A gorgeous fragrant old English rose growing in my garden this year inspired me to make a Persian-style rose ice cream (bastani sonati) last week. The dark pink flower had thick juicy petals. It looked and smelled exactly like a rose in my grand mother’s garden in Tehran I so loved when I was a child. Her rose didn’t flower long but when it did it filled the whole garden with a warm, heady scent.
Ice cream made in the traditional way is always flavoured with rosewater or rosewater and saffron but it is never coloured pink. I like pink and it was a shame not to use the juice from cooking beets that went into my salad! Yes, beet juice! It’s a great natural food colouring and has the added benefit of being full of antioxidants that are so good for health. So my ice cream turned pink with the beet juice.
Like other Middle Eastern traditional ice creams the Persian bastani sonnati is also a bit stretchy. It is salep, a white powder made from roots of a wild orchid that grows in western Asia, that gives these ice creams the stretchy texture. I prefer mine soft and creamy so I just left that bit out. I also used a very good vanilla custard made with vanilla beans instead of plain custard. The flavour of vanilla blends so well with rosewater. It smelled fabulous.
One thing I have always loved about Persian ice cream is the chunks of frozen unsweetened heavy cream that speck the ice cream and melt so gently on the tongue. Clotted cream works best but double cream will also work nicely. You need to freeze the cream in a thin layer and break it into chunks before folding it into half-set ice cream. Or leave it out if you wish.
The petals of my rose were so thick, fragrant and juicy I thought I really had to make use of them in my ice cream but I didn’t want to crystallise them and lose their beautifully soft texture or freeze them and completely ruin their gorgeous texture. So I was standing in the middle of the kitchen looking around and trying to figure out what to do with them when I saw the bottle of rosewater on the counter. Eureka! Eureka!
I made a rosewater-flavoured syrup and coated the petals with the syrup when it had completely cooled. Then I dredged the petals in sugar. After drying for a couple of hours they were still plump and pretty but had a thin crunchy sugar coat. They tasted and smelled amazing but I wish I had had finer sugar. Next time. Needless to say, I had quite a few before they even dried! Just to test!
Making bastani is incredibly easy if you use shop-bought custard like I did. You can make your own and flavour it with seeds from one pod of vanilla if you wish but I couldn’t be bothered. The vanilla custard I buy from my supermarket is delicious and works excellent in ice creams.
If you have an ice cream maker the process of making the ice cream is as simple as pouring the cream and custard mixture into the machine and letting it churn. If you don’t, you’ll have to whip the mixture a few times before it freezes completely to prevent any ice crystals from forming in the ice cream.
Persian ice cream is often offered alongside faloodeh, a dessert made with rice noodles frozen in a rosewater-scented slushy kind of sorbet. I posted a faloodeh recipe a while ago.
A word of caution about rosewater: rose essence is much stronger than rosewater so if you are using rose essence add it drop by drop and taste after each addition. You want a delicate rose flower scent, not edible perfume! Persian rosewater is available from most Persian and Middle Eastern groceries. I highly recommend using that if you can.
To serve 4-6 people you need the following ingredients:
Note: If you have an ice cream maker follow the manufacturer’s instructions after making the base of the ice cream and fold the little chunks of cream in before transferring the ice cream to the freezer.
To make sugar-coated fresh rose petals:
Pick a rose bloom that has just opened. Pull the petals apart and rinse under cold water. Spread on kitchen paper to dry. Meanwhile make a heavy syrup with 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water. Boil until the syrup is thick and lightly coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and add one tablespoon rosewater. Mix well.
Use chopsticks to drop the rose petals in the syrup and coat them well on both sides. Then dredge the petals one by one in fine sugar. Put the petals on a mesh sieve to air dry for as long as a day. Use to decorate the ice cream.