08 November 2010

Pecan Praline Ice Cream

I think that I finally know how parents feel when they have more than one kid and claim that they love them all the same.  Except that my love is for ice cream.  First there was Banana Puddin' Ice Cream, and I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.  Then there was Thomas Jefferson's Vanilla Ice Cream.  Again with the dying and heaven-going.  And then there was Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream.  If I was a parent, Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream would be like the kid that I both love and like and get along with and talk to on the phone every day.  It might have eeked out as my favorite.  But the competition's getting tougher, because now there's this one: Pecan Praline Ice Cream, the baby of the pack, but a force to be reckoned with.  (Here's the thing, though.  Pecan Praline Ice Cream is a softer ice cream, and therefore does not like to have its picture taken.  You could say it's sweet but sensitive.  Okay, now I've taken the comparison too far, huh?)

I originally set out to make a pecan pie ice cream, neglecting to think about the fact that I don't even really like pecan pie.  I knew that I wanted candied pecans, and I knew that I wanted caramel.  Other than that, I wasn't really sure which direction I wanted to go with the ice cream.

And then I found David Lebovitz's Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream and my decision was made instantly.  (Seriously?  Salt and butter and caramel and ice cream?  Omigod.)

So I slaved and slaved in the kitchen and made a huge mess and learned that sugar will turn into caramel if you just cook it long enough (who knew?).  I candied pecans (a task that is dangerously easy) and ate about half of them while the ice cream was chilling. 

And when everything was churned and added and chopped and roasted and mixed in, I had a half-gallon of ice cream that was salty and sweet and crunchy and out-of-control delicious.  At least I thought that it was out-of-control delicious.

When Matt got home from work on Friday, I made him try some.  Mitch and I had already approved, and I just needed another opinion.

Matt spit it out.

(Yeah, Matt's not really one to administer false praise.  I love this about him, but when he's spitting out my prized ice cream and talking about how disgusting it is, I kind of hate it about him.)

I got myself another guinea pig, my teacher friend who's basically a southern belle, Lizhen.  I stressed to her that she needed to be honest with me about it because I didn't want to post a recipe for something that people wouldn't like, and after tasting it she enthusiastically joined team Mandy and Mitch. 

So here's what I'm thinking.  You know the buttered popcorn Jelly Belly jelly beans?  You know how people either love them or hate them?  Well, I love them.  (I also love using the little recipes on the package of Jelly Bellys that tells you how to make, say, a blueberry muffin using the buttered popcorn and blueberry beans.)  I've decided that if you're the type who loves the buttered popcorn Jelly Belly jelly beans, then you're the type who will love this ice cream.

And without further ado, and in time to get some ready for that Thanksgiving feast that is fast approaching, here's the recipe.

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream (From David Lebovitz)

One generous quart (liter)

I know I’m sounding like a broken record, but be sure to use good salt. I use fleur de sel, but if you don’t have it, a mild-tasting sea salt will do in a pinch, such as Maldon, fine gray salt, or kosher salt. Don’t use ordinary fine table salt; it’s far too harsh.

Because of the caramel in this ice cream, once churned and frozen, it’ll remain nice & creamy (as shown in the photo.) To make it firmer, crank up your freezer a bit or store it in a shallow pan.

For the caramel praline (mix-in)

½ cup (100 gr) sugar
¾ teaspoon sea salt, such as fleur de sel

For the ice cream custard

2 cups (500 ml) whole milk, divided
1½ cups (300 gr) sugar
4 tablespoons (60 gr) salted butter
scant ½ teaspoon sea salt
1 cups (250 ml) heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. To make the caramel praline, spread the ½ cup (100 gr) of sugar in an even layer in a medium-sized, unlined heavy duty saucepan: I use a 6 quart/liter pan. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or brush it sparingly with unflavored oil.

2. Heat the sugar over moderate heat until the edges begin to melt. Use a heatproof utensil to gently stir the liquefied sugar from the bottom and edges towards the center, stirring, until all the sugar is dissolved. (Or most of it—there may be some lumps, which will melt later.)

Continue to cook stirring infrequently until the caramel starts smoking and begins to smell like it’s just about to burn. It won’t take long.

3. Without hesitation, sprinkle in the ¾ teaspoon salt without stirring (don’t even pause to scratch your nose), then pour the caramel onto the prepared baking sheet and lift up the baking sheet immediately, tilting and swirling it almost vertically to encourage the caramel to form as thin a layer as possible. Set aside to harden and cool.

4. To make the ice cream, make an ice bath by filling a large bowl about a third full with ice cubes and adding a cup or so of water so they’re floating. Nest a smaller metal bowl (at least 2 quarts/liters) over the ice, pour 1 cup (250 ml) of the milk into the inner bowl, and rest a mesh strainer on top of it.

5. Spread 1½ cups (300 gr) sugar in the saucepan in an even layer. Cook over moderate heat, until caramelized, using the same method described in Step #2.

6. Once caramelized, remove from heat and stir in the butter and salt, until butter is melted, then gradually whisk in the cream, stirring as you go.

The caramel may harden and seize, but return it to the heat and continue to stir over low heat until any hard caramel is melted. Stir in 1 cup (250 ml) of the milk.

7. Whisk the yolks in a small bowl and gradually pour some of the warm caramel mixture over the yolks, stirring constantly. Scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan and cook the custard using a heatproof utensil, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture thickens. If using an instant-read thermometer, it should read 160-170 F (71-77 C).

8. Pour the custard through the strainer into the milk set over the ice bath, add the vanilla, then stir frequently until the mixture is cooled down. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or until thoroughly chilled.

9. Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

10. While the ice cream is churning, crumble the hardened caramel praline into very little bits, about the size of very large confetti (about ½-inch, or 1 cm). I use a mortar and pestle, although you can make your own kind of music using your hands or a rolling pin.

11. Once your caramel ice cream is churned, quickly stir in the crushed caramel, then chill in the freezer until firm.

Note: As the ice cream sits, the little bits of caramel may liquefy and get runny and gooey, which is what they’re intended to do.

Candied Pecans

8 oz. chopped pecans
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 egg white
splash water


1. In a bowl, combine sugars, salt, and cinnamon.  Mix to combine.  Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, beat egg white and splash of water until frothy.  Add pecans and stir until coated.
3. Add the sugars to the large bowl and mix until pecans are all coated and there is no remaining loose sugar mixture.
4. Move coated pecans to a baking sheet and bake for one hour at 250 degrees, flipping every 15 minutes.

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