Tempura Ice Cream. Really.
In keeping with my plan to present a different chilled creation every week of the Social, I reached deep into my ice cream-loving past and recalled a dessert that became a favorite the moment the first spoonful touched my lips: Fried Ice Cream.
My first experience with this contradictory concoction was at El Torito, the venerable California restaurant chain that has been serving casual Mexican cuisine since 1954. Say what you will about the 'authenticity' of such establishments but the truth of the matter is that El Torito and - don't hate - Taco Bell were my introduction to Mexican food of any kind. My tastes have matured since then but they deserve some credit for making me aware of food beyond Asian and American, even if one of the dishes that left a big impression is a wholly north-of-the-border creation.
Mexican Fried Ice Cream (Foodistablog/Flickr)
Although it is referred to as 'Mexican fried ice cream', this particular dessert does not appear to have any antecedents in the traditional recipes of that cuisine. According to The Food Timeline, the earliest references to it in California begin only after the 1950s; however, other sources place its origins in late 19th century Philadelphia, with the ethnic tag presumably attached during the mid-1970s when it began appearing on the menus of restaurant chains such as the now-defunct Chi-Chi's and El Torito.
For a girl whose walk on the wild side of ice cream consisted of a double-scoop in a waffle cone, fried ice cream was a thrilling novelty. Full of delightful contrasts in both taste and texture, its predictable sugary sweetness was heightened by the surprise of cinnamon spice while cool creaminess hid beneath satisfying crunchiness. Above all, it was the object of total wonderment: how in the world did the ice cream stay frozen with just a thin shell of crispy, cornflake coating? Of course, my curiosity lasted only as long as the first bite - after that it was no thinking, just eating. And eat I did, ordering fried ice cream at every possible opportunity, which wasn't nearly as often as I liked. So I decided to make it myself . . .
(photo from Wikimedia)
The Great Fried Ice Cream Fiasco of 1994 could have been a whole lot worse but it was still pretty bad: the moment those cereal-covered frozen orbs were submerged in the pot of bubbling hot oil, it was Mount Vesuvius redux. The horror! The terror! The awful stink of burned cornflakes, vanilla ice cream and vegetable oil!
Fifteen years on, I've overcome the trauma to make fried ice cream once again. However, as fond as I am of the Mexican-flavored version, it's best left completely to the pros for making; instead, my second attempt involved another adaptation of this dessert - Tempura Ice Cream. Like its supposed Latin American counterpart, it has no direct roots in any Asian cuisine despite its ubiquity in many Japanese restaurants in the US (however, a 1961 New Hampshire newspaper article does mention it being served at tempura eateries in Japan [source: barrypopik.com]). Though the premise is the same, this variant uses thicker insulating layers: slices of cake enfold frozen ice cream to form a ball, which is then refrozen before being dipped in tempura batter for quick deep-frying.
Although it was a vast improvement over the near-disaster of my first try, this second g0-round with fried ice cream still fell short of expectations as the shape was too puck-like and the ice cream inside started to melt. Nevertheless, with some tweaks to ingredients and technique, and a bit more practice, I hope to find myself indulging more often in this delicious dichotomy of a dessert.
Tangled Tempura Ice Cream
The following is less about ingredients and more about method. With that said, the technique described here was not exactly a roaring success, so I've given brief explanations of my ingredient choices and any changes I would make for next time. The results, though far from the perfect examples I've had at restaurants, were still quite tasty and satisfying.
Practice will hopefully make perfect!
For a very easy and straightforward visual guide to making tempura ice cream, check out this video tutorial from About.com!
You will need:
Deep pot or sauté pan for frying (or a deep-fryer)
I used angel food cake, hoping that its spongy texture would make it easier to shape around the ice cream ball. I baked it on a cookie sheet then cut out circles with a 3" biscuit cutter; unfortunately, the slices were thicker than ideal. A popular alternative in many online recipes is pound cake sliced no more than 1/2" thick.
Choose your favorite flavor or make your own! For best results, scoop out ice cream into balls (mine were about 1.5" across) and lay them on a plate or cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Freeze until they have completely hardened before assembling. This may actually require several hours but it's worth the wait: I assembled the cake and ice cream after less than hour of freezing for the latter and it may have been the reason why it melted very quickly after frying.
I used a tempura batter mix but try making your own with this recipe from Jenn at Bread + Butter. Note an addendum by Robert-Gilles of Shizuoka Gourmet, who suggested using only the egg white for true Japanese tempura batter.
Oil for frying - enough to be at least 2" deep in the pot.
1. Place one slice of cake on a sheet of plastic wrap and top with one ice cream ball. Top with another slice and gently shape the cake so that it completely covers the ice cream, pinching edges together to seal. To maintain its optimal frozen state, it's best to keep the ice cream in the freezer and take them out one by one.
2. Bring edges of plastic film together and wrap the ball tightly, squeezing out any air and tying off the top. Immediately place in the freezer until completely frozen (no less than 1 hour). Repeat steps 1-2 with remaining cake and ice cream.
3. When ice cream balls are ready but before removing them from the freezer, prepare tempura batter and heat oil in pot. To test for readiness, drop in a small bit of tempura batter - if it floats immediately to the top, the oil is hot enough to begin frying.
4. Working with one ice cream ball at a time (leave others in the freezers until ready), dip it into tempura batter and coat completely, then gently slide into hot oil. Depending on the size of pot or deep pan you are using, you may fry more than one at a time but be sure not to crowd them;
5. Fry on one side until lightly golden then flip over to finish the other side. Remove with a slotted spoon or small metal strainer and place on paper towels to absorb excess oil;
6. Serve immediately with sweetened whipped cream, chocolate or fruit sauces, or your favorite fresh fruits!
Ideally, this cutout would show perfectly frozen ice cream in the center. The cake slices were much too thick but they still didn't protect the center from melting. I now know that the key to successful tempura ice cream is to completely freeze the ice cream balls before assembly and then completely freeze the entire form again before frying! As a result, you may wish to start preparing the components the day before serving.
Join Us for an Ice Cream Social
Time flies when you're having fun eating ice cream!
After weeks of indulging in all things frosty, there are only a few days left until the end of National Ice Cream Month and the deadline for the Ice Cream Social, hosted by Scott of ScottySnacks, Jennifer at Savor The Thyme, and yours truly. We've been thrilled by the response so far, demonstrating that frozen treats transcend boundaries, languages, and traditional ingredient lists. We know there are even more out there, so please keep scoopin' and share your favorites with us!
Enter to win some great prizes:
Winners will receive coupons for free pints of ice cream or frozen yogurt, courtesy of Stonyfield Farms, the world's leading organic yogurt producer.
One lucky winner will get a hand-screened organic cotton American Apparel t-shirt featuring this awesome design created especially for our Ice Cream Social by Penelope of neenacreates, an eco-boutique featuring organic and upcycled clothing for women, men and babies, as well as accessories and original illustrations. For the month of July, Penelope is also offering 10% off any item in her Etsy shop - just add the promo code #icsocial to your order message!