If it is your nature 
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails
for hours, your imagination 
alighting everywhere. 
And if you spirit
carries within it
the thorn that is heavier than lead-
if it’s all you can do 
to keep on trudging…
-Mary Oliver (“Morning Poem”)
Spring break came and went like the blink of an eye. I had all of these glorious plans–to do a crazy amount of writing, to take a trip or two to the movies, to get plenty of sleep and, most importantly, to pull out my ice cream maker and churn out something that would satisfy my never-ending craving for ice cream. As I’m sure you can imagine, some of these things got done and some of them never even stood a chance. When push comes to shove, you can squeeze only so much into 8 days. Plus, once spring break was finally upon me, I realized that the only thing that I truly needed was to take a leap  and put the break back into spring break.
Maybe this isn’t the typical graduate student way, maybe it wasn’t ultimately all that prudent a thing to do given impending deadlines that I most likely will not make (I realize now that the realism of February was but insanity in disguise), but I’m a big believer in recognizing one’s limits…And, since I had definitely reached mine, I realized that my priorities during the break needed to shift a little (plus, it’s called a break for a reason, people). 

 Despite a slight feeling of “buyer’s remorse” now that school is back in session, I can safely say that I think I did the right thing. Not only am I currently dark-circle free, but I also have a prized tub of Lemon Poppy Seed ice cream in my freezer. Mind you, this is not the flavor that I had in mind when I was secretly hatching my ice cream making scheme. I was thinking of experimenting with a flavor from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, most likely the Bangok Peanut. Rather greedily, I was also dreaming of another round of ice cream making, this one featuring roasted white chocolate, which I first read about in a recipe for Roasted White Chocolate and Lavender Ice Cream in the Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book. But again, or perhaps I should say as always, my plans fell apart. 

It started innocently enough. While my feet were firmly planted in spring break, my heart and mind were off somewhere in Berlin. I was thinking about the summer, dreaming of blossoming elderflower trees (and maybe soda?), Black Forest Cake and dark rye bread. I was looking at a few blogs that featured posts about Berlin–namely this and this–to get some ideas and, while doing so, I saw a sentence, a phrase really, that grabbed me: “poppy seed ice cream.” Poppy seed ice cream! Such things are not heard of in America. Poppy seeds are the exclusive territory of cakes and muffins (which is also cake, but let’s pretend otherwise). And from that tiny little phrase an idea was born. Maybe I wouldn’t be there for another few months, but I could start mentally preparing myself for poppy seed heaven now.

Considering I had no firm image of what the final product should look like, I decided to make things up as I went along, using David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop as my guide. I  knew that I wanted to use a custard base (French-style ice cream) instead of the Philadelphia-style (egg-free ice cream); it seemed that the creamy texture of the former would better complement the crunch of the poppy seeds. But even as I ventured into uncertain territory, I also felt that there was no reason to scoff at a classic flavor combination like lemon poppy seed, which offers the tangy brightness of lemon while showcasing the slightly bitter nuttiness of poppy seeds. Given that spring in all of its sometimes rainy, sometimes sunny uncertainty is upon us, I wanted this ice cream to encapsulate the better half of the season–the warm, blossom-filled days that are still eluding most of us. And with its speckled black and yellow color, it does just that.
There were a lot of things that didn’t quite materialize during my spring break, but I’m happy to report that this ice cream, which I made on Sunday afternoon–mere hours away from my Monday morning return to campus–helped the break to end on a high note. And if the fog keeps rolling in like it has been, before the week is out I may just have to make another batch.
Lemon Poppy Seed Ice Cream
Yields about 1 quart
Inspired by a description of a trip to Berlin on Butter Tree (another food blog by a graduate student) and method inspired by The Perfect Scoop
Back when I made the Poppy Seed Whirligig Buns, I mentioned how I wasn’t really a poppy seed person, but, my oh my, things have changed. My experience cooking with them, however, is still quite limited. Because I wanted to try my hand at coming up with something before turning to any sources, I only did an internet search for poppy seeds after the Greek and I licked our ice cream bowls clean on Sunday night. From this article, I found that not only do poppy seeds have both a lot of fiber and calcium (a plus), but also a high caloric count (a minus). From this other article, I discovered that grinding them, as with most things, brings out an entirely new flavor. 
      I had, in fact, considered grinding the seeds since I knew that I would be straining the custard base after heating it and that the swollen poppy seeds wouldn’t fit through the fine mesh strainer. I decided against it though because I wanted the ice cream to be both studded and crunchy (they’re quite easy to scrape out of the strainer and into the bowl, which is exactly what I did). Based on one recipe that I found, it seems that grinding the poppy seeds is perhaps more standard. I may just have to try this variant next, although I’m not sure that will make me resist the pull of the lemon.
1 cup whole milk (I used 3/4 cup of 2% and topped it off to a cup with whipping cream)
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of sea salt
1/2 cup poppy seeds
zest and juice of one lemon (for me, this came out to be 1/4 cup lemon juice, which was just right)
2 cups whipping cream or heavy whipping cream 
5 large egg yolks
-Warm the milk, sugar, sea salt, lemon zest, lemon juice and poppy seeds in a small saucepan. When warm, turn off the heat and let sit for about 20-30 minutes. 
-Rewarm the lemony-poppy seed milk mixture on low heat. 
-As the milk mixture is heating up, pour the remaining 1 cup cream into a medium-sized bowl and set a fine mesh strainer on top. 
-Place this bowl within a larger bowl and set up an ice bath. Then, set aside until the custard is ready.
-In another medium-sized bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. Then, while whisking constantly, slowly pour the warm milk mixture into the egg yolks. 
-Pour the egg yolk-milk mixture back into the small saucepan. 
-Heat the mixture, constantly stirring it with a heatproof spatula and scraping the bottom of the pot so that nothing sticks. Do not allow the mixture to come to a boil.
-Once the mixture has thickened and coats the spatula, pour it through the strainer into the cream.
-Stir until the mixture is cool and then place the mixture in the refrigerator with plastic wrap loosely covering the bowl. Let the ice cream base chill in the refrigerator for a few hours (for the impatient) or overnight (for best results). 
-After chilling thoroughly, freeze the mixture according to ice cream maker’s instructions.
-Place in the freezer and prepare to enjoy your bounty.

12 thoughts on “Ice Cream a là Berlin

  1. This ice cream looks absolutely divine! I love the idea of crisp poppy seeds in a creamy, lemony base — and your photos are breathtaking. You know I am all about making it up as you go along, and your result here is obviously an awesome success! I'm glad the process ended your break on a high note — and you definitely did the right thing by putting the break back in break.

  2. Ah, the over-planning of breaks…something I am incredibly good at! I always find myself making lists of grand plans for school breaks. And then…deciding what I really need most is the “break” part. Kana is right – Sabbath is important. Sometimes the best thing to do is just be. Or find something great to do with poppy seeds! I have an abundance left from a poppy seed pancake recipe (fantastic) so I'm on the hunt to find other things to do with them. Otherwise, I'll make those darn pancakes every week.

  3. Wow, this looks delicious and so inventive! I bet the poppy seeds added a lovely crunch. (Better watch out for random drug testing, though — did you know poppy seeds can make one appear to be an addict? 😉 Glad your break was restful!

  4. Agreed! I've never been to an actual Jeni's, though! We're going to a wedding in Tennessee in late May and I think we're flying through Nashville; you better believe a trip to Jeni's is on the itinerary! 🙂

  5. Thank you, Moriah! I had fun taking the pictures and I'm glad you like them! I definitely like this making it up as you go along thing; I can't wait until I have more time to experiment instead of always feeling rushed (or perhaps I'm just dreaming that this feeling will go away once the big D is done?)….

    And the break should always be put back in the break.

  6. Always a voice of reason. 🙂 You're right; things will get done. And it's better that they be done with some ice cream (this is my life philosophy and I think it's generally worked for me).

  7. Thank you! And, yes, Berlin! My list of places to go is growing. I don't think I'm going to have enough time….I guess I'll just have to go back. 🙂

  8. I was hoping that one day I'd learn not to be so hopelessly optimistic about the power of 5 days off work, but I suppose that hope does, in fact, spring eternal for us all. But I'm glad to know that you also opt to put the break back into the break; I think it's the only way to go.

    And I like the sound of this poppy seed pancake recipe; I imagine that they are worth making every week. I bet poppy seed waffles would be just as good, too. 🙂

  9. I know, Ann! Whenever I eat poppy seeds, I think of poor Elaine from Seinfeld, who wasn't allowed to go on a trip because she failed a drug test thanks to eating lots and lots of poppy seeds. Fortunately, as graduate students at a public university (even though we're technically state employees), I've never heard of random drug testing…And, in any case, you would think modern science would be able to differentiate between drugs and delectable crunchy seeds! But I guess science still has a long way to go (perhaps this is a good thing in the long run).

    And, yes, the break was restful. Now it's back to the grind. I'm glad there's still some poppy seed ice cream!

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