An internet search for 'Fernet Branca' and 'Ice Cream' yields very few options. There are a few recipes for straight up Fernet ice cream, one for Fernet-marinated-fig ice cream and even a Fernet-garlic ice cream. None of these really appealed to me, but pairing a flavor with the polarizing taste of Fernet is an intimidating challenge. I settled on orange - an occasional garnish to Fernet-inspired cocktails - and picked up a bag of mandarin oranges in hope that they might compliment the bitterness of the Fernet.
Fernet Branca is a complex beast of a liqueur. It has its detractors - first impressions of the digestif might cause some to write it off as glorified cough syrup. Before pouring it into my ice cream, I was able to make two separate people gag. The acquired taste of Fernet is startling and unexpected the first time it crosses the threshold of one's lips. Yet many love it in spite of its medicinal qualities. These people not only take on cult-like obsessions for the liquid in Italy, but in Argentina where Coke and Fernet is so popular it inspired a chart-topping hit. More recently, Fernet has begun to find a market in America, and San Francisco bars have been leading the charge since before Prohibition. You could consider Angela and I amongst its recent converts.
What's in Fernet Branca (below)? That's a safe-guarded family secret, but its ingredients do count four separate continents as home, highlighted by myrh, rhubarb, saffron, chamomile and aloe. The laundry list of 'secret' ingredients is speculated to include everything from ginseng to orange peel to fermented beets to absinthe, but - for me - what makes each eye-opening shot so gratifying is the transcendent moment of cogitation as the bitter digestif goes down the hatch. There is a seductive mystery to be solved in its labyrinth of flavor. So inspired was I, I wanted to put it in my next batch of ice cream.
- 2 1/4 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 Tbsp. orange zest
- 1/4 cup Fernet Branca
- 1 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
The most difficult task was hand-squeezing the mandarins. Using larger oranges or having a machine would've sped the process up, but I like to think that a little extra work makes it that much better. I managed a little more than 2 cups of juice (below, left) , and reduced it in a sauce pan (below, right) until I was left with about 1 1/2 cups. Then I added the sugar and orange zest and simmered, stirring, until the sugar had completely dissolved.
Removing the reduction from the heat, I added my Fernet (below) and sent the mixture to the refrigerator to cool for about 4 or 5 hours.
Once it was nice and cool, it was ready for the ice cream maker (below).
The end product was like an Orange Creamsicle with a hint of Fernet's punch. It had a much more subdued Fernet taste than I had expected. Either I could've included more in the recipe (next time), or maybe the Fernet Branca just really melded with the Mandarin flavor. I'll be trying this one again. What other ice cream flavors do you think would work well with Fernet?