.

What we were eating was real Vietnamese cinnamon, Diane told us, brought back from a recent trip to see her family in Vietnam. Often called Saignon cinnamon, the name is a misnomer since the trees it comes from grow in the highlands of central and northern Vietnam, nowhere near Saigon. It comes from c. loureiroi, an evergreen related to the laurel and is very closely related to cassia, which is the kind of cinnamon we usually get here in the United States. (There is also something called “Ceylon cinnamon,” also known as “true cinnamon,” that is lighter in color and subtler in flavor, but that’s another post.) Its amazingly robust flavor is why Vietnamese cinnamon has long been prized for its high essential oil content. The pieces Diane and Todd proffered were still slightly soft, like they had just been peeled from the tree, with a fullness of flavor I had never experienced with any other cinnamon in powdered or stick form.

Fortunately for me (and the other guests present that night), Diane and Todd had packed their suitcase full with enough Vietnamese cinnamon to share with friends. I left with four foot-long pieces of bark that night and kept biting off little pieces on the drive home, mulling the flavor over in my mouth and my mind, infusing every possible mental recipe with the spice. It would be perfect for baking, of course, and in curries, and for the Mexican Day of the Dead treat Calabaza en Tacha, candied pumpkin. But all of these dishes were like Cream or the Yardbirds, both great bands made better by a common ingredient: Eric Clapton. I wanted my Vietnamese cinnamon to be like Eric Clapton, just as good on its own.

And so I turned to my stand-by culinary media of lateā€”ice cream. A simple mixture of cream, milk, sugar and eggs would be my Vietnamese cinnamon delivery system. And I set out to conjure of the recipe below.

The Vietnamese cinnamon ice cream was subtly spicy and deliciously refreshing. The flavor was almost nutmeg-like at first, though after a few spoonfuls the warmth would build and simultaneously cool because of the frozen cream. Perfect on its own, with the last of the season’s figs roasted with olive oil, or with next month’s pumpkin pie, Vietnamese cinnamon ice cream is simple staple worth keeping in your freezer this holiday season.

Vietnamese Cinnamon Ice Cream

2 c whole milk
3/4 c sugar
pinch of salt
Five 3-inch pieces of Vietnamese cinnamon
1 c heavy cream
5 egg yolks

Heat the sugar, milk, salt and cinnamon pieces in a medium-sized saucepan. When the mixture is warm and the sugar is dissolved remove from heat and cover. Let steep for an hour.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks. Reheat the milk mixture and remove the cinnamon sticks. Slowly pour the milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Then pour the custard mixture back into the saucepan. Warm over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until thickened and coats the back of a spatula.

Pour the cream into another bowl and place a strainer over it. Pour the custard through the strainer into the cream. Refrigerate overnight. Freeze according your ice cream maker’s instructions.

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3 Responses to “Vietnamese Cinnamon Ice Cream”

  1. Brooke Says:

    As luck would have it my friend is also a neighbor– making me the lucky recipient of many samples of Leah’s delicious food. The cinnamon ice cream is one of my favorites!

    This ice cream made me think that maybe Dave Lebovitz should worry about the competition! Her ice creams are innovative, elegant, subtle, sometimes spicy, and always perfectly sweet.

  2. matt wright Says:

    OK, I now have to go to my local great spice place and try and find some of this!! Tod and Dianne are awesome. I would loved to have seen the faces of some custom’s blokes if they opened that suitcase!

    What a great way to experience the cinnamon too.. hang on, ice cream is a great way to experience almost anything!

  3. White On Rice Couple Says:

    When you immediately mentioned that evening that you were going to make Vietnamese cinnamon ice cream, we knew we put this food stuff in the right hands!

    This lovely (and possibly first ever) Viet cinnamon ice cream recipe is fabulous. We’re going to make your creation and maybe even double the cinnamon for a fun “red hot” blast of flavor?

    Can’t wait to see what other marvelous dishes you create!

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