Recipe: Mahlab-Toasted Almond No-Churn Ice Cream
A Wordloaf subscriber exclusive
This is one of the recipes I taught in my Curio Spice mahlab workshop last week. It’s obviously not a bread recipe, but it is Wordloaf-related because it contains mahlab and (optionally) nigella seeds, which are the standard flavorings of choreg, aka Armenian Easter bread. (It’s also frozen solid in a loaf pan, which I guess makes it a bread?)
The idea to make a mahlab ice-cream was my own, though it is entirely logical, because the flavors of mahlab are related to vanilla, the most popular flavor of ice cream worldwide (I am guessing). Mahlab is the made by grinding the kernels of a cherry, Prunus mahaleb, which links it to other food flavorings like bitter almond/almond extract, along with other fruits in the genus Prunus, including cherry, apricot, plum, and peach.
Mahlab is one of those flavors that is distinctive and obvious when you know it, if difficult to pin down by comparison to other spices. It is similar to both vanillin and almond extract, but not identical to either. The main aromatic component of vanilla is vanillin, which looks like this:
And the main aromatic component of almond extract is benzaldehyde, which looks like this:
I’ve yet to find a definitive resource for the chemistry of mahlab, but at least one source suggests that the aromatic components are derivatives of coumarin, which looks like this:
Mahlab pairs well with other flavors in its aromatic “family;" I used both peach and sour cherry jam to fill the whipped thumbprint cookies that I also taught in the class (I’ll ask my friend Camilla Wynne if I can share the recipe here someday—it is from her marvelous book Jam Bake). And I combined mahlab with toasted almond in this ice cream (almonds are the kernel of Prunus amygdalus).
Nigella (the seeds of Nigella sativa, a member of the ranunculus family) is the other spice used in choreg, and only sometimes. It has a savory/oniony and slightly bitter flavor that makes it an unusual choice for a sweet application like ice cream. In early tests for this recipe I had the nigella in the ice cream itself; I was on the fence about its presence there, so I took it out. But a trusted taster-friend told me she liked it, so I have made it an optional topping here. Start conservatively with it until you know you like it.
This recipe is a near-complete crib of my friend Morgan Bolling’s excellent Cook’s Country no-churn ice cream recipe, one that I have riffed off of many times. It’s dead easy to make, and, aside from 6 hours in the freezer, comes together in a matter of minutes. Morgan developed 12 different flavor combos for hers, all of which are worth seeking out. It works because you process cream in a blender or immersion blender until stiff peaks form, then add the remaining ingredients. The air worked into the cream keeps the ice cream light, while the mixture of sweetened condensed milk and corn syrup helps prevent large ice crystals from forming. Don’t be tempted to swap out the corn syrup, it is important here, and is not really the horrible ingredient many people assume it is. (Corn syrup from the baking aisle and high-fructose corn syrup are not the same thing.)
If you need mahlab or nigella (or any other spices), your best bet is ordering from Curio Spice; use the code WORDLOAF for a 10% discount. Mahlab is rich in oils that oxidize quickly, especially after grinding, so make sure it doesn’t smell rancid before you buy it (Curio’s never does), stick to whole mahlab that you grind yourself in a spice mill, and store the seeds in an airtight container in the freezer.