30 January 2011

Fennel Ice Cream & Bittersweet Chocolate Pear Cake

My second run with the ice cream maker and I decided to make, of all things, fennel ice cream.  I am not entirely sure what would make me want to make fennel ice cream over and above Violet Crumble Ice Cream or this decadent sounding Cocoa Sorbet, but I am certainly very glad it did make it to the top of the ice cream making list.  Not the most obvious choice for ice cream but on reading it here I knew I  had to make it and a little voice told me I would not be disappointed. I wasn't and highly recommend that you read it too.

It is one of those wondrous recipes where a few simple ingredients melded together result in something sublime and most definitely greater than the sum of its parts, a whole new entity.  The fennel seeds infuse the cream and what is left is not the sharp clean aniseed hit you might expect but more of a sweet, mellow essence of fennel seed.  When it is mixed into the custard it becomes a sweet, warm, comforting and totally moreish concoction that is lip smackingly good.  The licked clean spoon and bowl are testament to that. It was lucky to make to the ice cream maker at all. At that point I know I was on to something quite special.  
Fennel Ice Cream
Adapted from Orangette, adapted from Gourmet, October 2007, and Holly Smith

Makes about 1 litre


1 2/3 cups cream
1 tbsp fennel seeds, crushed
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk - must be whole fat milk, we are talking ice cream here so no place for trim, skinny or lite variations of anything
3/4 cup sugar,  1/2 cup and 1/4 cup
Pinch of salt
4 egg yolks


In a small saucepan place the cream, fennel seeds and vanilla extract.  Bring the cream to a simmer, remove from the heat and allow the flavours to infuse for 30 minutes.

Mix together the milk, 1/2 cup of sugar and the salt in a medium saucepan and bring it to just a simmer. Stir to dissolve the sugar.

In a large bowl place the egg yolks and the 1/4 cup of sugar and whisk together.  Slowly pour in the hot milk mixture, constantly whisking as you do.  Return the custard mixture to a saucepan and cook until it coats the back of a spoon.  Just cook at a low heat (you don't want it to boil), stirring all the time, until you have a smooth custard.  If you think disaster is imminent just keep a sink full of cold water on hand while making the custard.  Then if it does start to split at all just plunge the pot in to the sink of cold water and whisk like there's no tomorrow.  The custard won't take more than 10 minutes to cook, possibly even a moment or so less.  Strain the custard in to a bowl and leave it to cool.  You can speed up the process by placing it in an ice bath.

Once cooled add the fennel infused cream.  Do this through a sieve to remove all the seeds, but do press down on the seeds to squeeze out every last drop of flavour.  Chill the mixture in the fridge overnight.  Place the mixture in an ice cream maker and follow the manufacturers instructions.  Pop the ice cream in an air-tight container and place in the freezer for about an hour.

Yes it does take a little time, but then that old adage is true.  Good things come to those who wait.

I had friends round for dinner on the weekend and an almost evangelical desire to convert them all to the wonders of fennel ice cream. Even if any of them were fennel haters, I didn't care, they would all be converted.  The dilemma: What to have with it?  Orange and fennel are good friends, the citrus cutting through the rich, sweet ice cream. So I thought maybe this Orange and Almond Cake with Grand Marnier Syrup and then I came across a Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake over at the Smitten Kitchen. 

Bittersweet chocolate and I go way back, we have a long standing love affair, so I was sold.  I used my favourite, Whittaker's Dark Ghana. At 72% cocoa it is dark, bitter and rich...just as it should be and the aroma that escapes from the oven while it is baking is intoxicating in its chocolatiness.

Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake

From the Smitten Kitchen and courtesy of Al Di La Restaurant in Park Slope, Brooklyn


1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, at room-temperature
122g /4oz unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 pears, peeled, in a small dice - I used some little sugar pears.  Sweet and they kept their shape and added another texture to the cake.
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks, I used Whittaker's Dark Ghana, but any good quality 70% cocoa or more would also work.


Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan and set aside.

In a bowl sift the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. Place the eggs in a bowl (or the bowl of a mixer with the whisk attachment) and whisk until pale and very thick, you want the volume for a light airy cake. If you are lucky enough to have a Kitchen Aid it will take 5 minutes or more.  If like me you don't, whisk for a good 8-10 minutes. Put the timer on as it will feel like eternity.

Add the sugar to the eggs and whip for a few more minutes.
Just as the egg and sugar mixture is starting to loose volume, lower the whisking speed and add the flour mixture and brown butter. Add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour. Whisk until just barely combined, you want to work the batter as little as possible to retain the volume you spent all that time building up. It won't take more than a minute from when the flour is first added. Very gently fold the batter until the ingredients are just combined. Don't over work it.

Pour the batter in to the springform pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top and put it in the pre-heated oven. Bake for 40-50 minutes until the cake is golden brown and a skewer comes out clean.

Serve it up with a generous scoop of fennel ice cream.  A dollop of whipped cream could also be added!

The bitter sweet chocolate played very well with the sweetness of the pears.  The cake was light, despite me almost over beating the batter, so this recipe gets kudos from a not so experienced baker. I can only imagine how light it will be the next time with no over beating whatsoever! I also love that you just sprinkle the pears and chocolate on top of the batter and then while baking away in the oven, the magic occurs and the pears and chocolate are dispersed all through the cake. So you get little fruity juicy pockets of pear and then a little nugget of the chocolate all wrapped up in cake.

And with the fennel ice cream, it was unanimously agreed by a whole table of converts that it worked a treat: indulgent, sweet, creamy, rich. The fruity sweetness of the pears compliments the mellow sweetness of the fennel ice cream and then the dark bittersweet chocolate cuts through it all to offer a sublime balance, the yin and the yang if you like, that is chocolatey bitter and ice cream sweet.

Alternatively you could just get the container out the freezer and grab a spoon...



  1. Oh my! What a stunning feast. I really want to try making fennel ice cream now. I'm a bit of a weirdo in that I really hate licorice and aniseed but I love fennel and fennel seeds. Either way, I have total faith in fennel ice cream :)

    That cake seems fairly straightforward, even with all the whisking, and sounds seriously amazing. I love that chocolate too, I use so much Whittakers Dark Ghana in my cooking, I should start buying shares ;)

  2. What constitutes a hole table of converts ? Sounds a great combination .Will need to invest in an ice cream maker.

  3. I do like the sound of this especially the cake

  4. @hungryandfrozen thanks! I just can't properly explain how amazing fennel ice cream is! The original Orangette post gets close! And Dark Ghana...love that stuff...does anything smell better when it is cooking???

  5. @Dad - thanks for pointing out the typo!! And yes I do recommend an ice cream maker! Next up I think will be the violet crumble ice cream.

  6. Mairi, you won my book!

    Please send me your address :-)



  7. That looks completely amazing! Thanks for re-posting that - That looks like it's worth hauling out the icecream maker for !

  8. @Lisa Thanks Lisa, oh yes I love my ice cream maker...look forward to summer & many, many ice creams :)

  9. I do agree with all the concepts you have offered in your post. They’re very convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are too brief for beginners. May you please lengthen them a little from subsequent time? Thank you for the post.


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