This recipe for prickly pear ice cream makes a luscious, creamy ice cream made with tequila and ribbons of prickly pear preserves.
Table of contents
The Opuntia, a type of cactus, commonly called a prickly pear, produces a fruit, called a tuna, that tastes something like raspberries. The pads on the cactus are also edible and are used in many Mexican dishes, referred to as nopales. There are dozens of varieties of prickly pear cactus with fruit that tastes slightly different with each variety. In this recipe, we used a marmelade made from the Xoconostle variety of prickly pear, which is green in color and has a sourness to it as well as being sweet.
Prickly pears are native to Mexico, and have long been used in Mexican cuisine and cultivated by Mexican farmers. The fruit can be eaten raw, cooked or made into a variety of foods such as jellies, jams and preserves. Additionally, prickly pears are used in traditional Mexican drinks, such as the popular Mexican aguas frescas, which are typically made with lime juice, sugar and the fruit of the prickly pear. The juice of the prickly pear is used to make jam and jelly. The Native American cultures of Mexico also have a long history of utilizing the various health benefits of consuming prickly pears, including their ability to aid digestion and alleviate inflammation.
PRICKLY PEAR ICE CREAM RECIPE
We created prickly pear ice cream when we received some mermelada de xoconostle (prickly pear marmalade) and prickly pear white balsamic reduction as gifts for Christmas. This is a smooth and creamy vanilla ice cream made with tequila, prickly pear balsamic vinegar and ribbons of prickly pear marmalade. Marmalade is a wonderful way to add a flavor to ice cream because it contains enough sugar that it doesn’t freeze solid when it is added to the ice cream. Getting enough flavor in the ice cream is difficult if fresh fruit is used, but the flavor is concentrated in the marmelade. The tequila is added to the ice cream because alcohol lowers the freezing temperature of the mix and helps keep the ice cream smooth as it freezes. Using tequila as the alcohol also gave the ice cream another layer of flavor and seemed appropriate since tequila is made from the blue agave plant, a succulent which is similar to a cactus. The ice cream stayed creamy, the preserves did not freeze solid, and the flavor was a big hit of prickly pear fruit. Perfect for dessert at the end of a Mexican dinner.
FOR THE BEST PRICKLY PEAR ICE CREAM RECIPE, USE THE BEST INGREDIENTS
The ingredients we used for the ice cream base are described in the section below, where we discuss how to keep the ice cream smooth and creamy, but there are also a few unusual ingredients in this recipe.
MERMELADA DE XOCONOSTLE MARMALADE
We realized that we could not get enough flavor using fresh fruit without the ice cream becoming icy and grainy. Cooking the fruit into a jam with sugar and pectin fixes thid problem by preventing the ice from forming. So, we used a prickly pear marmelade called marmelade de xoconostle.
PRICKLY PEAR WHITE BALSAMIC REDUCTION
The Prickly pear white balsamic reduction added prickly pear flavor to the ice cream base as well as increasing the sweet and sour flavor in the ice cream. Since it was a white balsamic vinegar it added flavor without adding color to the base.
Alcohol lowers the freezing point of the mixture, keeping the ice cream smooth as it hardens. Too much, and the ice cream won’t freeze. We have found that one tablespoon of an 80 proof alcohol the perfect amount that is needed for a batch this size. We decided to use tequila because it is also made from a cactus and would add an appropriate flavor. The alcohol we used was a “top shelf” brand, because even a tablespoon adds flavor and the taste will make a difference. We are always going for the best ice cream recipe.
THE SECRET TO MAKING THIS PRICKLY PEAR ICE CREAM RECIPE SMOOTH AND CREAMY
THE SCIENCE OF ICE CREAM
We fell in love with European ice cream – dense and creamy, with elegant flavors. It was like nothing we could get back home. So, we researched the science and technique for making ice cream and learned how to make it ourselves. The key to the best flavor was to use the best quality, most flavorful ingredients. But the secret to keeping it smooth and creamy was a combination of ingredients and technique.
There is more to ice cream than just freezing quality ingredients. The key is making it smooth and creamy. This is actually more difficult than it seems. Ice cream stays smooth while it is being churned, but then it is put in the freezer in order to harden, and that’s when ice crystals form, ruining the smoothness.
There is a lot of science to keeping it smooth. Making ice cream requires a method and ingredients that prevent large ice crystals from forming. The method is accomplished with a properly designed ice cream maker that keeps all of the mixture moving, and freezes it quickly. The other key is using certain ingredients that keep the ice crystals small. Cultured cream, eggs, invert sugar and alcohol are the keys to keeping the ice crystals small and the mixture creamy.
HORIZON ORGANIC CREAM – We think Horizon products taste better than any other dairy products we have tried. This is probably because the products are organic and from family farming partners. Just as important, Horizon is a certified B corporation that has committed to sustainability. We save money by buying this by the half gallon at a big box store.
HOMEMADE CRÈME FRAÎCHE FROM HORIZON CREAM – Crème fraîche is cultured cream, like sour cream, but with a much milder taste. The culture in it prevents ice crystals from forming once the ice cream has been churned and is hardening. We make crème fraîche from Horizon cream, which makes this an eco-friendly swap as well, since Horizon is taking action on climate change. We save money by making our own, but it’s also better, and it’s a real crème fraîche, made with a culture. And it’s easy to make because we use an Instant Pot.
EGGS – eggs increase the fat and protein in the mixture. The eggs are raw when whipped with the sugar, but are cooked when the hot cream is slowly added. It is important to bring the mixture to a safe temperature (160° F, 71°C according to the USDA). This method will do that without having to go through the added steps of making a custard and risking over cooking the eggs. French ice cream is made with a custard, which requires cooking and tempering, so this method is much easier. Heating the eggs will also denature the protein in the eggs and prohibit ice growth.
INVERT SUGAR – We use corn syrup for the required invert sugar. It lowers the freezing point of water, making the ice crystals smaller and the ice cream smoother. Corn syrup is NOT the same as high-fructose corn syrup. Honey, and some syrups are partially invert sugars and will do the same thing, to some extent, so we use these for certain flavors. However, honey and syrup will add a lot of flavor.
WHOLESOME ORGANIC SUGAR – Sugar lowers the freezing point. The sugar molecules interfere with the water molecules becoming organized into a solid as it freezes.
ALCOHOL– This lowers the freezing point, making the ice crystals small. It also keeps ice crystals from forming as the ice cream hardens. Too much, however, and the ice cream won’t freeze. Use one tablespoon of an 80 proof alcohol, and adjust the amount for liqueur that contain more or less alcohol.
HEILALA VANILLA PASTE – We use Heilala vanilla paste in ice cream because it has a wonderful vanilla flavor without adding anything else. Using a paste makes it so much easier than using a vanilla bean and scraping all the seeds out. The paste includes the seeds so the ice cream will have the traditional flecks in it.
AIR – Air is also an important ingredient. It softens the ice cream and provides insulation allowing the flavors to be tasted even though the ice cream is cold. The air is added continuously as the ice cream is churned.
THE ICE CREAM MAKER
Making ice cream also requires a method that prevents the cream from freezing solid. The mixture must be constantly churned in an ice cream maker to add air and to keep the ice crystals small, so the ice cream stays creamy. When selecting an ice cream maker, the important thing is that it keeps all of the mixture moving, and freezes it quickly. There should be very little space between the paddle and the walls of the container, and the paddle should be designed to turn over the mixture as it rotates. If there is a gap allowing too much ice cream to build up on the container walls it will cause ice formation. The temperature must be cold enough to freeze the mixture quickly, before ice forms.
We use a Whynter Ice Cream maker (model ICM-200LS) which does an excellent job of freezing it quickly. It doesn’t require ice and rock salt or freezing the insert, so it is really easy and convenient. It has a capacity of 2 Quarts, but we found the ice cream is better when we make 1 Quart, so our recipe makes 1 Quart.
It also helps if everything is cold. Make the mixture and thoroughly chill it down to 45° F (7° C) before putting it in the ice cream maker. Making it the day before will ensure that it is thoroughly chilled and also improves the flavor. Let the ice cream maker run for five minutes before putting the mixture in, so it freezes as fast as possible. Freeze a glass container to store the ice cream. And work quickly when the ice cream has finished churning. Allow it to harden overnight.
Ice cream is made from dairy products and eggs, so it is very important to take steps to ensure food safety. Follow the instructions in the recipe carefully.
- Start with everything washed in hot soap water, including knives and cutting boards.
- Use pasteurized cream.
- Simmer the cream and fruit mixture for two minutes to bring it to a safe temperature.
- Add the hot cream mixture to the egg mixture, which will bring the eggs up to 160° F. (71° C), the safe temperature for eggs.
- Fresh fruit can not be added after this, because it is not cooked and could contaminate the ice cream.
- Some recipes call for adding things after the ice cream is churned, such as nuts, preserves or chocolate. These should all be fresh, clean, and handled in a manner to keep them clean. Nuts should be toasted and cooled just prior to adding. Anything chopped should be done on a clean cutting board with a clean knife. Preserves should be a newly opened jar.
- The ice cream should be consumed within a week.
No Affiliates Statement
We call this our “no affiliates” statement because we accept no advertising, have no affiliates and accept no payment. We are not paid to mention brands – we just love buying the best, sharing that information and saving the planet at the same time. The effort put into writing and photographing the blog is solely based on our dedication to the cause.
Photos by Tony Fitzgerald Photography