Bastani is a pistachio-studded, chewy, stretchy ice cream, subtly flavored with saffron and rose water. It gets its texture from sahlab, which thickens like cornstarch. Sahlab gives the ice cream bend and pull, almost like gluten, and it has a faint floral taste. It gets an extra dose of richness and texture from frozen chunks of heavy cream that are swirled into the base. I was happy to find a recipe that utilizes sahlab from Sacha over at 729layers.
Some interesting things I learned while whipping up this batch of bastani:
The popularity of sahlab has caused the wild orchids from which it is obtained to near extinction so it’s now illegal to export true sahlab from Iran or Turkey. The instant sahlab mixes you can find at the grocery (usually called salep) are made with artificial flavoring, and are notoriously terrible. I was able to order proper sahlab from Greece via Etsy. (I’m nervous to post that secret here because I’m certain importing it into the US is also somehow illegal.) But what an amazing moment in time we’re living in, where one click will bring rare wild orchid root from the other side of the world to your doorstep in just a few days!
The rose (gol) and the nightingale (bolbol) is a popular theme in Persian literature and art. The rose is beautiful, proud, and often cruel – used to represent the beloved (either worldly or spiritual), the prince, or the Prophet Mohammad. The nightingale sings endlessly of his longing and devotion – usually representing the lover or the poet. In this bastani, the frozen cream chunks represent the little nightingales.
Saffron ice cream is sometimes called Bastani Akbar Mashti, named after the first guy to open an ice cream shop in Tehran. It’s also referred to as Bastani Sonnati (traditional ice cream.) Everyone seems to hold their own strong opinions about how it should be made: the pistachios are often omitted, and sometimes 1/2 tsp vanilla is added. (My friends assured me vanilla is heresy so I have omitted it here.) Some people love the chunks of cream, which provide a fun break from the chewy texture of the saffron ice cream, and some prefer to leave them out. I love orange blossom honey, so I have included it, but you could just use sugar if you prefer. I was unable to find any official ruling from the bastani authorities, so feel free to do whatever makes you happy.
Meter out your saffron carefully – a little goes a long way. If a recipe says 1/4 teaspoon of saffron threads, they usually mean that’s the amount before you’ve ground them. Always grind your saffron with a mortar and pestle before cooking. (If you don’t own a mortar and pestle, you can use a small bowl and the back of a spoon to crush the threads.) Niusha Shodja posted a beautiful primer on using saffron properly.
Likewise, when cooking with rose water, use the smallest amount and taste for aroma before adding more. Most recipes online call for far too much. When you can faintly detect the rose, you’ve added enough. The flavors in Persian cuisine are delicate and subtle.
For every situation, “There is a saying in Farsi.” As I don’t speak Farsi, I usually have no idea what that saying is, but I have learned that if you overdo the saffron or rosewater, you can serve it anyway and inform everyone that “This is how the king preferred it.” Any king will do I suppose – or whatever respected figure you happen to have top of mind who has since passed so this information cannot be verified. (I usually just go with Xerxes since I know little about Persian kings, except what I learned from the movie 300. Persians aren’t fond of that portrayal, and I find it amusing.) As I have little culinary skill and no idea what most of these Persian recipes are actually supposed to taste like, I use this phrase often.Print
Bastani-e Gol-o Bolbol: Rosewater & Saffron Ice Cream
Saffron & Rosewater Ice Cream
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons orange blossom honey
1/8 teaspoon ground saffron threads
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon dried orchid root (sahlab)
1 tbsp rose water
1/3 cup pistachios, toasted and chopped
Line 9-inch pie plate with plastic wrap. Pour 1/4 cup heavy cream into plate to coat bottom. Transfer plate to freezer to freeze solid, about 2 hours.
Place remaining 1 1/2 cups heavy cream, 1 cup milk, sugar, honey, and salt in large saucepan and bring to gentle boil over medium heat, whisking occasionally to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat.
Add saffron to the cream mixture and whisk to release color. Cover and steep for 30 minutes.
Uncover pan, strain cream mixture into bowl through fine-mesh strainer to remove any lumps and large saffron threads, and return to saucepan.
Once again, bring to gentle boil over medium heat.
Meanwhile, pour remaining 1/2 cup milk into small bowl. Sift sahlab over milk and whisk vigorously to dissolve sahlab as much as possible, about 30 seconds.
Slowly pour milk mixture into pan in steady stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Whisking constantly and moderate heat as necessary to keep a gentle boil. Continue to whisk until mixture is thick (it will look a bit thicker than your typical custard base), about 15 minutes.
Transfer mixture to bowl set in ice water bath. Whisk in the rose water, and continue to stir occasionally until mixture reaches about 75 degrees. Cover bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.
Using plastic wrap, break the frozen cream mixture into chunks and shards.
Place ice cream base in ice cream machine and churn, undisturbed, for first 10 minutes. Stick rubber spatula into top hole of ice cream machine and beat at churning ice cream, using an up and down motion to create a stretch in the ice cream.
After 20 minutes of churning, fold in pistachios and frozen cream shards and transfer to airtight container. Store in airtight container for at least 3 hours before serving.
Once you’ve completed your masterpiece, try enjoying it as a bastani ice cream float or bastani nooni!