This is my first collaboration, ha! My friend at work is a scientist by day and owns a local chai company, Boston Chai Party, by night (they ship!). He and his business partner are Indian, so you can be sure his product is authentic. While he has the chai tea recipe on lock, we were talking one day about other ways that the chai spice could be used and the first one we thought of was chai ice cream. Naturally, I had to turn it into an ice cream cake. I have to say, this might be the most beautiful dish I’ve ever made!
The reason I immediately thought of ice cream to go with the chai spice is two-fold. First, adding milk to chai tea is a classic combo, so chai flavors clearly go very well with cream. Second, I learned from David Lebovitz that steeping spices in milk is an amazing way to get a huge flavor punch into your ice cream. I built this chai ice cream recipe off of his cinnamon ice cream recipe, meaning it applies my tenet ADAPT.
To turn a great ice cream into a great ice cream cake, I recalled back to my favorite ice cream cakes, aka Carvel cakes. I am firmly on team “no-cake in my ice cream cake,” but I do like Oreo cookie crumbs between the layers. To color contrast with the Oreo crumbs, I chose amaretti cookies, which taste like almond and are something you might dip into your chai tea. Finally, the frosting must be whipped cream, which gets hard in the freezer. I got to use some of my new cake decorating supplies in frosting this cake, and I think it took it to the next level!
I’ve got so many good tips and tricks with this recipe, so here we go:
Tempering Eggs – The most important thing to discuss here is how to temper eggs. When making a custard, there is a step where you combine hot liquid with cold eggs. Adding the eggs to the heat all at once would result in scrambled eggs, rather than the velvety custard texture you’re looking for. To solve this problem, you slowly combine the eggs and the hot liquid while whisking constantly. This brings the temperature of the eggs up and cooks them by degrees, while the whisking controls the environment so that they form tiny smooth lumps, rather than big scrambles. The way I usually do it is put the eggs in a large bowl, start whisking and stream in ~2 Tbsp of liquid. Once that’s combined I add another 2 Tbsp. As the eggs get warmer you can add more and more liquid each time. By the time I’ve added about half the liquid I usually just add the rest of the liquid in one go. The final step is returning the whole mixture to the pan you warmed the liquid in to finish cooking the custard to the desired consistency. Which brings me to…
Checking Custard Consistency – I’m always amazed by the physical properties of custard. You will cook it for a while and it will seem very loose and liquidy. You’ll wonder to yourself whether it will ever turn into custard, and then all of a sudden, poof! It’s thickened! Just in case you’re still unsure, the easiest way to check custard consistency is to stir it up with your spoon or spatula, pull out your spoon, and draw a line in the custard on the back of the spoon with your finger. If you’re able to create a defined line and the rest of the custard doesn’t immediately fill in the empty space, you’re good!
Weighing When Baking – Just a quick note, for some recipes I will include weights in grams as well as the usual volume measurements. The rest of the world weighs dry goods while cooking, and for good reason – volume is highly variable depending on grind size, humidity, and compression, but weight never changes. That means that recipes with weights will replicate more exactly than those with volumes. I have a small kitchen scale that I store in a drawer for this purpose, and it’s totally worth the space.
Dental Floss – This is kind of weird, but I really like using dental floss for clean cuts of foods with a dough-like consistency – cookies, ice cream, butter, etc. I find it a lot easier than using a knife. In the case of this cake, I wrapped the floss around the circumference, making sure that it was in the perfect location on all sides. Then I just crossed the ends of the floss and pulled in opposite directions to close the loop. As I pulled, the loop got smaller and smaller, and the only direction it could travel was through the ice cream. Simple!
Whipping Cream – My mom taught me this trick. If you put your metal bowl and beaters in the freezer ahead of time, your whipped cream will come together a lot faster.
Piping Bags – I do a decent amount of piping when making desserts. It gives you precise control and allows you to make intricate designs for beautiful desserts. But buying and washing expensive piping bags is not my idea of fun. Instead, I use large or small ziplock bags with the tip cut off. Besides being cheap and readily available, this allows you to choose exactly the size of opening you want. I recommend starting by cutting a smaller hole than you think you’ll need. You can always cut it larger, but you can’t go back.
Below, the recipe:
Chai Ice Cream Cake
1 small cake (6 servings)
For the ice cream:
- 1 cup whole milk
- 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
- 4 tsp chai masala (mine’s from Boston Chai Party)
- pinch salt
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 5 large egg yolks
- Warm the milk, sugar, chai masala, salt, and 1 cup of cream in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until heated through and sugar dissolved
- Cover, remove from heat and steep for 1 hour
- Rewarm the milk over low heat
- Put the remaining 1 cup cream in a large metal bowl and place a fine mesh strainer on top
- Whisk egg yolks in a medium bowl
- Temper the warm milk into the egg yolks, then return all to the saucepan
- Stir the egg mixture over medium heat with a heatproof spatula until it thickens to a custard and coats the spatula
- Strain the egg mixture into the cream in the metal bowl and stir until smooth
- Refrigerate the custard until fully chilled, stirring every so often so that a skin doesn’t form
- Churn the custard in the ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions
- While the ice cream is churning, line a 1 quart dish (I used a Pyrex) with 2 sheets of cling wrap, crossed so that all surfaces are covered
- When the ice cream is finished, scoop into the lined dish, smooth and cover the top with the cling wrap, and freeze overnight until solid
For the decoration:
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 Tbsp powdered sugar
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup Oreos
- 1 cup amaretti cookies
- 1/4 cup chocolate chips
- When the ice cream is frozen, prepare the freezer for cake assembly by pre-freezing 1-2 metal cookie sheets
- In a metal bowl, beat cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla until whipped cream consistency. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- Remove the ice cream dish from the freezer, and use the cling wrap to pull the ice cream out of the dish. This will be tricky, but have patience
- Turn the ice cream upside down and use dental floss to square and smooth the top
- Use dental floss to cut the cylinder into 2 layers and lay the layers on the cookie sheets to re-freeze
- Pulverize the Oreos in a food processor until fine crumbs, then repeat with the amaretti cookies
- Place the bottom layer of ice cream cake onto the serving dish, then sprinkle on a dense layer of Oreo crumbs, then top with the second layer of ice cream. Return to the freezer to re-harden.
- Remove the cake from the freezer and use an offset spatula to smooth the sides and top
- Use another spatula to scoop the whipped cream onto the top of the cake and spread down the sides. I then used a notched icing comb to make pretty lines around the outside of my cake, but you can leave it more homemade or do another design.
- Pipe rosettes around the top and bottom of the cake, then return to the freezer to harden.
- Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave, then pipe a design onto a sheet of wax paper and put in the fridge to solidify. I chose a lily flower.
- Create a design on the top of the cake with the Oreo and amaretti crumbs. I cut a template out of card stock to create the triangle design, but you can do anything you like. I then sprinkled more amaretti cookies down the sides, which look a bit like sand and give it more depth.
- Cut remaining cookies into quarters and stick alternating between the rosettes on the top of the cake.
- When the chocolate is hardened, stick the design into the top of the cake.
- Make sure to remove from the freezer a bit before serving so that you can easily cut the cake!
This was a huge success! I brought it in to work and everyone agreed that it was one of the best desserts I’ve ever made, and the most beautiful.
To make this absolutely perfect, I would add a layer of Oreos between the bottom ice cream layer and the serving dish to get an additional Oreo punch and to make serving a bit easier. I would also layer the Oreos between the layers when the ice cream’s a bit more melty to improve adherence between the layers, because they slid apart during serving.