Here in Minnesota, the last vestiges of winter are finally departing. Springtime is around the corner, and all of life is awakened from dormancy as the cycle of seasons starts anew. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though. On the contrary, we’ve been getting a lot of rain. Here, in the north, we’re having such a slow thaw that on my weekend walk, I spotted a flock of 40 loons making a quick stop on Lake Harriet before they finish the last “wing” of their journey all the way to Lake Superior. There is still a lot of ice on our neighborhood lake. On early mornings, the lake’s surface is shrouded in mist from the condensation of the sun slowly warming up the ice. I find myself having to patiently wait for my lovely bulbs to emerge into the beautiful hyacinths, tulips, and crocuses that they will one day become under the warm sun. So, what to do in the meantime? After all, I’m not much good at waiting around.
Well, one practice is spring cleaning, an age-old traditional way to welcome the new season. At home we have embraced cleaning with gusto, opening doors and windows to let in sunshine and fresh air. We have swept away dust and withered leaves, polishing the windows, and discarding things that we no longer use. We haven’t had the audacity to tackle the clutter in the basement ye, but we have been getting some lovely fresh flowers for our dining room table every week, and that has really helped to freshen things up. I am also looking forward to the arrival of delicious fruits and veggies to make wonderful entrees, quiches, pies, and desserts. The local farmers’ market won’t open until early May, so what can I do to switch up the palette of my treats in the meantime?
The idea struck me to cook something with a shade of green. There aren’t many naturally green desserts, and usually these are flavored with mint or basil. I remembered how much I enjoyed green tea ice cream some years ago at my local ice cream shop, Sebastian Joe’s. It so happens that I love making homemade ice cream, and during summer, I spend much of my free time whipping up fresh batches of a really scrumptious ice cream base recipe, so I wondered: wouldn’t it be fun to create a matcha ice cream flavor?
I realized that although I’m a great fan of the flavor of matcha, I actually knew very little about it. The more I learned about matcha, the more perfect it seemed for the spring season. I found out that matcha is a finely-ground powder of processed green tea leaves. Matcha powder is special in two aspects: the plants are shade-grown before the harvest, and the stems and veins are removed during the processing. Reading on, I learned that powdered teas emerged first in China during the Tang Dynasty. Tea leaves were steamed and formed into bricks so they could be easily stored and traded and the resulting tea powder was boiled in hot water to produce a beverage. During the Song Dynasty, the method of making powdered tea evolved so that a beverage was made by mixing the tea powder and hot water together in a bowl, and this became very popular. The preparation and consumption of powdered tea was later transformed into a ritual by Buddhists, including detailed descriptions of the etiquette for tea ceremonies. Zen Buddhism and the methods of preparing powdered tea were brought to Japan by a Buddhist monk named Eisai. It became an important ritual among Buddhists in Japan, and by the 1600s, matcha tea was much appreciated in Japanese society.
The traditional Japanese tea ceremony focuses on serving and drinking matcha as hot tea. The Zen Buddhists drank matcha tea to concentrate and achieve a meditative state. Brewing the perfect cup of green tea requires patience, and the whole process of making and drinking it can be relaxing if you give yourself the time to be mindful. The tea used in such ceremonies is ceremonial-grade matcha, which is of a higher quality than the culinary-grade matcha I used in my recipe below. Certain blends of matcha are given special tea names called chamei, named by the producing plantation or the creator of the blend or the grandmaster of a certain tea tradition.
When buying matcha be aware that ceremonial-grade matcha usually comes in small cans and is expensive. For making ice cream, culinary-grade matcha will work well and I used one by the Republic of Tea. Be advised: you may adjust the amount of matcha as you like in your ice cream, but a strongly-flavored matcha ice cream will be slightly bitter. I also added a little bit of vanilla, because it does create a fuller flavor.
Having learned all this, I realized that matcha is the perfect way to flavor a spring season of renewal and rejuvenation. Not to mention, matcha is not just great for spiritual health, but has a lot of positive effects on physical health as well. It is packed with antioxidants, helps you detoxify naturally, boosts metabolism, helps concentration and even improves your mood. You know what else improves your mood? Ice cream! So I thought I would combine the two to create a dessert with the mood of the spring season.
Green Tea Matcha Ice Cream
Prep time: 20 min.
Cook Time: 10 min.
Chill Time: at least 8 hours or overnight
Churn: 15-20 minutes
- 3 cups half and half
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 8 large egg yolks
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla powder
- 2 tablespoons matcha powder
- Freeze the churning bowl of ice cream machine for at least 24 hours.
- Pour half-and-half and heavy cream into a medium saucepan over medium heat and combine with a whisk. Bring to a simmer and remove from the heat.
- Place the matcha powder in a very small bowl. Transfer half a cup of the warm half-and-half and cream mixture and add it into the matcha. Whisk vigorously until incorporated. The warm cream will help release the flavor of the tea and will turn the custard a vivid green.
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks until they lighten in color.
- Add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and whisk into the eggs.
- Temper the cream mixture into the eggs and sugar by gradually pouring a small amount at a time.
- Return the entire mixture to the saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. To know if it’s ready, a good test is to run a finger along the back of the spoon and draw a line. The line should not blur and will stay custard-free. Remove from heat.
- Stir in the vanilla powder.
- Add the matcha and half-cup of mixture into the overall saucepan. Whisk well to incorporate. If you don’t find that the custard is green enough with the amount of matcha tea you have used, you can use some food coloring, or you can add more matcha to taste. Just be aware that matcha has a very powerful, pungent taste, and if you add too much of it, it may take away some of the sweetness of the ice cream.
- Pour the mixture into a container and refrigerate at least 8 hours.
- Pour the cooled mixture into an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Churn for approximately 20 minutes. Freeze for another 4 hours to harden.