White Pepper Ice Cream

I got an ice cream maker. I was watching the episode of Good Eats all about premium ice cream and how simple it was to make, and the next day I ran out to buy an ice cream maker. For $50 I’ll never have to go to the corner bodega to grab a pint of Haagen-Dazs again — sweet.

The first batch, a basic vanilla ice cream made from the recipe in the Cuisinart machine’s instruction booklet, was refreshing, sweet, and tasted so much like Breyer’s vanilla it scared me. Who knew it was just cream, milk, sugar and vanilla? Immediately, fresh pineapple ice cream sounded tempting, green tea tickled my fancy (as did other teas, like what about Earl Grey?), but there was one question that had been lingering in my brain since middle school, and that was: White pepper ice cream. Sweet or spicy?

You see, at that age I was a massive fan of the band Cibo Matto. I think I still would be, if they had stayed together. But back then I had the group’s first album, Viva La Woman, and I used to listen to this on a big set of headphones from the only CD player in my parents’ living room, squawking and jerking around to “Know Your Chicken” and other things that would scare parents if they’d gotten to hear it themselves. Maybe it was the playfully cryptic lyrics that captured my adolescent obsession, or that the lead singer Miho Hatori’s accented English sounded strikingly reminiscent of my Aunt Amy’s. Maybe I just liked food.

Some friends of mine once had a conversation in which they agreed that the musical choices one makes around the ages of late middle school were most likely the ones that would stay with that person in a way unlike any other, making a lasting mark or shaping one’s tastes, consciously or not. And while all the members of Cibo Matto have moved on to really impressive, diverse projects and solo work, I can’t help but hold most dear songs like “White Pepper Ice Cream,” from Viva La Woman. In which the lyrics pose, over and over in a whispering existential puzzle, “sweet or spicy?” So eleven years later, I was going to find out.

I didn’t end up making a whole batch of white pepper ice cream, though. Instead I took a scoop of the aforementioned vanilla, a good teaspoon of white pepper, and put it back in the machine for a quick, thorough churn. I had suspected, as you may have gathered from the category of this post being “Regrets,” that I wouldn’t want to waste a whole lot of ice cream on this one. The result? Cold. And cough-inducing. White pepper has that dry bite that easily lends to coughing when used in excess, or if just swallowed the wrong way. I never thought of it as a very spicy flavor, just a ticklish peppery flavor of its own. But it took such a hold of the taste of the ice cream that I couldn’t even tell if what I was eating was sweet. I knew it must be, since it was regular ice cream in there, somehow, underneath it all. I still wouldn’t say it was really spicy, either. Isn’t cream supposed to cancel out spiciness? Maybe that’s the paradox. I have no idea which taste it was — sweet, spicy — and after coughing my lungs out, I’m rather content to leave it at that. As the song goes, “It’s all the same to me.”

Now where was I with the pineapple ice cream?

25 Responses

  1. sixtyfive

    Yes, where WERE you with the pineapple? A good recipe for this is surprisingly hard to find; most have added rum and coconut and such. Please post if you have a good one.

  2. Yvo

    Hahahaha wasn’t that episode on just last night? You bought one today? *teasing* Hahaha… just the thought of you buying one without a second thought to space makes me so jealous of Brooklyn living. Plus, what’s it say about me that I didn’t even like music that much until I was maybe in high school and I continue to not be that interested???
    In any case, I will gladly taste test Earl Grey ice cream (it’s my favorite tea) if you need any tasters and have an idea of how to make it but won’t share unless you want me to 🙂
    http://feistyfoodie.blogspot.com/2006/02/morimoto-nyc.html (had the ice cream here, scroll all the way down) … yum.

  3. Laura Rebecca

    I love that you gave this a try! But I’m sorry it didn’t work out the way you hoped.

  4. Susan in Italy

    I think you’re right about musical taste and late middle school. It’s true at least for me. For nice cream, though I’d go for the Earl Grey and could I suggest jasmine?

  5. Erin

    Although white pepper might not make for the perfect ice cream recipe, the recounting of the adventure makes for the perfect afternoon virtual snack – or mental snack? I’m not sure – but this was about the funniest Cathy story I’ve heard in months.

    Priceless! I’m as hooked on your blog as I used to be on your cooking when we were roomates!

  6. karol

    yea for the indie rock entry! and i’d like to place an order for basil ice cream.

  7. Deborah Dowd

    I got adventurous with my ice cream maker last summer and tried avocado ice cream. If I could have convinced my family I think I could have perfected it….

  8. Melanie

    I’m not sure if you can make gelato in an ice cream maker or not, but I’ve heard things that make me drool about olive oil gelato, which sounds too weird to imagine (at least to me).

  9. Daisy

    You can make gelato in an ice cream maker! There’s a great Argentine gelato place near me that sells a sabayon flavor that is to die for. I was able to recreate it last summer with my home machine.

  10. cathy

    Wow, basil, jasmine, pineapple, avocado and sabayon (had to look that one up, it sounds yummy) to work on — thanks so much everyone for the great thoughts! I might not make it to summer before losing my ice cream gut, but I’ll try my best… at making good ice cream, that is…

  11. Sue

    Brave girl! Love that song, but it never occured to me to try it.
    Two words for you: Guinness icecream. It is really really good, tastes like guinness…but not. Emeril of all people has an excellent recipe with a bitter dark chocolate sauce,it was well worth the effort. I served it along side a Guinness gingerbread that I made for a birthday. I am also working out a chai flavored recipe of my own…which still needs some work.
    If you are ever in LA again, stop by Mashti Malones for some wonderful and unique ice cream flavors:http://www.mashtimalone.com/

  12. smash

    I wonder it it would help to use whole white peppercorns and steep them in hot milk, the way I do with black peppercorns (among other spices) for chai. You get a little bit of hotness along with the smooth sweetness of the tea.

  13. michael

    How about a little “mala” numbing spice ice cream? Woo-eee!

  14. cathy

    Whoa, I would have never thought of that idea, Smash. This opens a whole new dimension right now… spicy and sweet may not be dead. And thanks for the Guiness tip, Sue — I’ll check out Emeril’s recipe! Michael: ha.

  15. vanessa (of vanesscipes)

    I’m sorta disapointed that this didn’t work out better… maybe if you paired it with mango or caramel the white pepper might shine. I want to see the Guinness Ice Cream too! I make Guinness floats (vanilla or caramel ice cream bobbing in Guinness) and it’s pretty darn tasty.

  16. Dex

    Hi to all from Brooklyn NY,if ever in Bklyn you must,must! visit”Taste Of The Tropic’s” this place has all kinds of wonderful tropical flavor’s Mango,Guinness even Grape Nut ice cream,,,it’s like a mini Tropical Oasis for you taste bud’s. 🙂

  17. chris

    you didn’t answer the big question though: was it like a line drawing??

  18. Kristen

    I’m in the market for an ice cream maker as well. What model of Cuisinart did you end up going with?

  19. cathy

    Kristen: I got the Cuisinart ICE-120 model–not a bad investment.
    Chris: no doubt that is a crucial and daunting question, one that I’m not sure I’m ready to answer… hopefully someday though…

  20. Janine

    You were in MIDDLE SCHOOL when that album came out?! Now I feel really old. I loved it too, and I was a full-fledged adult (technically) when it came out.

  21. sassy

    you should really try jalepeno ice cream – go all the way and make a full batch – with the seeds and all — don’t skimp on the fat or sugar – it needs it to balance the kick.


  22. wench

    You put a teaspoon of white pepper into a scoop of ice cream? The proportion for edible is probably something more like an eighth or a sixteenth teaspoon to a scoop. =) Might be worth another shot, I love white pepper in pepparkakor – the norwegian pepper cookies.

    A teaspoon would probably add a fair bit of kick to a gallon of vanilla.

  23. jayme

    I have actually used white peppercorns in an ice cream and it was a tasty treat. I think you might have shorted yourself when you used the powdered pepper in vanilla ice cream. The pepper recipe I used called for steeping smashed peppercorns in with the custard and straining them out. More essence of pepper than dashed pepper on top. Pink peppercorns are really better suited for this since they’ve got a more mellow flavor. Try again and get this off the regret list! 🙂

  24. Anonymous

    My grandmother used to make white pepper ice cream many years ago. She grated the white pepper over the cream and let it sit to absorb for a while. I think that if you did this and only used 1/4t of white pepper you’d have a better ice cream.

  25. robin

    That song was written about the white pepper ice cream at vong (now gone, was at 53rd and 3rd which is a different song entirely, but that’s where it happened to be located)

    Maybe jean georges vongarichen still has the recipe.

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