Dates are a mysterious fruit. Most people know them from eating the fruitcake that has been passed around the family more than the crocheted doily that no one likes. When removed from dense cake form, the date is so deliciously sweet that it is hard to believe that it is a fruit and not a confection. They are also my stand by impulse buy at the grocery store.

The problem is that when I have dates and, in a late night epiphany, I think, “Man, dates are really good on top of ice cream, they would be even better in ice cream.” By the time that I remember, the dates are gone, so instead of buying them on impulse, this time I put them on the list.

In finding a complimentary flavor, I looked through the Flavor Bible (if you don’t have it, get it) and it sparked a conversation had earlier regarding dates and orange.

I was totally excited about the combination until about halfway into making the custard base when I realized that orange ice cream is closer to creamsicle than real orange. I despise creamsicles, push-ups — the whole nine. In a panic, I added a little salt cream, which is the Portuguese version of Fleur de sel. It pushed it out of the creamsicle range and gave a nice contrasting crunch with the huge salt crystals.

Zest of Four Oranges

At the same time that I was making the ice cream base, I put together the dates by chopping them into a small dice and cooking them quickly in madeira and brown sugar until they soaked up almost the entire bit of madeira.

The finished  ice cream is a strong combination of orange and date flavors. Since I added about 50% more dates than I initially thought reasonable, it came out really well, where you get a little date in every bite. The orange is strong, but not silly creamsicle strong. The dates are boozy, but the booze does not distract from the sweetness.

Orange Date Ice Cream

  • 1 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 egg yolks
  • Zest of 4 oranges
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup madeira
  • 20 dates pitted

Step one: Combine milk, orange zest, and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Immediately remove it from the heat immediately. Let sit for 45 minutes.

Step two: Strain orange zest from the mixture and return to the heat with half of the cream along with vanilla and salt cream. Temper egg yolks with heated mixture and pour back into saucepan. Whisk until the custard coats the back of a spoon. Pour into a large bowl with remaining heavy cream set in an ice bowl. Refrigerate overnight.

Step three:  Chop dates into a small dice and combine with brown sugar and madeira over medium heat. Heat until madeira is nearly all soaked into the dates. Remove and chill over night.

Step four: Prepare ice cream per the instructions. With about 10 minutes remaining. Add dates to the mixture and complete the process. Freeze mixture for 2 hours before eating.

Dates, Sherry, and Brown Sugar