fennel ice cream

I’m patting myself on the back right now–no, not for finishing NaBlo, because I think we have already established that an 86 percent effort doesn’t count–but because I have finally made the fennel ice cream from the October Gourmet and it is absolutely wonderful. You have no idea how many things have had the balderdash to get in my way.

It actually starts long before October, when I was trying to make the roasted banana ice cream from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop. In a small kitchen with one counter, I rarely take pictures of my mise, as it is simply disgraceful. Things are piled and messy and muddled and as long as I can find a clear corner to work on, I excel in ignoring everything else. We all have our skills, non? This usually works for me (ahem) except for that day that it didn’t, and the ice cream maker, all of its parts and sticky, delicious banana batter ended up splayed across the kitchen floor, breaking the plastic paddle that churns the ice cream. Alex and I ordered a replacement part ($8 piece, $9 S&H) from Cuisinart that night which took EIGHT weeks to arrive, abruptly halting my ice cream making season in its tracks.


Of course, now that I have the part, its 44 degrees out but I can’t help it: I’ve been craving ice cream left and right, so when a friend of mine who is a pastry chef and makes the most wonderful, innovative ice creams raved about Gourmet’s fennel ice cream, I had to make it. This was my chance to make cool ice creams like her! Yet on Wednesday night, it turned out that my fennel seeds, ugh, well, had made some icky friends and my whole effort went in the garbage.

And this is usually the point I consider “a sign”–it’s no longer ice cream weather, the fennel seeds were cursed, oh and nobody I know really likes the fennel flavor–and usually quit. But I didn’t this time and I’m so glad: this ice cream is incredible. Unbearably delicious. The fennel flavor hangs out faintly in the background, as it should, but the creamy-chewiness that can only come from ice cream made with an abundance of egg yolks and full-fat milk and cream can achieve. It’s a delight. And even if not a single other person eats it this weekend (oh, but they will–just wait until I tell you what I am pairing, or should I say pear-ing, it with), frankly: more for me! Really, it is all part of my master plan.

fennel ice cream

One year ago: Zucchini, Ham, Basil and Ricotta Fritters

And also: People, do you really think I boil rabbits? Hey, I don’t blame you for not reading to the end; heck, my attention span is so short I’ve looked at two different websites just while typing this sentence. But rabbits? Come on. Just because I like wearing white in the winter and saw, you know, that movie the night before doesn’t make it so.

Fennel Ice Cream
Gourmet, October 2007

Active time: 30 min Start to finish: 2 1/2 hr

Makes 1 quart

1 2/3 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar, divided
4 large egg yolks

Bring cream and fennel seeds just to a simmer in a small heavy saucepan, then cover and let steep about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring milk, 1/2 cup sugar, and a pinch of salt to a simmer in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring.

Whisk together yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a large bowl, then add milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking. Return mixture to medium saucepan and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until mixture coats back of spoon and registers 175°F on an instant-read thermometer (do not let boil). Immediately strain custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a metal bowl, then quick-chill by setting bowl in an ice bath and stirring occasionally until cool, about 15 minutes.

Strain fennel cream through fine-mesh sieve into custard, pressing on solids. Continue to chill in ice bath until custard is very cold, then freeze in ice cream maker. Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden, about 1 hour.

Note: Custard with fennel cream can be chilled, covered, in refrigerator up to 24 hours.

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61 comments on fennel ice cream

  1. amy

    We have a lil gem clled jeni’s ice cream in our town- they are amazing and insane with combos that rock- you should google em- they ship from columbus, ohio
    thanks for yr Q&A’s – love em!

  2. amy

    I love fennel – i have a cup of fennel tea every night in the winter. It’s heavenly. (the Pompadour Fennel Herb Tea is the best there is!)
    I might have to experiment with this ice-cream (anyone have any suggestions on how to improve the quality of the ice-cream made with the kitchenaid ice-cream attachment? mine always comes out so… soft, because the bowl is just slowly defrosting during the whole process..)

  3. 8 weeks?? does that mean that when i order my bread hook (wherever did mine go??!) i’ll be met with the same success?

    Now, more about this ice cream – you see, i’ve been craving it, but with KS being SO LACTOSE INTOLERANT (why oh why) i feel selfish making it… and then there’s of course the fennel issue. Do you have to like fennel to make it? should I stick with other flavors instead if I loathe fennel with all my heart? It does, to tell you honestly – look amazing.

    congrats on finishing NaBlo- quite frankly I think I’m holding a record for fewest posts this month – all thanks to work…

  4. Anna

    My brother has made sooo many ice creams from that book – saffron, pepper, olive oil, chocolate, hazelnut, pumpkin, habanero, malted milk, pear, mojito granita………

    A favorite – panforte. It is spectacular!

    Enjoy your ice cream maker!

    1. Anna

      Try freezing the metal bowl and wrap a towel around it too to keep bowl vey cold while it churns. Also all other ingredients should be chilled too. When I make it like you yes it comes out soft and does need overnight freezing for best results take out and place in the fridge 30 min since it will be quite hard then when ready to surve. Anna

  5. Erica


    I swear to you I am venturing into the world of making my own ice cream solely b/c of this site! The Kitchen Aid ice cream maker attachment & the “Perfect Scoop” is on my holiday wish list this year & I am really looking forward to putting them to use after reading this recipe.

    As a side note, does anyone have any experience with the Kitchen Aid attachment? I have read good reviews & love the idea of not having an entirely new kitchen appliance. Although the bowl is quite big.

  6. Connie

    I have the KA attachment and it works pretty well. The bowl is big and takes up a lot of my (small) freezer space,but you dont have to store it there. I just like to have it frozen so i can make ice cream in a moment’s notice. I think if you store it at room temp you have to freeze it for 12 hours or something before it’s ready.

    The ice cream never gets very hard, but thats the case with most home ice cream makers. You can always harden the ice cream in the freezer after. I used it to make the ice cream for a final project in culinary school (in fact, I used the project as an excuse to buy it) and it got rave reviews.

  7. alex

    It’s impressive how perfectly even your ice cream looks: so consistently eatable, not too frozen nor melty. That’s a feat.
    Incidentally, I think coconut milk is a good addition to ice cream for the lactose-happy as well as the lactose-happy.
    The prep/active time register is *great* – thanks so much.

  8. deb

    amy — I don’t have the Kitchen Aid ice cream attachment but the Cusinart ice cream maker that uses almost the exact same type of bowl. The only two things that help me get the ice cream as firm as it should be is that I actually always keep the bowl in the freezer–it can never be too cold. This works pretty well because before the recommended 30 minutes churning is up, the ice cream is almost too thick to churn. I consider that a good sign. The second thing is that even though they say (in this recipe too, I should edit it) that it only needs an hour to chill, I have rarely made an ice cream that didn’t need at least 3 to 4 hours to get firm enough, if not overnight. It could, of course, just be my freezer. This is why I try to make ice cream at least a day in advance for when I am going to need it (in this case, on Saturday).

    radish — I hope not! They ended up telling us it was on backorder like 4 weeks later. It blows my mind how bad so many online stores are at shipping their products out. I know some QA testers that could whip them into shape in no time! :)

    As for posting schedules, for me at least, the beauty off RSS is that I rarely notice how little people post, or feel annoyed by it. Instead, when I see a new item, I’m all “woo-hoo! A post!”

    Erica — I haven’t experimented with the Kitchen Aid but I just said last night that I’m thinking of offloading my Cusinart ice cream maker in exchange for just the Kitchen Aid bowl. I agree–it’s so much more space efficient, especially now that I have my KA out all the time now.

  9. ann

    Now that you have your ice cream mojo back, I hope you’ll give the roasted banana another shot. It’s my favorite out of that whole book. (and truly sinful when paired with the philadelphia-style chocolate.)

  10. I reallyreallyreallyreally wanted an ice cream maker this summer and I just couldn’t justify the expense. Then I discovered (perhaps actually became) extraordinarily lactose intolerant. Ice cream is the worst! I’ll have to try coconut milk.

    Thanks for post and congrats on the NaBloPo! You did an awesome job and it was such great fun to read so many posts. BTW, I definitely get the award for least posts this month: zero :D

  11. We’ve always loved anise ice cream, so I imagine we’d like fennel too. I’ve found a lot of people claim to dislike anise/fennel simply because they associate it with licorice, but I often serve something with those flavors and they end up really liking it. I think anise and fennel have a more subtle nuanced taste that are really wonderful, anise-chocolate pairing is great and also anise shortbread cookies.

  12. Oh my god.

    I’m smitten with fennel. Every day this week I’ve had a little fennel with French feta and lemon juice. I never tire of it. Although, after being that healthy, I think I could safely have some of this ice cream, as well.

    thank you, Ms. Deb!

  13. oh my, Deb, I never have considered an ice cream maker an important part of one’s kitchen collection, but I think this post convinced me right here…someday when I settle down long enough to not feel guilty or wasteful buying permanent tupperware I will get myself one and hopefully still have your fennel ice cream recipe nearby! (have you ever made cardamom flavored? I discovered it at my favorite ice cream shop back home in bellingham, wa and am still raving about it two years later!)

    1. Anna

      For Deb. Freeze your custard then fork it every 30 min. Until frozen then using a stand mixer or food processor beat it this lightens it up then referee if need be. Anna

  14. Tina

    I love David Lebovitiz’s The Perfect Scoop! You must try the toasted Coconut ice cream, I couldn’t stop sneaking spoonfuls out while it was churning!

  15. Laura

    I love fennel so I will try this recipe.

    One of my favorites is cardamom ice cream and you make it the same way with about 6 crashed green cardamom pods.


  16. I have just finished making this ice cream. A few moments ago took it out of the Cuisinart and into a container to freeze. Have to agree with everything here… This is a really tremendous recipe. I put a few more fennel seeds in than the recipe calls for and it still is not overpowering… Now going to be checking out The Perfect Scoop…

  17. Do you think this would translate to fresh fennel, somehow? I’ve got a big gorgeous bulb in my CSA this week, and no clue what to do with it. My ice cream obsession is in full swing right now though, and I’m itching to try this! Do you think I’d have better success steeping just the tops, or the actual veg (or both) in the cream for the desired flavor profile?

  18. elizabeth

    We broke a piece of the dasher on our KA attachment yesterday (July 4!) while making fresh ginger and lemon ice cream from David’s book. Oh! the horror! My sturdy husband patched it up temporarily but it will not last through the remaining summer months and we are not sure a replacement piece is available. I was thinking about buying a second attachment so I could easily make two flavors (we have a chest freezer in the garage) but not this soon.


    On the positive side, ginger-lemon ice cream rocks! Eaten as molasses spice cookie sandwiches or just the little scrapey bits that you clean out of the bowl with your spatula.

  19. wendy

    amazing recipe. after many mediocre ice cream recipes, this is the one that has done it. now going to try to use it to explore other options…rosemary is next.

  20. Deb,

    I purchased an ice cream machine just to make this recipe. After trying out a few other flavors first (french vanilla, mint chocolate chip, and chocolate) I finally made the fennel ice cream. Heaven in a bowl! I would have never thought of using fennel or anise to flavor ice cream, but the results were delicious! Thanks.

  21. We’ve always loved anise ice cream, so I imagine we’d like fennel too. I’ve found a lot of people claim to dislike anise/fennel simply because they associate it with licorice, but I often serve something with those flavors and they end up really liking it. I think anise and fennel have a more subtle nuanced taste that are really wonderful, anise-chocolate pairing is great and also anise shortbread cookies.

  22. Charlotte

    Any thoughts on trying to use fresh fennel instead of seeds? I have a HUGE bulb from my CSA that I am going to use a bit of to make meatballs, but this sounds like a great way to use the rest of it :)

  23. Alison

    i am making this fennel ice cream and plan on adding in a black mission fig syrup as the whole concoction freezes
    hope it turns out as well as i hope!

  24. Truc-Ha

    Hi Deb!

    I was wondering about this one for popsicles: maybe just cream, sugar, fennel and milk, and not bother with the custard? I just ordered popsicle molds from Amazon after Popsicle Week made my brains explode, and now I’m trying to decide on the first recipe to try while they wing their way to my house.

    1. deb

      Truc-Ha — I think you could skip the custard entirely, but, a little bit of custard will give the popsicle a nice ice cream-like body. You could use a smaller amount of egg yolks, however, for ease.

  25. Laura

    Deborah Madison once published a recipe for fig ice cream with fennel seed, whipped egg white and creme fraiche that is still my gold standard for frozen treat mouth feel.

  26. Rose

    This was perfect. I served it with a bastardized version of the pear brown butter vanilla crisp (I used hazelnuts, no brandy on hand), which was lovely, but I couldn’t help wanting to put orange peel in the mix somehow. So I searched your site for fennel and orange – and discovered I am not as original as I wish I was… but maybe your olive oil ricotta cake with orange zest instead of lemon is what I’m looking for? (I now have to make your ricotta muffins with fennel and orange as well). What orange-y thing would you serve with this ice cream?

  27. Anna

    Can I turn I add fresh basil to the hot milk mixture to steep too? Basil and fennel goes well together. That is fennel basil orange salad are great? What do you think or should I also add orange juice with a bit of zest too. Anna

  28. Hannah

    I made this and it’s delicious. I also made the brown butter pear crisp to go with it. But the ice cream is very good on its own. Yum!

  29. Melissa Metelits

    I just made this for my future mother-in-law who loves fennel and it turned out BEAUTIFULLY – she loved it! My only change was that I used oat milk (it was probably more like the equivalent of 2% rather than whole) but it worked really well. Amazing recipe!

  30. Adah

    How would the instructions differ when using an ice cream maker/machine? I was just given one as a hand-me-down and am eager to use it!