Summer has arrived, and it’s gotten pretty hot and muggy around here. So when I started reading Angolan recipes, I was initially a little worried, because I was finding dish after dish that involved piles of chili peppers. I like hot and spicy food, but I don’t like it quite so much when it’s 90 degrees and humid out, especially considering that my kitchen isn’t air conditioned. It’s much more fun to eat food that makes you sweat when you’re not already sweaty just from cooking it. Nevertheless, I was about to resign myself to a hot ‘n’ spicy stew, when one line in a description of Angolan cuisine caught my attention: “In Angola, they make ice cream out of the fruit of the baobab tree.”
Now, readers, I don’t know if you happen to be nerds who love classic children’s literature and/or took French classes at some point in your life, but if you are, I bet your knowledge of the baobab tree looks a whole lot like this:
So, given this background, here are the things I knew about baobabs:
- They are too big for very small planets.
- A sheep might eat them while they are still small, thus protecting beloved roses.
And here are the things (well, thing) I definitely did not know about baobabs:
- They have edible fruit and you can make ice cream out of it.
I was intrigued – and became even more intrigued when I learned that baobab fruit actually naturally dries out inside its own shell, and can thus be powdered, packaged, and sold online to people living far away from Angola (or from very small planets, for that matter) without losing anything of its fundamental nature. Plus, it’s apparently super healthy and packed with vitamins, so that was a nice bonus. But that didn’t answer the most important question: what does baobab actually taste like?
Well, that turned out to be an oddly complicated question. After a fair amount of internet searching on the subject, the answers I found were “sort of like lemon,” “sort of like mango,” “sort of like melon,” and “sort of like pear.” (This was further complicated by sending a query to a friend-of-a-family-member who grew up in southern Africa, who reported that baobab tasted “sort of like tamarind.”) If you are staring at that list and thinking “but…most of those fruits don’t taste anything like each other,” you’ll understand why I was more than a little perplexed. But hey, this project is about being adventurous, right? So I ordered myself a bag of powdered could-taste-like-anything fruit and got ready to make some ice cream fit for a Little Prince.
The process for making gelado de múcua really wasn’t very complicated or time-consuming, since I have an ice cream maker. (If you don’t have an ice cream maker, the process still isn’t very complicated, but it’s definitely more of a pain in the butt. That said, you can buy a basic ice cream maker like the one I have for around $20-25, and I highly recommend doing so even if you don’t want to try baobab ice cream, since homemade ice cream tends to be yummier than almost anything you’ll find in a store.)
I began by pouring all of my dairy products into a pot and slowly bringing it up to a boil (stirring it frequently). While the milk and cream and milk-n-cream (a.k.a. half & half) were heating up, I cracked my eggs into a mixing bowl, added some of the sugar (no need to be precise here, as long as it all goes in the ice cream in the end), and whisked them together until they were nice and frothy.
(You can, incidentally, leave the eggs out altogether and skip the slightly more complex process they require. Eggs add a richer flavor (they’re the difference between vanilla ice cream and French vanilla ice cream), and the one verifiably Angolan recipe I found included them, but they’re totally optional.) Once my cream mixture was boiling, I removed it from the heat and let it cool down for a couple of minutes, and then poured it into the frothy-egg mixture and stirred them together. I added the rest of the sugar, the vanilla, and the salt, and then poured everything back into the pot and returned it to the stove.
Here’s where adding the eggs makes things a little tricky: you need to heat the mixture just enough that the eggs are safe to eat, but not enough that they start changing consistency and turning your ice cream unpleasantly “eggy.” 185 degrees Fahrenheit is the sweet spot – basically, you’ll want to use the “Price is Right” method, which is to say getting as close as you possibly can to that number without going over. The easiest way to do this is to attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pot (making sure the tip is fully submerged without touching the bottom of the pan). I attached my thermometer, turned the heat to medium-low, and began heating things up, stirring frequently (and carefully, so as not to knock the thermometer over).
After several minutes of carefully stirring and watching and mentally yodeling, things looked just about perfect.
As soon as the mixture hit that sweet spot, I removed it from the heat and stirred in the baobab powder. (It took some stirring, since at first it wanted to clump up, but eventually it smoothed itself out nicely.) My cream mixture now looked very thick, very creamy, and a cheerful shade of pale yellow.
Next step: put some plastic wrap over that pot and pop it in the fridge for an hour or two to cool down. Simple enough. Once it had had some time to get nice and cool, I poured it into the ice cream maker, added ice and salt to the outer bucket as per its instructions, let it run until it decided it was done (about 30-40 minutes), and soon this:
…had turned into this:
At this point, the ice cream is basically soft-serve – it’s absolutely ready to eat if you like that texture, but if you want it more solid, it needs to go spend some time in the freezer. So I scooped it out of the ice cream maker and put it into a Tupperware tub overnight. (I did, of course, taste a little of it in its soft-serve form – I wasn’t about to wait till the next day to find out if baobab ice cream was actually good!) I did wait until the next day to photograph the final product, though, so it’d look nice and ice-cream-textured in its close-up.
That is really the best word to describe the flavor, to be honest. I mean, “tasty” and “fruity” and “yummy” and “tangy” and “refreshing” all fit, too, but when it comes to the question of whether baobab tastes like lemon, mango, melon, pear, or tamarind, the only answer I came up with was “none of the above.” (Amusingly, a family member described the ice cream’s flavor as “sort of like peach,” because apparently five fruits that don’t taste anything like each other were just not enough.) Of those six fruits, I’d say peach, mango, and tamarind are the closest, lemon is vaguely in the ballpark insofar as they are both distinctly sour fruits that require the addition of sugar to taste good (I tried a little bit of plain baobab powder, too, because I was curious), and melon and pear are so far off the mark that I wonder what the heck kinds of melons and pears those people were eating. That said, while peach, mango, and tamarind are at least reasonable fruits to compare baobab to (it’s got that sort of “tropical” flavor that the latter two have, and the sort of “summer-y” flavor of peaches, if either of those two descriptions make any sense), I think it mostly just tastes like baobab. You’ll pretty much have to try it for yourself if you want to know what baobab tastes like – and I recommend you do, because baobab ice cream is pretty excellent. (I also happened to have some black cherry syrup in the house, so I tried that as an ice cream topper with the gelado de múcua, and I thought that combination was pretty scrumptious. Any other tart, tangy fruit sauce would probably make an equally delicious addition.)
If I make this again – which I certainly will, because I like making interesting homemade ice creams in the summertime, and I’ve still got quite a bit of baobab powder left over – I wouldn’t change a thing. Well…that’s not quite true, because in a few weeks, the wild blackberry bushes that grow near my house will be covered in fresh, juicy berries, and I strongly suspect baobab-and-wild-blackberry ice cream will be amazing. But if I didn’t happen to have access to a lot of wild blackberries, I wouldn’t change a thing!
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup half & half
1 cup milk
1 1/8 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
6 tbsp baobab powder