My introduction to Mexican food came in the form of Chi-Chi’s, which was a chain that opened a restaurant in my hometown during my impressionable youth. Chi-Chi’s was a magical place that brought out unlimited free baskets of chips and salsa, even to teenage girls who would sit there for hours giggling while eating basket after basket of those chips.
Chi-Chi’s has been closed in the U.S. for almost a decade, but I still miss their fried ice cream dessert. They deep-fried a generous ball of vanilla ice cream coated in a crunchy mixture of cinnamon and corn flake crumbs for just a few seconds. Then they served it on top of a fried flour tortilla sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, drizzled the ice cream with your choice of sauce, and topped it with whipped cream and a cherry.
I don’t have to miss Chi-Chi’s fried ice cream anymore, because I created a version of it that I can make anytime I get a hankering. No deep-frying required (unless you want to make the optional fried tortilla bowls). Just in time for Cinco de Mayo!
Cinco de Mayo Crunch Ice Cream
by Tracy Rimdzius
To achieve my goal of an ice cream that tasted like the fried ice cream of my youth without the frying, I made a french vanilla custard base kissed with honey. After churning, I layered the custard with caramelized corn flake crumbs spiced with cinnamon and honey cinnamon sauce. Try to keep the layers neat (don’t mix the crunch into the ice cream) and ensure generous layers of the corn flake crunch as this best approximates a fried crunchy coating effect. I couldn’t help myself and did end up deep-frying some flour tortilla bowls for serving. Serve with extra honey cinnamon sauce.
For the French Vanilla Custard
- 13 oz. whole milk, plus 1 oz. for cornstarch slurry
- 4 teaspoons cornstarch
- pinch of salt
- 4 oz. sugar
- 12 oz. heavy cream
- 2 oz. evaporated milk
- 1.5 oz. corn syrup
- 1.5 oz. honey
- 1 vanilla bean (split in half, seeds scraped, use pod and seeds)
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the Corn Flake Crunch
- 4 oz. crushed corn flakes cereal
- 3 oz. butter
- 3.5 oz. sugar
- 4 teaspoons cinnamon
For the Honey Cinnamon Sauce
- 4 oz. water, plus 2 teaspoons for cornstarch slurry
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 6 oz. honey
- 3.5 oz. sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
For the Fried Tortilla Bowls
- 6-inch flour tortillas
- frying oil
- cinnamon sugar
For the french vanilla custard: In a small bowl, whisk 1 oz. milk into the cornstarch with a fork until smooth. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl containing a pinch of salt. Measure the sugar into a medium bowl. Measure remaining dairy ingredients, corn syrup, honey, most of the pre-measured sugar, and the vanilla bean pod and seeds into a 4-quart or larger pot. Bring the dairy mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to avoid scorching. Remove pot from heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Bring dairy mixture back to a boil, stirring with a spatula for about one minute or until the mix slightly thickens (when the slurry has done its job, the mix will coat the spatula rather than run off immediately). Remove pot from heat and let mixture cool until it is 175 degrees (about 5 minutes). While waiting, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining pre-measured sugar until lightened in color. When the dairy mixture reaches 175 degrees, whisk about half of it into the egg mixture, about a half cup at a time. Whisk the egg mixture back into the pot with the dairy mixture and heat on low until the mix reaches 180 degrees, stirring constantly (about 5 minutes). Do not boil.
Strain the mix and stir to dissolve the salt. Chill the mix in an ice bath or in the refrigerator until about 45 degrees or cooler. Add vanilla extract right before churning in an ice cream machine. Layer the ice cream with the corn flake crunch and the honey cinnamon sauce (see note above). Press a layer of wax paper onto the surface of the ice cream before storing in the freezer.
For the corn flake crunch: Place the corn flakes into a gallon-size zip-top bag, seal, and crush with hands until they are mostly broken down. Melt the butter over low heat in a saucepan and add the sugar and corn flake crumbs. Stir over the heat for 5 minutes or until the crumbs are lightly toasted and caramelized. Add the cinnamon and stir over the heat until combined. Spread the corn flake crunch onto a baking sheet in a single layer and allow to cool and harden before adding to the ice cream. If the corn flake crumbs are still soft, bake in a 200 degree oven for about 10 minutes (while making the honey cinnamon sauce) to ensure they stay crispy in the ice cream.
For the honey cinnamon sauce: Whisk the cornstarch and 2 teaspoons of water with a fork until smooth. Combine the remaining water, honey, and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil until the sauce becomes syrupy (a couple of minutes) and then whisk in the cornstarch mixture and boil for another couple of minutes. Whisk in the cinnamon and cool the sauce before adding to the ice cream.
For the fried tortilla bowls: Mold a 6-inch flour tortilla to the bottom of an empty soda can, securing with twine. Add enough frying oil (I used a mix of what we had which was probably 2 parts peanut oil, one part vegetable oil, and enough Crisco to reach the level needed to cover the tortilla bowls) to submerge the tortilla bowl. Bring the oil to 350 to 375 degrees. Using tongs and wearing an oven mitt, carefully lower the can into the oil to submerge the tortilla bowl. Fry for about 20 to 30 seconds or until lightly brown. Remove from the oil and snip off the twine (at this point the bowl should remain intact). Continue frying the bowl on both sides until golden brown. Coat with cinnamon sugar. Repeat for any additional tortilla bowls.