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Roger Ballen’s Toasted Coconut Ice Cream

Okaaay … so Roger Ballen isn’t exactly Asian. In fact, he’s not Asian at all (he’s from New York originally and is based in South Africa). But there is an Asian connection here and there’s definitely a Plural connection, so, what the hell, I figure this recipe qualifies! Besides, it’s yummy (who doesn’t love ice cream?) and the presentation is so quirkily cool, I wanted to try making it and I’m betting you will too!

Roger Ballen speaking at SIPF2016 (top) and two of his works (bottom)

Although the artist is commonly regarded as one of the most important and influential photographic artists of our time, his works had never been exhibited in Singapore until last year, 2016, when Malaysia’s Wei-Ling Gallery staged his first solo exhibition in Singapore and Malaysia, in conjunction with the Singapore International Photography Festival (SIPF). What’s more, U and I served as gallery sitters for the Singapore leg of the exhibition at Gillman Barracks. So I guess you could say we became quite familiar with the artist and his distinctive, sometimes disturbing, but always fascinating and compelling oeuvre.

Here’s the artist’s recipe for Toasted Coconut Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate Chunks

If you’ve made your own ice cream before, you’ll be familiar with the basic steps. Being a novice, I found the New York Times Cooking section’s Guide a really helpful aid (artists aren’t known for their meticulous attention to detail). This is a French-style base, or a custard because it includes egg yolks. For the dairy element, Roger Ballen’s recipe calls for heavy cream, with the coconut flavour provided by coconut milk, as well as toasted coconut flakes.

Cream and coconut milk

You mix the cream and coconut milk, heat gently and then add the toasted coconut flakes and leave everything to steep overnight. The next day, strain out the flakes and re-heat the cream and coconut milk, bringing it almost (but not quite) to a boil.

Egg yolks and sugar
Whisking eggs and sugar

Here’s a useful tip when adding the eggs and sugar to the heated cream and coconut milk – if you pour the eggs directly into the hot cream, the eggs may curdle. What you do instead is add a little bit of the hot cream to the eggs and keep whisking the whole time (to prevent the dreaded curdling), gently raising the temperature of the eggs, before you pour the lot in.

You need a lot of patience to make ice cream because you now have to let this cool and put it into the fridge to chill before you can break out the ice cream maker and start churning.

Churning the ice cream

You churn the ice cream for about 20 – 30 minutes and add the dark chocolate chunks just before you finish. If you’re happy with a soft-serve ice cream texture, you can eat it right away. But since Roger Ballen’s recipe calls for a special presentation which requires fairly firm ice cream, I left it in the freezer for a few more hours.

Who shall it be?

Dolls, decapitated or missing a limb or two, feature often in the artist’s works. In this recipe, he recommends that the ice cream be served “placed on the neck of your favourite doll, once its head has been removed.” Of course, I obeyed.

Ice cream Barbie
Barbie with head removed
Barbie with ice cream head

[Note: The recipe in this article can be found in the book, Artists’ Recipes: Contemporary Artists and Their Favourite Recipes, which you can purchase online or in stores.]

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