Sichuan peppercorns, usually associated with fiery-hot Sichuan Chinese cuisine, takes a surprisingly mellow turn when paired with orange zest, cream, and sugar. The usual mouth-numbing effects are almost entirely negated, leaving pleasant floral undertones in its wake with just a hint of numbness lingering at the end of each bite. Those familiar with this spice will be able to appreciate the subtlety displayed here, and anyone, regardless of past experience with Sichuan peppercorns, can enjoy this unusual flavor pairing. I love serving this as a palate cleanser after a particularly heavy meal, and think it would be fantastic between two ginger cookies for a fun take on an ice cream sandwich.
Adapted from David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”
3 Tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup sugar
6 large egg yolks
1. Coarsely grind the peppercorns in a mortar and pestle, or place the peppercorns in a heavy-duty freezer bag and smash a few times with the back of a heavy skillet.
2. Heat the milk, 1/2 cup of the cream, and sugar with the peppercorns in a medium saucepan. Zest the oranges directly into the pan. Stir, and once the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is hot, cover the pot and remove from heat. Let steep for one hour.
3. Rewarm the milk mixture. While the mixture warms, pour the remaining cup of cream into a large bowl with a mesh strainer set on top. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.
4. Slowly pour the hot milk mixture into the yolks while whisking the yolks (start with just a tablespoon or two of the milk mixture and slowly add more). You don’t have to add all of the milk- half or less- but you want to slowly raise the temperature of the egg yolks so that they don’t scramble when you pour them into the remaining hot milk mixture. Pour the egg/milk mixture back into the saucepan.
5. Over medium heat, stir the mixture constantly with a wooden spatula, scraping the bottom, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula fairly thickly. Pour the custard (yep, it’s a custard now) through the strainer and stir it into the cream. If you want to take extra precautions, place the bowl into a larger bowl full of ice water to help things cool down quickly.
6. Refrigerate the custard until cold (and really- all the way cold) and then freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.