If you’re over the age of 10, surely you remember a time when a trip to the ice cream shop held the promise of simple cold confections made of cream, sugar, and those popular flavors—vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and, for the adventurous, perhaps mint chip or coffee almond fudge. These days, artisan ice creameries, gelaterias, and fine restaurants are dishing out exotic combinations of sweet and savory ingredients that may leave you wistful for those simpler days.

Goat cheese, olive oil, rosemary, and chiles are the ice cream flavors of the 21st century. In fact, it seems there isn’t an herb, spice, vegetable, or even a meat that’s safe from the ice cream maker these days. San Francisco’s Humphry Slocombe has churned out both foie gras and pistachio-bacon ice cream; French ice cream maker Phillippe Faur introduced a caviar-flavored version last year; The Los Angeles restaurant Providence wows diners with its onion ice cream; New York City’s Felidia has served red beet, basil-tobacco, and black truffle ice creams; and San Francisco chef Elizabeth Falkner garnishes her “Steak a la Mode” with a scoop of blue cheese or béarnaise ice cream.

I’ve tried many of these wacky ice creams, but I’ve never tasted a purely savory ice cream that I wanted to keep eating once the novelty wore off. Apparently, the road to a palatable savory ice cream is treacherous, as demonstrated by New Orleans chef John Besh; on a recent episode of Top Chef Masters, an ill-conceived horseradish sorbet on an otherwise well-received plate proved to be his undoing. Even the judges—all well-versed in the culinary arts—seemed to be repelled by the spicy, icy concoction, and they sent him off to pack his knives. Without a doubt, such robust flavors are thought-provoking. But when enjoying a pleasure as basic as ice cream, perhaps we don’t want to think quite that much.

That’s not to say that non-traditional ingredients don’t have a place in the ice cream scoop. When savory is played artfully against sweet (an old school culinary concept), the results can be mind-blowing. After all, everyone knows that a little salt brings out the sweetness in fruit. Salsas that play sweet fruit against as a backdrop of hot chiles are nothing new. And the cheese course has long partnered sweet poached or caramelized fruits with salty cheeses. The salted caramel ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco’s Mission district is a perfect example of this concept in action. Burnt sugar and salt chase each other around in the mouth and keep you coming back for lick after lick. Likewise a good spicy chocolate combination, where rich dark cocoa dances with dried chile flames, is perfectly addictive.

The key to success with flavors such as these, it seems, is never to allow the savory overtake the sweet, but let them play a seductive cat-and-mouse game. In his new book Making Artisan Gelato, Torrance Kopfer incorporates ancho chile-infused milk, ground cayenne pepper, unsweetened cocoa powder, and bittersweet chocolate to achieve that delicate balance in his cleverly named Hot Chocolate Gelato. I whipped up a batch of it recently as a sweet finish for a Mexican-themed dinner party. My guests appreciated the way the sweet wash of rich chocolate was cut by the slow burn of dried chile on the finish. The consensus around the table was that we couldn’t stop our tongues from running back for more of the cool creamy stuff to dampen the fire.

While I doubt that I’ll be whipping up duck-liver ice cream any time soon, Kopfer’s recipe for Pink Peppercorn Gelato is calling my name. Its floral and spicy notes, I’m thinking, will make it a refreshing, and pleasantly surprising counterpoint to a rich flourless chocolate cake. But his recipes for Chocolate, Vanilla and Strawberry Gelato promise to transport us back to a time when a scoop of ice cream was a wholly uncomplicated affair—just cold, sweet, creamy goodness on a cone, no thinking required.

Hot Chocolate Gelato
From Making Artisan Gelato, by Torrance Kopfer.

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 large or 3 small dried ancho chiles, whole
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsweetened, Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 pinches of cayenne pepper, optional
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract, optional

  1. Pour the milk into a medium-size heavy-bottomed saucepan, place over medium heat, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it registers 170 F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the heat, add the dried chiles, cover, and let steep for 45 minutes.
  2. Use a slotted spoon to remove the chiles from the milk. Carefully stem and seed the chiles, discard the stems and seeds, and set the chiles aside until ready to use.
  3. Whisk the cocoa powder and ¾ cup of the sugar together in a small bowl and whisk into the chile milk mixture in the saucepan. Return the mixture to the stove top and place over medium heat. Continue to heat, and cook the mixture between 180 F and 190 F for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
  4. Remove from the heat, whisk in the chopped bittersweet chocolate, and stir until all of the chocolate has completely melted.
  5. In a non-reactive, medium-size bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, the remaining ¼ cup of the sugar, and salt until foamy and slightly thickened.
  6. Carefully temper the egg yolks with the hot chocolate milk by slowly adding about half of the hot liquid to the eggs, whisking continuously with a wooden spoon or heatproof rubber spatula, cook the mixture over medium heat until it registers 185 F on an instant-read thermometer or is thick enough to coat the back f the spoon or spatula, taking care to make sure the mixture does not boil. Remove from the heat.
  7. Pour the custard into a blender and add the seeded chiles and cayenne if using. Blend on high speed for 30 seconds or until smooth and emulsified.
  8. Pour the heavy cream into a clean, large stainless-steel or glass mixing bowl set over an ice bath.
  9. Pour the blended custard through a fine-mesh sieve or strainer into the cold cream, add the vanilla extract if using, and stir until fully incorporated. Stir occasionally (about every 5 minutes) until the mixture has fully cooled. This should take abut ½ hour. Remove the mixing bowl from the ice bath, dry off the bottom of the bowl f necessary, cover with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight.
  10. When ready, our the chilled mixture into the ice-cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s specifications.
  11. Remove the finished gelato from the ice-cream maker and place in a plastic container. Cover with plastic wrap by pressing the wrap gently against the top of the gelato, affix lid to container, and place in the freezer to fully harden before serving.

Yield: approximately 1 quart.
Message Edited by Robin_Donovan on 08-10-2009 10:34 AM
by on ‎08-10-2009 06:56 PM

You know in Asia odd flavors are the chocolate and vanilla we have. For several years running, raw horse meat is China's top flavor of choice. One of the bizarre foods episodes had the host trying beef tongue and pit viper flavors recently. (shudder) No thank you. (chuckle)


Salt in ice cream is always good. My favorite Cold Stone mix in is those salted roasted almonds. And nothing better than salt in you toffee, or a chocolate covered salted pretzel. Blue Bunny had one of the temporary flavors this spring Caramel ice cream, with chocolate covered pretzel pieces... so good. 


I think the only 2 savory flavors I liked I'd ever try again would be a rosemary strawberry blend I had once and a cumin one made with goats milk. The rosemary one was mild and mostly strawberry just a hint of herb. The cumin one, well I'd been eating spicy Indian food all night. (shrug)


Now odd things in my chocolate pretty ok. All my friends know that with me; dark chocolate bars spiked with black pepper, hot chille, chunks of ginger, or expresso beans (yes the whole roasted bean) is the best bribe or gift of all. Always been a darker the chocolate the better, even as a kid.


Though this does make me wonder. The newest generation likes extremely sour candy the best; what's that going to do with icecream flavors?


by FindingLydia on ‎08-23-2009 03:29 AM

Sorry, I just can't bring this pallet to the plate! Now my husband is another story...


by drthmik on ‎10-15-2009 12:13 PM

At a Chili cookoff a few years ago someone submitted a Chili Ice Cream in the Unusual catagory.

Unfortunately it was just Basic Ice Cream made with Chili powder

Bleack :smileytongue: gross!

But it got me thinking

Chocolate goes well with Chiles and the hot peppers have been found in cake and candy for a long time

so perhaps dark chocolate ice cream with diced roasted chiles and fudge swirls?

If I had an ice cream maker I might expirament.


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