Time to Social-ice! Tempura Ice Cream (of Sorts)

Saturday, July 25, 2009 50 comments

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:

Plastic wrap
Deep pot or sauté pan for frying (or a deep-fryer)


Cake slices
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.

Ice cream
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.

Tempura batter
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.

To make:

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!


  • Jenn said...

    Thanks for mention on the batter. ;-) I tried tempura green tea ice cream once and thought I had died and gone to heaven. I've wanted to try it for so long, but I'm always afraid that it'll melt and what not. I'll work my way up to it eventually. It would be nice to make it at home rather than having to shell out a few bucks just for 1 tiny tempura ball. Yours came out awesome!!

  • anna said...

    Ooh that looks really tasty, even if it didn't come out perfectly! I've had fried ice cream but never though to make it myself....hmmmmmmmm

  • Heather S-G said...

    I love Mexican Fried icecream, too...fried in a tempura batter sounds awesome as well! I bet even the melty ice cream was delicious!!! Maybe I'll get up the courage to give it a try...

  • Daily Spud said...

    Can you believe that I have never had fried ice cream (neither the Mexican nor tempura versions)? I can hardly believe it myself (and I would scoff some of yours up without a second thought!) The closest I have come to the hot & cold ice cream experience is baked alaska, which involves meringue too, and which I love, but which I have never tried to make. Now, the question is, do I dare? Hmmm...

  • Helen Yuet Ling Pang said...

    My mouth was open the entire time I was reading this post, from amazement! I haven't had fried ice cream for so many years and this post has just brought back some wonderful memories...

  • OysterCulture said...

    After eating in so many restaurant chains growing up it took me a while to realize that fried ice cream was not a true dessert , I used to try to get it with every meal, but one too many tummy aches l realized this was not for me. Of course, I could have easily remedied my problem by sharing, but with that bowl of goodness in front of me, now why would I want to do that?

  • Anonymous said...

    Our less-than-complete successes are always the most instructive. Knowing this frees us to experiment. Fantastic post, Tracey!

  • Teanna said...

    I have never, ever had tempura ice cream, but I am DYING to try it! I can't believe you made it on your own! So impressive, and so gorgeous!

  • Unknown said...

    I once planned on making fried ice cream as dessert for a big dinner... but fortunately, everyone was full by the end - so I got out of it! I'm still too chicken to try - though the idea of using cake as an insulator seems more promising. Even if your ice cream didn't stay solid - the oozing center is gorgeous!

  • Anonymous said...

    What an awesome idea! I would definitely love to try the tempura ice-cream - totally decadent!

  • Chef E said...

    Love the idea of this! I just made my first batch of ice cream this past weekend for a crowd, and it turned out decent...this recipe of yours will be fun to try!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Only 4 days left until the end of National Ice Cream Month. Hope you're all enjoying it so far!

    Pigpigscorner - I was disappointed that the ice cream melted but it didn't stop me from eating this! 8-)

    KennyT - Thanks! It's not quite what they serve at restaurants but I'll keep working on it!

    Jenn - Definitely try it at home! I bet you can come up with a technique that would be easy and healthy (despite the frying part). 8-D

    Chow and Chatter - Thank you so much! Even though it can be much improved, we still enjoyed eating these trials.

    Doggybloggy - Oh! I hope you do - then please share. I'm sure you'll make it look easy!

    Anna - It did taste perfectly fine but it just doesn't LOOK like what it's supposed to be. The more people who try this at home, the more likely someone will come up with a better technique - I'll be waiting! 8-)

    Girlichef - If there's anyone who's got the courage to try this, it's you - the one who made lengua and was on TF blog!! 8-D Compared to Mexican fried ice cream, this one is less risky - I can't figure out how the former is made with just that thin cover of corn flakes. 8-{

    Miakoda - It is time consuming to ensure that the ice cream balls are frozen completely but done right, this is such a delicious dessert!

    Daily Spud - You're on the right track: I learned that fried ice cream is thought to stem directly from baked alaska, which incidentally, I've never had before. And yes, you should dare make it! 8-D

    Erica - Thank you! I'd happily have either version to finish up a meal!

    Helen - Until I made this, I can't even remember the last time I had either kind of fried ice cream. But I do recall how much I love it!

    Kat - Thanks! I just hope I can hone the technique so that it's more like what's served in the restaurants.

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    (Replies, cont'd)

    Jackie - Thank you! Of the half dozen I made, only 2 managed to have the ice cream still intact. With the others, the cake split a bit, allowing the inside to melt. 8-( But I have a good idea of what went wrong so fingers crossed that I'll do better next time!

    Palidor - Ooooh! Fried cheesecake - that's the ultimate indulgence!

    Reeni - Please do! I'm eager to hear if you or anyone can come up with a better techique. If not, it's still pretty tasty! 8-)

    Nazarina - Thank you so much! The tempura ice cream itself isn't the perfect sphere that I hoped (and remembered) so I wanted to try and 'dress' it up! 8-D

    OysterCulture - Definitely fried ice cream is not a traditional Mexican or Japanese dessert, but it is absolutely a delicious one! And I've never been known to share this with anyone. 8-)

    OPC - That's what I'm hoping! I didn't follow any recipe - just my own memory of what tempura ice looked and tasted like. This wasn't half bad and I believe I know where I need to make changes!

    Teanna - You MUST have some! Get thee to a Japanese restaurant that serves one, ASAP. I just hope that you'll enjoy it as much as I do. Thanks so much!

    ValleyWriter - Thanks! I definitely think that tempura ice cream is the easier version to try. Check out the video - instead of individual balls, the chef makes a "log" and slices it. A great idea for serving several people. 8-)

    Joelen - Thank you so much! And I know exactly how it is: I've found now that the best thing for me to do is circulate through my reader day by day. It may mean that I end up leaving a whole bunch of comments at once but it ensures that I keep up with my favorite blogs!

    5 Star Foodie - The whole concept of fried ice cream is so crazy but done right, it's incredible. I'm halfway there . . . !

    Chef E - Thank you! In spite of it not being close to perfect, it was a lot of fun trying; I'm definitely going to keep experimenting until I get it right. At least the mistakes are still delicious and edible! 8-)

  • Cynthia said...

    I won't hate on the El Torito because that was one of my first tastes of Mexican food, too! (Sad I know, because I live in California where there's fantastic Mexican food everywhere.) You are brave to try to fry ice cream after the incident in the '90s! My hat is off.

  • Bergamot said...

    Bravo...wow, this looks good...would love to it. i agree that the method of frying the icecreams is really important otherwise you going to have everything flying around. Good that this time round it worked fine for you. I am scared to try this...

  • Anonymous said...

    Hey Cuz,

    Nice post! Brings back lots of memories of going to Sushi Yoshi here in CT for the ice cream tempura. Just a suggestion: try pound cake next time. It's a bit denser than the angel food cake and holds up better when you throw it in the fryer.

    Dr. Jay

  • Natasha said...

    Very tempting! My introduction to fried ice cream was also at a Mexican American restaurant in St. Cloud, Minnesota of all places. Such a simple idea with such a great taste experience. Thanks for sharing!

  • gastroanthropologist said...

    I've always been tempted by anything fried. Fried ice cream sounds deliciously fattening. When my friends and I ditched school for McDonalds in junior high I always got french fries and dipped it into my vanilla cone...I was on to something there!

  • Lori said...

    It is so interesting how foods get associated with certain cultures and sometimes don't really have a history. That being said I must admit that I absolutely LOVED Chi-chi's Fried Ice Cream growing up. They closed the one in our hometown, but still had one where I was in grad school so my brothers would come to visit me just for that. :) It too is gone now of course. I haven't found anything quite like it. The so-called authentic Mexican restaurants I go to do the cornflake thing and I don't like that as well.

    What a great idea you had here! For not being frozen I have to say you certainly made it look beautiful! Like gastroanthropologist mentioned with her fries, my niece and nephew love to dip theirs in Frosty's. Ha!

  • Sophie said...

    El Torito used to be one of my mom's favorite restaurants when we lived in Southern California/LA. I never tried their fried ice cream but this sure looks tasty!

  • lisaiscooking said...

    I used to love fried ice cream at Chi Chi's! That was my favorite thing. I would sprinkle cinnamon on my ice cream at home to mimic the flavor. Your tempura ice cream sounds great too! I've never tried making anything like this, but it sounds like fun.

  • Phyllis said...

    I've had fried ice cream at Malaysian restaurants (but only in North America never in Malaysia) I'm super impressed that you tried making it at home again - I would have been too scared especially after that Mt. Vesuvius incident! Keeping the ice cream frozen while deep frying is a toughie - maybe try some molecular gastronomie and use liquid nitrogen?!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Wow! Lots of fried ice cream fans out there . . .

    Cynthia - It was for a worthy cause! I have only good memories of El Torito - I'll have to go back someday for some nostalgic noshing!

    Bergamot - Thank you! I was scared to try again, too, but my husband was there, ready with the extinguisher. Thankfully, I've learned more things about frying!

    Dr. Jay - Hi!! Sushi Yoshi is the standard by which I measure all other tempura ice cream. I would've mentioned it here but couldn't remember the name. 8-) I will definitely try the pound cake next time; I thought angel food might be more pliable but it didn't work as well. 8-P

    Natasha - My pleasure! It really is a great idea and putting it together wasn't that difficult, until it came to frying. 8-)

    Manggy - [LOL] I always have to learn the hard way! It will definitely be repeated - it's worth it to try and master it.

    Ellie - Thank you! That goodness was still quite tasty.

    Dhanggit - Thanks! It's a bit short of being as good as what you'd find at a restaurant but it was a pretty good start.

    Nyonya Pendek Melaka - Thank you! I wish I could say that I made the ice cream myself but that will hopefully come in time.

    Figtree - It's definitely a nice blend of taste and texture!

    Jackie - Thanks! The Ice Cream Social has been great fun and motivated me to finally break out the ice cream machine after nearly 6 years! Now, it's created an ice-cream-eating monster!

    Gastroanthropology - We should mention your french fries and vanilla cone experience to Daily Spud for inspiration! 8-) Although I've found that too much fried stuff no longer agrees with me as much, I still can't resist it, especially if it's sweet!

    Andrea - Thank you! I had a different vision of it but it's pretty close.

    Lori - I've come across that kind of food association phenomena. Talk about the power of marketing! Chi-Chi's, El Torito and any of these large tex-mex places were fun to visit and really did provide that first taste of Mexican flavors. From there, we developed an enthusiasm for the cuisine that spurred us to look for the 'real' thing. So it's all good!

    Sophie - I haven't been to an El Torito since high school so I'd love to visit again and see what it's like now.

    Juliana - It has been years since my last taste of tempura ice cream but as soon as I thought about doing it for this ice cream social, I couldn't get it out of my head for days until I was finally able to make it. I can't believe that I went so long without it . . .!

    Lisa - I remember El Torito's but hearing everyone's memories of ChiChi's, I wish I'd had it to compare. As for tempura ice cream, the prep is a bit time-consuming but so worth it (if I can just tweak the recipe a bit).

    Miranda - Please let me know if you do, especially if you do anything different. I'd love to get any ideas about tweaking the recipe.

    Phyllis - I'm nowhere near skilled enough to start messing with liquid nitrogen; I'm liable to freeze off my fingers! 8-P

    Enough years finally passed that the rather scary memory of the last time has thankfully faded - or I'm just crazy for trying again!

  • Admin said...

    I'm soooo embarrassingly behind on reading my blogger friends' posts it's not even funny.

    Feel like such a dork for never having fried ice cream. It was all the rage in Bangkok when I was in grade school, but my mom wouldn't let me have it. (She probably knew I wouldn't be able to stop once I took one bite.) I'm now googling restaurants in Bangkok that might have it on the menu. Wish me luck.

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Leela - Don't even worry! All of my recent comments on others' blogs are all abject apologies. 8-D Actually, I've decided to take a break from posting so that I can catch up. Time for a little blog-friends maintenance!

    Ooo - you're mom was tough!! But she was absolutely right about possibly getting addicted to it. Hope you'll post a pic if you do indulge in Bangkok. Good luck!!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Nora - Thank you! I had fun making the ice cream and writing about it! 8-)

    Carolyn - On behalf of its designer, my sister, thank you! She did a great job and I'm so proud of her. 8-)

    Spryte - It's one of those deals where it looks kinda bad but tastes really good! 8-D


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