We must draw a distinction right now between the granular, neon-colored snow cones that the phrase “shaved ice” might call to mind and the only shaved ice worth talking about: an ethereally light drift of ice topped with fruit and a thick gloss of condensed milk.
I had no idea what I was saying yes to when, at the end of freshman year, I accepted a friend’s invite to get shaved ice in Chinatown. Twenty minutes later, I was introduced to my first-ever Taiwanese shaved ice (or baobing) with wide eyes: a mammoth bowl of milk-lustered fruit bedded on the finest ice I’ve ever seen, topped with a full-sized scoop of ice cream. It was a R.E.V.E.L.A.T.I.O.N.
I recently took Erik to try his first shaved ice at a newish little cafe, and he was an instant, enthusiastic convert (kind of like the first time he tried eggplant…I love it when he’s easy to please). I spent the last 10 minutes of our date night inspecting the sludgy dregs of our shaved ice with a plastic spoon and decided that it would make a great at-home project.
There are three important components to shaved ice:
- the ice texture: must be insanely fine and fluffy,
- the fruit: must be at the perfect peak of ripeness
- the milk: must be delicious, otherwise your dessert will just taste like fruit and ice.
To tackle the last component, I opted for full-fat coconut milk, cooked down until sweet and thickened instead of canned condensed milk. It’s not quite as thick and syrupy as the store-bought stuff, but it has a nuttier, earthier sweetness that feels suitable for a lighter, homemade treat. Skip the reduced-fat coconut milk as its often simply full-fat milk cut with water.
Although it’s not quite so hot that everyone everywhere is craving ice-based desserts, mangoes are gloriously, juicily, abundantly in season. Since they are hands-down my favorite shaved ice topping, I thought now would be an appropriate time to share this deliriously delicious at-home version. Plus, it’s relatively healthy. Ahem #bikiniseason (<– ew no.)
Unfortunately, the ice component requires an ice-shaving machine or high-powered blender if you really want to do this right. Using the “ice crush” setting on my Blendtec yielded extremely fluffy ice–just be sure not to overprocess it (or it will turn into a giant ice block) and use it right away, because it melts quickly.
I’ve read that some Asian vendors use “milk ice” to get a finer consistency–if you just have a decent-quality blender, you might try freezing some milk (any kind) in an ice cube tray and blending a combination of milk cubes and regular ice cubes. I’d love to hear how this goes if you try it.
You can of course get more elaborate with your toppings and add red beans, glutinous rice balls, peanuts, grass jelly, taro, sweetened bean pastes, etc. I typically just add fruit.
This refreshing, incredibly delicious dessert is simply ice, fruit and milk. The key is getting the ice to a fluffy, snow-like state, topping it with the best fruit you can find, and dousing it in enough sweetened milk to fill all the icy crevices.
- For the coconut condensed milk:
- 1 can full-fat coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar (more to taste)*
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- pinch of sea salt
- For serving:
- Chopped fruit (mango, kiwi, strawberries, blueberries, watermelon, etc.)
- Ice cream (optional--fruit sorbets are popular, as are regular ice creams like green tea and salted caramel)
To make the coconut condensed milk:
In a small, heavy-bottomed pot, whisk together the coconut milk and brown sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes, uncovered, or until mixture has reduced by half. Remove from heat and let cool. Stir in vanilla and salt.
In a high-powered blender or ice shaving machine, pulverize a few cups of ice until very finely ground (I used the “ice crush” setting on my Blendtec--be careful not to overprocess or the ice will start to clump together again. Stop when it reaches the texture of snow).
Immediately add ice to a bowl, top with fruit and several spoonfuls of condensed milk. Add a scoop of ice cream if you like. Eat!
*Laura brilliantly suggested using coconut sugar and adding a kaffir lime leaf for an extra kick of sweet and citrusy complexity.