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April 09, 2007

The Queen of Spices: homemade cardamom-vanilla ice cream and Xacutti's cardamom biscuits


Ah, cardamom.  Is there anything it can't do?

Once found primarily in Indian dishes and the occasional Scandinavian baked treat, cardamom has emerged from its shell in recent years to claim a place in the wider world of cuisine.  And why not?  It has an ineffable vibrancy, equally capable of carrying both sweet and savoury dishes.  There aren't many flavours that can star in both a duck curry and an ice cream, but it's no problem for the Queen of Spices.  A diva it's not, though.  It can play a supporting role as well, providing an unmistakable but hard to place background note, the kind that leaves you asking, "What is that flavour?"

We were introduced to cardamom-vanilla ice cream by Kensington Market Organic Ice Cream, one of Toronto's best and, sadly, most elusive producers of artisanal ice cream.  We were infrequent visitors two summers ago when Bruce Kurtenbach, the company's founder, set up shop in the Kensington and began selling his wild assortment of flavours to the public: from rose petal and blue cheese to blueberry-lavender and, well, cardamom-vanilla.  The ice creams are still available in some stores -- The Healthy Butcher on Queen West comes to mind -- but the shop in the Kensington appears to be no more.

What's a cardamom-vanilla ice cream lover to do?  Make his own, of course.  And so I did.  But thanks to a tip from Rachel, I didn't stop there.  She suggested adding a little texture to the ice cream with pistachio praline, which I did by adapting a hazelnut praline recipe from Regan Daley's, In the Sweet Kitchen.

Kensington Market Organic Ice Cream label their cardamom-vanilla ice cream, Emotional Rescue.  This inspires visions of a jilted lover wearing pyjamas and eating a pint of Häagen-Dazs while lamenting the loss of yet another love.  Sorry, not for me.  I prefer Euphoria, or some similar term that aptly describes the feeling of ecstasy I get with every bite of this sweetly perfumed, silky ice cream and the nutty crunch of the accompanying praline.


I first fell in love with cardamom in a different form, however.  Rachel and I occasionally eat at Xacutti, a restaurant on College Street that specializes in what could best be described as "New Indian" or Indian-fusion cuisine.  The brunch menu, slightly more conventional, features remarkable cardamom biscuits served with honey butter and homemade raspberry jam.  The biscuits are ethereal -- light and flaky, more scone than biscuit, with a subtle but identifiable cardamom taste and a rich buttery flavour.  I became so addicted that we often began our Sunday mornings by picking up cardamom biscuits while walking our dog Sam.

Then one Sunday, I learned that frozen biscuits are now available for takeout.  I think I did a little dance on the spot.  I bought a dozen frozen biscuits, came home, baked half of them, and promptly swooned with joy while devouring them.

I also learned that cardamom biscuits have one benefit over cardamom-vanilla ice cream: making biscuits means a house awash in the singular, mouthwatering scent of baked goods and cardamom.  I dare say it smelled as good as those early churches that burned cardamom as incense -- my own Sunday ritual.


Cardamom-Vanilla Ice Cream

300ml (1 1/4 cups) 2% milk
200ml (3/4 cup) 35% heavy cream
2 egg yolks
115g (3/4 cup) sugar
30g (1/2 cup) green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 small vanilla bean, split and scraped

Heat milk, cream, sugar, cardamom, and vanilla to 80C over medium heat. Remove from heat, cover tightly, and let steep for 5 minutes.

Strain.  Return vanilla pods to mixture.

Slowly add a little of the hot mixture to the yolks to temper them.  Add tempered yolks to mixture, and return to medium heat, stirring constantly, until it lightly coats the back of a spoon (approx. 85C).

Strain.  Chill completely.  Churn as per maker's instructions.

Pistachio Praline
(adapted from In the Sweet Kitchen, by Regan Daley)

Caution is required when adding the nuts to the molten sugar, which might splatter.  It's also required when breaking up the praline, shards of which can be extremely sharp.

350g (1 1/2) cups granulated sugar
50g (1/3 cup) pistachios, skinned and lightly toasted

Combine sugar with enough water to moisten it in a saucepan over medium-low heat.  When sugar is melted, increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.  When mixture is a medium-amber colour, remove from the heat and add the pistachios.

When the mixture has stopped splattering, work quickly to stir in the nuts, then pour over a Silpat-lined baking sheet and allow to cool completely.  When cool, carefully break into small pieces.  Place pieces in food processor and process to a chunky powder.

Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Sprinkle over ice cream prior to serving.


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You know how I loooove ice cream! I just can't get enough, bring out some more flavours!

Also- I've been thinking about your popcorn puree, and I'll be giving it a try. Popcorn ice cream anyone???

Lisa (Homesick Texan)

I went through a scone phase where I played around with all sorts of different flavors, one of which was cardamom--they were my favorite! Such a magnificent spice!


So beautiful and ethereal looking. I love cardamom too, it's one of those spices that tastes exotic and comforting at the same time. Thanks for the recipe!


I put cardamom everywhere: pastries, ice creams, sauces, coffees, creams...can't get enough so be sure that I am trying this next!


I agree cardamom really is a versatile spice...I've given it a go in icecream before but love the idea of combining with vanilla too

Great minds do think alike with the pistachio praline. I've tried a method like yours where you stir the nuts into the caramel and had heaps of problems with the caramel crystalising out so now opt for the pour over method. Have you ever had a crystal problem?


This is superb. I love ice cream and I adore cardamom...I believe it is a member of the ginger family...thus explaining its perfection. I've got to find a way not to lose this recipe because it's snowing here and I have no intention of making ice cream today...but next week, you bet. For now I'll try Brilynn's cardamom scones.


The biscuits look spectacular - especially with the jam. I've only tasted cardamon in hot chocolate, so I don't know that I have a good idea of what it really tastes like. Thanks for these great ideas.


Well, it's too cold in my house for ice cream today, but all these goings on about cardamom have inspired me to make some chai tea! Yum!


you have such a lovely blog! and your ice-cream looks absolutely delish =)


After seeing those cardamom biscuits I was hoping against hope to find you had figured out the recipe for them! Ah well, the ice cream does look heavenly too, and I was wondering what you think about mixing in some chunks of praline instead of just using it as a topping?


Cardamom and saffron are two of my favourite flavour combos for sweets. I make rice pudding with this combination, but i think it would be heavenly to add a pinch of saffron to your ice cream recipe..



I love this post! The ice cream, the praline - my mind is made up! I Must buy an ice cream maker!


Mmmmmmmmmm.... Rob!!! ;)
You know that I love Cardamom!!!
Your ice cream sound very very delicious!!


This is just the most delicious looking thing I’ve seen in ages. I can’t wait to make it! Yum!


I cannot believe that I have only just stumbled across your captivating blog. I love cardamom and make Ana Sortun's Arabic coffee pots de creme frequently because of the ambrosial combination of cardamom and coffee, as featured on my blog. You have inspired me to get back into the kitchen and stop feeling sorry for myself (a bit of a story...). Cheers!

A concerned party

Brad Kurtenbach (owner of Kensington Organic Ice Cream) seems to think he does not have to pay for anything. He has a long standing tradtion of screwing his buisniness partners, distributors and contract workers. Looking at the facts, this buisness location has moved more times in the last 4 years then can be explained through rational means. Digging a little deeper one discovers that he is infact a squater (he has been forced out of at least 3 apartments in the last 2 years for various reasons most of which center on not paying his rent). As of this date (Oct. 25, 2008) he has even lost access to the 650 Queen Street West store front for breaking the terms of the lease. The real revliation of his true character can be seen in the assult charges on him when he attacked his brother-in-law after refusing to pay for work rendered from his sister-in-law (this assult took place in the Pizza Pizza at Queen and Bathurst on July 21st of 2008 in front of 30 people and caught on video - anyone intrested in the details can obtain a police report from the Toronto Police HQ located at 40 College Street, Toronto, ON. 416-808-7020 ). He is a bully and a cheat and seems to think his maner of mob-wana-be management is the way to live. Everyone should avoid his store and be aware that his is capable of violent outbursts and childish fits of rage for no reason.


In Lebanon, we mainly flavor coffee with cardamom but I like it on sweets and shawarma too! (in meat)


Oh! Burned as incense? Well, that might smell really delicious. That taste will go up in the air. Instead, it will satisfy the mouth, the air will do in behalf of it. Cool!

herbal products

Vanilla would seem nice with some complementing spices. It will add a unique twist to the flavor.

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