This no-churn saffron pistachio ice cream recipe is golden

No-Churn Saffron and Pistachio Ice Cream. (Photo by Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post)

Though you might not associate Iran with ice cream, it’s a wildly popular summertime treat there. Bastani sonnati, a traditional Persian ice cream, is typically made from milk, eggs, sugar, rose water, pistachios and saffron. For those of us who grew up in Iran, bastani’s saturated yellow hue and fragrant flavors evoke some of the most cherished childhood memories.

Traditional ice cream, including bastani, is churned, with recipes that require tempering and cooling the custard. Though sahlab (flour made from a starchy orchid tuber), cornstarch and/or mastic (a tree resin) are often used as an emulsifier, I wanted to enjoy the nostalgia without all the fuss.

Here, I’ve simplified the recipe by leaving out eggs and using sweetened condensed milk and whipped cream for a no-churn ice cream that comes together in minutes and doesn’t require any special equipment. No ice cream maker? No problem.

Even though I have significantly simplified the process, I’ve kept the uniquely Persian flavor combination of cardamom, rose water and saffron.

You’re probably aware of saffron’s importance in Persian cuisine in sweet and savory dishes, and here it plays a starring role, infusing every spoonful with its heady, seductive fragrance, distinctive golden color and bright, floral flavor. Because of the painstaking and manual harvesting method, saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world. To make one pound, you need about 75,000 saffron crocus flowers. Iran, where the spice is ubiquitous in the national cuisine, grows about 90% of the world’s saffron.

Though expensive, saffron is mighty, and a little goes a long way. You need only a dozen or so strands for an average recipe, so a small jar will last a long while.

To get the most flavor, saffron needs to be finely ground, which is typically done in a mortar and pestle, and then bloomed. I prefer to bloom saffron over ice to gently coax maximum flavor, which can be muted by hot water.

The sweetened condensed milk helps with a smooth texture, as extra moisture has been cooked out. Instead of cooking milk down when making a custard, you already have a thickened milk base waiting for you to infuse with aromatics.

Finally, folding in freshly whipped cream guarantees your ice cream will have an airy, smooth texture. Tiny air bubbles will be trapped once the ice cream solidifies and result in a luxuriously smooth mouthfeel.

If you’re worried that the rose water flavor and fragrance may be overpowering, I promise you the intensity mellows out as the dessert firms up in the freezer. Instead, you will taste harmonious flavors that, when combined, result in a distinctly Persian dessert that you’ll love.

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Active: 15 minutes | Total: 45 minutes (plus 6 to 12 hours chilling time)

12 servings

This spin on traditional Persian ice cream keeps the signature flavors of cardamom, rose water and saffron, without any of the fuss of the ice cream maker, thanks to sweetened condensed milk and fresh whipped cream. Depending on the length of your saffron strands, as well as the quality and origin of your saffron, the hue intensity will vary from a pale yellow to a deeper gold.

Make Ahead: The ice cream needs to be made and frozen at least 6 hours before serving.

Storage Notes: The ice cream may be stored, tightly covered, in the freezer for up to 4 weeks.


20 threads saffron

2 ice cubes

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

2 tablespoons rose water

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

2 cups heavy cream

1/2 cup (2 1/4 ounces) unsalted shelled pistachios, chopped, plus more for garnish


Using a mortar and pestle, grind the saffron threads to a fine powder; depending on how long your saffron threads are, you should get between 1/4 and 1/2 teaspoon of ground saffron. (If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can grind the saffron using the flat and dull side of a large chef’s knife against a clean, scent-free cutting board, alternating between the two, until finely ground.) Place the ice in a small bowl and sprinkle the ground saffron over. Set aside until the ice melts; this will be your saffron water.

In a large bowl, stir together the sweetened condensed milk, saffron water, rose water and ground cardamom.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, or using a handheld mixer and a large bowl, beat the cream, starting with low speed and gradually increasing to high, until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in the condensed milk mixture, then fold in the pistachios until evenly distributed.

Transfer the mixture to a 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf pan and smooth out the top with an offset spatula. Sprinkle with more pistachios, cover with plastic wrap and freeze for 6 to 12 hours, or until very firm.

To serve, let the loaf pan sit at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes before scooping.

Nutrition | Calories: 310; Total Fat: 21 g; Saturated Fat: 12 g; Cholesterol: 70 mg; Sodium: 72 mg; Carbohydrates: 27 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugars: 25 g; Protein: 5 g.

(Recipe from food blogger Shadi HasanzadeNemati.)




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