Saturday, January 8, 2011

Caramel butter pecan ice cream

My original plan for my ice cream maker was to start with simple vanilla and work up to more complex recipes afterwards. Then I saw pecans at Aldi. Never mind then! Butter pecan is my favorite flavor, and I have always felt it would be better with caramel. So I made my own recipe by combining four or five different recipes, and it was a real success!

The recipe is a little complicated, but it's totally worth the effort!

1 pint cream, divided
1 cup milk
3 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1 cup pecans
3 tablespoons butter, divided
2 pinches of salt

First, chop the pecans roughly. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter, and toast the pecans in it for about 10 minutes on medium heat along with a pinch of salt (if the pecans are unsalted). Remove the pecans from the butter and place in the fridge to chill. Reserve the butter.

Next, make the custard. Heat the cream (reserving 3 tablespoons) and milk over medium heat, along with a pinch of salt and 1/4 cup of the sugar, whisking to dissolve the sugar. Meanwhile put the egg yolks into a large bowl (at least 3 cups) and whisk in 1/4 cup sugar. When the cream just reaches a boil, reduce the heat to low. Slowly pour a cup of the hot cream into the bowl with the egg yolks, whisking to incorporate. Pour in another cup, and then pour the contents of the bowl into the pan of cream. Whisk thoroughly. Heat, stirring frequently, over low heat for another 5 minutes or so, until the custard has thickened. (My recipe said it should "coat the back of the spoon," which it didn't, but it turned out fine anyway.) Then shut off the heat and chill the cream -- either by setting the pot in a bowl of ice or cold water, or overnight in the fridge.

A little before you're ready to make the ice cream, make the caramel sauce. (Be very careful with this part, as the sugar gets very hot, and also have all your ingredients ready before you start. Your pan should be relatively deep and heavy-bottomed, if possible.) Melt the last 1/4 cup of sugar over medium to medium-high heat. The dry sugar will turn into caramel -- whisk to incorporate all the sugar. Once the caramel is boiling in places, stop whisking or you'll get a candy-coated whisk -- swirl the pan instead. The moment all the caramel is melted, turn off the heat and add the last tablespoon of butter. It will melt in a big hurry and foam a bit -- whisk to mix. Then add the reserved butter left from cooking the pecans, along with any pecan bits that stayed in your pan. Last, add the 3 tablespoons of reserved cream. Whisk together and cool to about room temperature or a tiny bit warmer. Don't cool it in the fridge or you won't be able to pour it.

Take out the chilled custard and pour it in the (running) ice cream maker. Once it's thickened -- after about 15 minutes -- and almost ready, add the pecans (breaking them up if they're stuck together). Last of all, slowly drizzle in the caramel sauce. Run for a few more minutes, then shut off the machine. Eat a small serving and lick the paddle -- the rest should pack into a quart-sized yogurt container. Chill in the freezer to firm it up.

Note: if the caramel sauce chills too much to pour, go ahead and just add it separately to each serving. That's what I ended up doing.

This recipe mostly qualifies as "real food," except for all the sugar. I did reduce it a bit from the original, but to be even better you could use a more natural sweetener. I had to laugh when a lady at work agreed that you can make ice cream healthier when you have your own machine: "You can make it lower fat!" Well, not so much. This recipe is quite high in fat, but so satisfying a tiny serving should be all you need.

It was, of course, absolutely delicious. I've had some pretty amazing ice cream in my time (I was something of a gelato connoisseur when I studied in Rome), but this may well have been the best I've ever had.

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