With its unique bright yellow color and playful flavors of saffron and rose water, Persian ice cream is an excellent departure from the more everyday vanilla, strawberry and chocolate ice cream flavors.
Bastani Sonati (traditional ice cream in Farsi) is a well-known ice cream in Iran, very well known and deeply loved by all Iranians. For me, Bastani Sonati brings back memories of my carefree childhood and the hot summer days growing up in Tehran, and especially our vacations on the coast of the Caspian Sea.
It probably won't come as a surprise that Iran's national ice cream has a distinctive saffron flavor. A truly precious spice, saffron is widely cultivated in Iran and used in a variety of ways in Persian cooking and baking. But neither the flavor profile nor the texture of Bastani Sonati stops there. Rose water, vanilla extract and mastic add fragrant complexity, and the mastic (traditionally combined with salep) also provides a sticky and stretchy texture that is an authentic characteristic of Middle Eastern ice creams. Finally, Bastani Sonati is rounded off with the addition of light green pistachio pieces and white flakes of frozen cream.
Rose water, distilled from rose petals and also a staple in Persian cuisine, does not have a strong flavor by itself but adds strong floral and aromatic notes. Mastic is a hardened resin that complements both sweet and savory dishes by adding a delicious and subtle flavor as well as a slightly chewy texture. Since Bastani Sonati contains many other aromatic ingredients, mastic can be dispensed with. However, I recommend keeping it if possible due to its flavor and texture contributions. Salep – also spelled Saleb, Sahlep or Sahlab – is a starchy powder made from the root of a species of orchid. However, it can be quite difficult to find, so for this recipe it was substituted for the more readily available cornstarch.
Bastani Sonati is often sandwiched between two thin waffles and served as a sandwich. Otherwise, it can be placed in a serving bowl and served as is.
“This ice cream is wonderfully fragrant and refreshing, with a little extra crunch from the pistachios. It's perfect as is, but also tastes delicious with waffle sandwiches. Remember to break your frozen cream into relatively small pieces to ensure it is evenly distributed when stirring. —Julia Hartbeck
2 cups whipped cream, divided
3 cups whole milk, divided
3 tablespoon Cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon Saffron threads
1 Cup Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Mastic powder
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoon Rose water
2 tablespoon coarsely chopped raw pistachios
Gather the ingredients.
Pour 1/2 cup cream into a small, shallow plate or rimmed bowl and freeze until solid, about an hour.
In a small bowl, mix 1/3 cup milk with the cornstarch. Stir until everything is smooth. Put aside.
Grind the saffron threads into a fine powder using a mortar and pestle. Put aside.
Combine remaining 1 1/2 cups heavy cream, remaining 2 2/3 cups milk, sugar, mastic powder, salt and vanilla in a large saucepan.
Bring to a gentle simmer over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Continue cooking the mixture for about 10 minutes, stirring the mixture frequently to prevent the milk from forming a crust on the bottom.
Reduce the flame to low when the milk starts steaming. Not cook.
Add the ground saffron and rose water and stir. The milk mixture should turn a bright golden color and become quite aromatic.
Stir the milk-cornstarch mixture again and add it to the pot. Continue cooking over medium heat, stirring gently, until the mixture has thickened slightly, 4 to 5 minutes.
Transfer to a medium shallow bowl. Allow to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or up to overnight.
Pour the chilled milk mixture into an ice cream maker. Stir according to manufacturer's instructions.
Break the frozen cream into 1/2-inch pieces or smaller. Add together with the pistachios to the final stirring of the ice cream.
Once churning is complete, the ice cream will have a soft and creamy consistency with visible pieces of pistachios and white flakes of frozen cream.
Alternatively, you can freeze the ice cream longer to get a firmer consistency, about two hours longer.
Pour the ice cream into an airtight, freezer-safe container. Place a piece of parchment paper directly on the surface of the ice cream to prevent ice crystals from forming and freeze for longer storage.
- Rose water can be purchased at markets in Persia or the Middle East, but it is also becoming more readily available at health food stores.
- This recipe uses raw and unsalted pistachios, which are available at most grocery stores. The softer pistachio shell can also be removed for a stronger green contrast to the saffron ice cream. Place the pistachios in a towel and rub them gently to remove some of the reddish-brown skin before chopping them.
- Mastic can be removed from the recipe and does not need to be replaced.
- Arrowroot can also be used instead of cornstarch.
- Store-bought vanilla ice cream can be purchased as the base for making this ice cream. Allow the ice cream to soften before adding the saffron-rosewater mixture and pistachios.
How to make ice cream without an ice cream maker
If you don't use an ice cream maker, you can also make the ice cream manually. Pour the ice cream pudding mixture into a deep, freezer-safe dish and place in the freezer for about an hour. Remove from the freezer and use a spatula to loosen the frozen pieces from the edges. Mix vigorously again with a whisk, hand mixer or hand blender. Place back in the freezer and then repeat this process every 20 minutes. Repeat the process until the ice cream is fully formed, about 2 to 3 hours, or until you have the consistency of soft serve ice cream. Add the previously frozen cream pieces and chopped pistachios and pour into an airtight container. Cover with baking paper and freeze for 4 hours.
How to store homemade ice cream
For best results, place a piece of parchment directly on the ice surface to prevent ice crystals from forming on the surface. Store in an airtight, freezer-safe container in the freezer for up to a month. To serve, remove the container from the freezer and let it sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes to allow the ice cream to soften.
What is mastic?
- Typically produced in Greece and other Mediterranean regions, particularly the Greek island of Chios, mastic is the dried resin or sap of an evergreen tree related to the pistachio. During production, incisions in the trees produce drops of resin that sparkle in the sun and are known as “tears of Chios”. In small quantities it can be quite subtle and difficult to detect, but in larger quantities it can also overwhelm a dish, so using it can be a trial and error process in terms of both quantity and flavor adjustment. Its flavor has been described as ranging from fennel to aniseed, licorice, mint, vanilla and pine to all combinations thereof.
- Mastic is typically sold as solid, translucent small pieces of resin or in powder form, available in Greek or Mediterranean markets as well as local spice shops. Alternatively, online retailers are a good source for this.
|Nutritional Information (per serving)|
View full nutrition label
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Saturated fat 21g||103%|
|Fiber 0g||1 %|
|Total sugar 42g|
|Vitamin C 1 mg||3%|
|Calcium 195 mg||15%|
|Iron 0 mg||2%|
|Potassium 267 mg||6%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) indicates how much a nutrient in a food portion contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories per day is used for general nutritional advice.|
(Nutritional information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)