Guest post, recipe and photos by Brenda (@mightyvanilla)
Cinnamon Basil & Almond Ice Cream Sandwiches
I love all things culinary-related and one of the kitchen appliances that I’ve been curious about for a long time is the Vitamix (@Vitamix) blender. Widely used by chefs and in professional kitchens, it’s known as one of the best blenders available. It’s supposed to make finely textured fruit smoothies, silky purées, blended ice drinks, sauces and soups so smooth that they don’t require straining, and much more. I’ve always wanted to play with one and Mijune has kindly let me borrow hers for a few weeks.
Coincidentally, I also happened to get some beautiful cinnamon basil from Barston Island Herbs (@BarnstonHerbs) a few days after getting the blender. Barnston Island Herbs is a family owned herb farm located in Surrey which specializes in growing fine herbs and produce for local restaurants. The cinnamon basil was freshly harvested and cut from very young plants so the leaves were small and delicate, but very fragrant. The flavour is complex and has sweet cinnamon, spicy, sweet licorice and savoury notes combined with the traditional basil essence. It’s a beautifully aromatic herb and best used when fresh but it also keeps well for up to a week.
The Vitamix Experience
I wanted to use the basil in a way that would highlight its unique flavour. Last summer I made a basil ice cream using David Lebovitz’s recipe in The Perfect Scoop and I thought it was a great way to use basil in a dessert. Mijune suggested incorporating almonds into it and Vitamix had informed her that the standard container could be used to make almond flour so I gave it a try. (The Vitamix came with a 64 ounce container that is suited for blending liquids, but you can also buy a 32 ounce Dry Grains container for grinding grains, flours and nuts.)
I wanted the ice cream to have a strong almond flavour but not the texture, and to keep as much of the beautiful cinnamon basil colour and flavour as possible. I adapted a basic eggless vanilla ice cream base for this recipe and divided the liquid portion into two: one for infusing with ground almonds so that the almonds could be strained out, and another for blending with the basil.
I lightly toasted 2 cups of almonds in the oven, allowed them to cool, and then tried to grind them into flour in the Vitamix. A lower speed resulted in very roughly chopped almonds so I tried a high speed but then I ended up with a layer of almond butter at the very bottom of the blender, then a layer of finely ground almonds above the butter, and a layer of coarsely ground almonds at the very top. I did some research on the Internet afterwards and discovered that I should have used a much smaller amount of almonds, like this video shows. (I’ll give this technique a try the next time I need ground almonds. I think the Dry Grains container would work better too since that’s what it’s designed for.) I added the almonds to some cream that had been heated with sugar and allowed it to infuse while the basil mixture was being made.
I was glad to find that the Vitamix worked much better for blending the basil leaves with milk. It took almost no time to get a smooth mixture that was pale green with tiny flecks of basil. After straining the almonds out of the cream, I combined the two liquid portions and allowed it to chill overnight before churning.
The strained almonds still had a lot of flavour so I wanted to use them in something rather than just throwing them away. I already had ice cream on the go, and extra basil left over so why not almond basil cookies? Cookies naturally leads to ice cream sandwiches, so win-win!
For the cookies, I adapted an Almendrados recipe from the New York Times (Almendrados are Spanish cookies made with just almond flour, sugar, egg and flavourings). The almonds still had a lot of coarse pieces in it so I used a food processor to puree them along with the rest of the ingredients until the dough was smooth. (I first tried using the Vitamix but the cookie dough was too thick for the blender.) The dough was chilled, shaped, rolled in sugar and flattened before baking. The almonds had absorbed moisture from being infused in cream and this made the dough very sticky, but it also made the inside of the cookies deliciously soft and moist with a strong almond flavour. The outsides of the cookies were crisp/chewy from being rolled in sugar, and I could taste the fresh cinnamon basil.
To make the ice cream sandwiches, I let the ice cream soften at room temperature until it was a nice scoopable consistency (5-10 minutes), then sandwiched a generous scoop of ice cream between two cookies.
Cinnamon Basil Almond Ice Cream Recipe
This ice cream recipe can also be made with the leaves of regular sweet basil or Thai basil. (When the herb growing season was waning at the end of last summer, I made a basil ice cream with half sweet basil and half Thai because that was what was left in my garden. It was delicious served with the last of the local strawberries.)
Makes approximately 1 generous liter of churned ice cream
- 2 cups (300g) whole skinned almonds, lightly toasted and cooled to room temperature (see Note below)
- 3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups whipping cream
- Pinch of salt
- 1 cup (25g) packed cinnamon basil leaves with the stems removed
Notes for success:
- Blending the basil leaves with the cold milk helps to keep the colour of the ice cream a light green. Basil leaves will darken and turn brown if they are heated; the ice cream would still taste good but the colour would not be as nice.
Warm the whipping cream, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium low heat. Stir the mixture until the sugar is dissolved, then remove the saucepan from the heat.
Place the almonds into the Vitamix blender. (For a coarser grind, add 1 or 2 cups of the almonds. For a finer texture, grind ½ cup of almonds at a time.) With the Vitamix set on variable speed, start the blender on low and quickly turn it to high speed. Allow the almonds to blend at high speed for several seconds, being careful not to overblend it into almond butter.
- Add the ground almonds to the saucepan. (Grind and add the rest of the almonds if you are grinding them in batches.) Allow the mixture to steep at room temperature for 1 hour.
Rinse the blender container with warm water to remove any bits of almonds that are still left, then place the milk and basil leaves into the blender.
With the Vitamix set on variable speed, start the blender on low and slowly increase to high. Let it blend on high for several seconds, then check the mixture. It should be a uniform light green with small flecks of basil leaves.
After the almond mixture has infused for 1 hour, strain the cream into a container that is large enough to hold at least 1 L of liquid. Press with a spatula or squeeze with your hands to extract as much liquid and flavour from the almonds as possible. You should have approximately 1 ¾ cups of almond infused cream. Set the strained almonds aside for use in the Gluten Free Cinnamon Basil Almond cookies.
Combine the almond infused cream with the blended basil and chill overnight.
Churn the mixture in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Note: Toasting Nuts
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Spread the nuts in a single layer on an ungreased baking sheet.
Bake the nuts for 8-10 minutes, stirring them 2-3 times during baking so that they toast evenly. After 8 minutes, snap one in half and taste it; if the nut tastes roasted and is lightly golden brown throughout the inside then they’re ready.
Remove the nuts from the oven and allow them to cool completely before using.
Gluten Free Cinnamon Basil Almond Cookies Recipe
These cookies are gluten free and contain no flour or leavening, so they don’t flatten or spread as they bake. Rolling them in sugar and flattening them prior to baking gives them a nice crisp/chewy texture on the outside, and the almond butter makes them very soft and tender on the inside.
Makes approximately 18 cookies.
- Strained almonds leftover from the Cinnamon Almond Basil Ice Cream recipe
- ⅓ cup (8g) packed cinnamon basil, leaves only
- ¾ cup (150g) granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- ⅛ tsp salt
- Additional sugar for rolling the cookie dough
Notes for success:
- The dough is very soft and sticky so the cookies are best formed with an ice cream scoop that has a spring release.
- The cookies will stick so bake them on parchment paper or a silicone baking mat to minimize sticking, allow the cookies to cool completely before removing them from the sheet, and use a thin spatula to remove the cookies. A small offset metal spatula works well.
- The dough is quite dark but the outside of the cookie will lighten in colour as it finishes baking.
Gather the basil leaves together on a cutting board and roughly chop them with a chef’s knife.
Place the strained almonds, egg, the ¾ cup of sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor.
Pulse the mixture until it starts to come together, then process it continuously until the mixture is a smooth and uniform consistency with no large lumps (30 seconds – 1 minute). Add the basil leaves and process it a little longer (about 10-20 seconds) until the basil leaves are evenly incorporated. The mixture will be very sticky and pasty.
Place the mixture in a small bowl, cover, and chill well for at least several hours or overnight to allow it to firm up.
Preheat the oven to 350F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Place about ½ cup of sugar in a small bowl to roll the cookies in.
Using a 1 Tbsp-sized ice cream scoop (about 1.5” wide) with a spring release, scoop out a ball of dough and place it into the bowl of sugar. Roll the cookie dough in the sugar until evenly coated, then place onto the baking sheet leaving at least 2” between cookies.
Use the bottom of a drinking glass to gently flatten each cookie out until it is about 2” wide. Clean off the bottom of the glass as it starts to get sticky.
Bake the cookies for 10 minutes, rotating halfway through the baking time, and allow them to cool completely before removing from the baking sheet.