Mess around with enough ice cream recipes and you discover the differences in texture created by certain ingredients. My go-to recipe uses egg yolks to make a denser, more custard-like ice cream than Philadelphia-style, which is made without. Adding various hydrocolloids (carageenan, guar or xanthan gums) inhibits ice crystal formation but changes the texture.
I thought I had all of the variations worked out, but then a friend asked “Have you ever tried salep dondourma?” I had not, but a quick search revealed that it is a favorite frozen dessert sold from street carts all over Turkey, as seen in this clip:
Watch the clip carefully and you’ll note that the contents of the cone don’t melt and appear to be very sticky, which allows the vendor to play around for quite a while before relinquishing the cone to his extraordinarily patient customer. That sticky texture comes from the addition of salep flour, a powder ground from the roots of an orchid that grows in Anatolia. Due to overharvesting, the Turkish government has restricted exports of salep, which made it unavailable to me by the time I heard about it.
Fortunately, I remembered an alternate recipe in The Kitchen as Laboratory: Reflections on the Science of Food and Cooking, which substitutes konjac flour for salep. Both are glucomanans, long-chain carbohydrate polymers of glucose and mannose sugar molecules. Konjac is commonly available, and is used in Japanese cooking as the base for konnyaku gelatin. It’s common enough that I found it on Amazon, so it was finally time to whip up a batch of dondourma.
I started with my usual 2:1 cream:milk base and added the konjac flour, a mere 8 grams in a quart and a half of base. I let it hydrate for half an hour, by which time the mix had acquired the appearance and texture of library paste.
I heated the mixture to 125 °F and added 410 grams of sugar, at which point the texture changed to that of wallpaper paste.
I brought the mix to a boil and stirred constantly for 15 minutes, then transferred it to a stand mixer, where I beat it for 30 minutes until it cooled.
Although I could have transferred the cooled mix to an ice cream freezer, I opted to use liquid nitrogen to freeze as rapidly as I could before moving on to the final step.
To develop the final desired stretchy texture, I switched to a dough hook and alternated 2 minutes of beating with 15 minutes in the freezer to prevent melting.
Notice how the final product resembles regular dough. The texture was also doughy, which meant I had to wrestle it off the hook and into a container for freezing. After four hours I scooped some into a bowl to taste, and nearly sprained my wrist in the process. Scooping frozen konjac dondourma is like scooping barely-warmed asphalt – the stuff is thick. Look at the video again: There’s a reason why vendors use long serving paddles, they have to lever the dondourma out of the containers.
This experiment was all about the method, not the flavor, so the taste was unremarkable, resembling a standard sweet cream base. The texture, on the other had, was unlike any other frozen dairy product I had tried. It was very chewy, in fact, chewing was the only way to eat it since it melted so slowly. It also didn’t seem as cold as regular ice ream, which I attribute to ice crystals being completely bound up in the starch matrix.
I’m not sure how often I’d make this as a regular dessert, but I’m thinking about ways to take advantage of its stability at room temperature to make a combined hot-and-cold dessert course.