My mum has always used a lot of buttermilk in her baking, be it in Ulster-style griddle-cooked soda bread, cheese scones, boxty pancakes or in her ‘loaf in a dish’, all of which are absolutely delicious. Buttermilk is almost a magic ingredient when combined with baking powder & flour, producing light, fluffy, full-flavoured breads & griddle cakes that are way more than the sum of their parts, and it has long been widely revered throughout the Irish countryside for this trait, as well as for its many other benefits.
Every time I’d try a teaspoon of the buttermilk itself though I would invariably wince – so sour, so savoury – and one or other of my parents would tell me that buttermilk used to be the refreshment of choice during harvest time, as it was so quenching. Now, I suspect that what this may have been was actual butter milk, ie, the liquid produced butter making, rather than the thick, lassi-like ‘cultured’ buttermilk that’s more widely available now, but I wondered if buttermilk would do its same trick of becoming wonderful when combined with other ingredients in ice cream too.
After making a simple cream and lemon zest base, I stirred in a ‘gill’ of buttermilk or so (an old imperial measurement for a quarter pint) and then tipped the lot into my ice cream maker. As well as echoing and enhancing the citrus flavours from the lemon zest, the buttermilk also gives this ice cream a certain depth. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but it’s as familiar & refreshing as it is unusual, making it perfect for those rare, hot, perfect Irish summer days.
BUTTERMILK & SEA SALT ICE CREAM
150 ml single cream
150ml double cream
200 ml whole milk
2 egg yolks
2/3 cups of caster sugar
150 ml buttermilk
Zest of a lemon
1tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of sea salt, to serve
Freeze the ice cream maker bowl the night before. Set a large heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Add the egg yolks, sugar, whole milk, creams, vanilla extract, lemon zest and heat until simmering gently but not boiling, stirring all the while. Transfer to a large jug and refrigerate for an hour or two, or until completely chilled. Add the buttermilk to the cream mixture and stir. Pour slowly into the churning ice cream maker. When the ice cream is ready, transfer to a dish and freeze for another couple of hours. Sprinkle a tiny pinch of sea salt over each scoop before serving.