Recently, I’ve been on an ice cream-making kick – lowfat vanilla, nocino, blackberry buttermilk, various attempts at the “perfect” chocolate, and then this past weekend, basil buttermilk. Part of this recent ice cream explosion is motivated by my recent acquisition of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home. The flavor combinations I’ve tried (including the Toasted Rice with Coconut and Black Tea) have been amazing. The book is also a great resource for ice cream ideas and techniques; however, I find that I’m happier with the outcome when I make one small change to each recipe – I leave out the cream cheese. I like the final texture better almost every time.

Last week here in central Iowa, we enjoyed an overnight frost and daytime highs in the 50’s and low 60’s. I brought my patio plants inside, which got me thinking about flavors that will soon disappear until next spring. One of my favorite co-workers has an overabundance of basil, so I asked Martha if I could stop by and pick some. I remembered seeing a recipe for buttermilk and basil ice cream at Delicious Days earlier this year. Since I had buttermilk left over from the blackberry and buttermilk experiment, I thought I’d take a stab at my own version. I’ve adapted this recipe to use cornstarch instead of eggs and adjusted the ratios to suit my taste.

The result is light and refreshing, with notes of citrus and a bright green color. I was thinking this ice cream would be a nice change of pace, but not a new favorite. I was wrong. This is absolutely my new favorite flavor and I will definitely make it several times during basil season next year. I made this iteration using sweet basil, but I’d be interested to try some of the more exotic types, like cinnamon basil, in the future. One of my taste testers was hesitant about this flavor combination, but quickly agreed that it’s a perfect summer confection. I promise you won’t be disappointed, so even if this sounds strange to you, please keep an open mind.

Basil Buttermilk Ice Cream

Note: This makes about 2 quarts of ice cream before it is churned, so plan accordingly if you don’t have an ice cream maker that can handle that much volume. My KithenAid attachment handled this recipe well.

  • 1 1/2 cups cream
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup, lightly packed basil leaves
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 2 tbs cornstarch
  • 2 cups buttermilk


  1. Heat the heavy cream in a saucepan together with the sugar and salt. Open and scrape out the vanilla bean and add both the seeds and the bean to the cream. Coarsely chop the basil leaves and add to the pan. Let simmer for 5 minutes over low to medium heat. Remove from heat.
  2. Pour most of the cold milk (reserve 1/4 cup) into the blender and then add the cream mixture to the blender. Process on high for at least two minutes to break down the vanilla bean and basil. Strain through a fine mesh sieve back into the pan. Mix the cornstarch with the remaining 1/4 cup of cold milk and then pour into the basil/vanilla mixture and heat, stirring constantly, over medium heat until the cream/milk reaches a light boil. Pour the custard into a separate bowl, add the cold buttermilk, and then refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until very cold.
  3. Churn according to the instructions for your ice cream maker.