While traditional and simple ice creams such as vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate are familiar and comforting, these days there is great demand for new flavors and more combinations of them, such as blueberry Earl Grey, strawberry balsamic, and lavender honey. Perhaps what has been missing from this creative list has been Persian ice cream with its uniquely luminous yellow color and playful flavors of saffron and rosewater.
Bastani Sonati (traditional ice cream in Farsi) is a well-known ice cream in Iran that is very familiar and deeply endearing to all Iranians. For me, Bastani Sonati conjures up memories of my carefree childhood and hot summer days growing up in Tehran and particularly our vacations on the shores of the Caspian Sea. After a long day of swimming and building sandcastles at the beach, or many hours of riding my high handlebar bicycle, I would often finish the day with ice cream.
It will probably come as no surprise that the national ice cream of Iran has a signature saffron flavor. Saffron, truly a precious spice, is widely grown in Iran and used in many ways in Persian cooking and baking. But neither the flavor profile nor the texture of Bastani Sonati stops there. Rosewater, vanilla extract, and mastic add a fragrant complexity, and the mastic (traditionally combined with salep) also creates a gooey and stretchy texture that is an authentic feature of Middle Eastern ice creams. Finally, Bastani Sonati is punctuated by the addition of pieces of bright green pistachio and white flakes of frozen heavy cream.
With several additional ingredients that may be unfamiliar, some words of caution and explanation may be needed. First, for those who tend to be enthusiastic with their flavor combinations, adding too much of any one ingredient can throw off the delicate balance and create a less than appealing experience.
Rosewater, distilled from rose petals and also a mainstay in Persian cuisine, does not have a strong flavor by itself but adds highly floral and aromatic notes. Mastic is a hardened resin that complements both sweet and savory dishes by adding a delightful and subtle flavor as well as a slightly chewy texture. Since Bastani Sonati is packed with other aromatic ingredients, mastic can be eliminated, but I recommend retaining it if possible for its flavor and texture contributions. Salep – also spelled saleb, sahlep, or sahlab – is a starchy powder made from the root of an orchid variety. However, it can be quite difficult to find, so for this recipe, it has been replaced by the more readily available cornstarch.
Bastani Sonati is often nestled between two thin wafers and served as a sandwich. Otherwise, it can be scooped into a serving dish and served as is.
This recipe was published at The Spruce Eats.
- 2 cups heavy cream divided
- 3 cups whole milk divided
- 3 tablespoons arrow root, or corn starch
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon mastic powder
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons rosewater
- 2 tablespoons raw pistachios coarsely chopped
- Pour 1/2 cup of heavy cream into a small flat plate or bowl and place in the freezer for about an hour until frozen solid.
- Combine 1/3 cup of milk with the arrow root in a small mixing bowl. Stir until completely smooth and set aside.
- Using a mortar and pestle, grind the saffron threads to a fine powder and set aside.
- Combine the remaining milk and heavy cream, sugar, mastic powder, salt, and vanilla in a large saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer over medium-high heat, about 10 minutes. Be sure to stir the mixture frequently to avoid any milk crusting on the bottom.
- Reduce the flame to low when the milk starts to steam, but well before it comes to a boil.
- Add the ground saffron and rosewater to the saucepan and stir. The milk mixture should turn a vibrant golden color and become quite aromatic.
- Stir the arrow root and milk mixture one more time and add it to the saucepan. Continue to stir gently over medium heat for about 4-5 minutes or until the mixture has thickened slightly.
- Remove from the heat, transfer to a medium-sized shallow bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, or overnight.
- Transfer the chilled milk mixture into an ice cream maker, and process it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Remove the previously frozen heavy cream from the freezer, break it into roughly 1/2 inch pieces and add them along with the chopped pistachios to the final stage of the ice cream maker’s churning process. The ice cream will have a soft and creamy texture at this stage and is ready to be served. Alternatively, it can be returned to the freezer for 2 hours for a firmer texture.
- Transfer the ice cream to an air-tight and freezer-safe container, cover with parchment paper to prevent icicles, and freeze for long-term storage.