Browned Butter Pecan Ice Cream

I do not think I ever ate Butter Pecan Ice Cream as a child. If I did, I have no memory of it, but I suspect that I did not. I had a pretty narrow palate as a child. Which is the nice way to say that I was a fanatically picky eater. The narrow palate (aka childish fear of new foodstuffs) stayed with me well into adulthood. It wasn’t until I started cooking that my palate expanded. New food scared me a lot less when I had control over it. Now, I’ll try just about anything, especially if I get to make it myself.

So my first memory of eating Butter Pecan Ice Cream was the first time that I made some. I remember being impressed at what a sneaky spoonful it was. The full flavor doesn’t hit you right away. It comes in waves. First the cream, then the butter, then the sugar, and finally the pecans. The first time that I made it, I served it was peaches painted with butter and cooked on the grill and a shot of bourbon on the side. It still ranks among the best desserts I have ever made.

But I am not here to rest on my laurels. (Side note: When it was originally coined, that phrase was complimentary. Someone rested on their laurels when they had earned the right to do so and good for them. It was somewhere around the 19th century that it took on a disapproving edge. I really want to bring back the old meaning. I want people to call and ask me what I’m doing on Friday night and I will say, “Nothing, I’m gonna stay in and rest on laurels.” Okay, side note over. Thanks for sticking with me there.) No resting on laurels! I thought of two simple ways to take this ice cream up a notch. First, brown the butter. Second, candy the pecans.

Okay, I did not get what the big deal was with browned butter at first. Largely because I kept making a rookie mistake and burning it. Burnt butter is no good, no good at all, why would you eat that? But then I learned a simple trick. The butter burns easily because it starts browning after it foams up, making it difficult to see how brown the butter has actually gotten. So, as soon as you think maybe the butter has browned enough, remove the pan from the heat and pour the butter off into a non-reactive dish. If it wasn’t quite there yet, you can pour it back in the pan and cook it a little more, but immediately removing it from not just the heat source but the hot pan will keep it from burning. And properly browned butter, where the milk solids have separated and turned amber, is a thing of genius.

So, browning the butter seemed like a no-brainer as far as kicking this ice cream into high gear. It was the candied pecans I was worried about. Would that be overkill? There is a fine line with desserts. It doesn’t take much to make it too sweet, too rich. Do I really need to take this step? I wasn’t convinced, even though this particular method for candying nuts, based on a recipe from Smitten Kitchen, always yielded such amazing things. I decided to try. Since the nuts didn’t go in until the very end, I could make the nuts and the ice cream base and taste the two together before I combined them. If it was a total failure or cloyingly sweet, I could just leave the candied nuts for other things and add some plain roasted pecans to the ice cream. So that is what I did. As soon as the ice cream finished churning, I took a spoonful and dropped a few candied nut pieces on top and took a bite. And immediately dumped the rest of the nuts into the ice cream because holy smokes this is seriously good.

Browned Butter Pecan Ice Cream
(Adapted from Tasting Table)

6 egg yolks
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
¾ cup candied pecans, chopped (see recipe below)

In a small sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it begins to foam. Once it begins to foam, stir constantly,scraping any solid bits from the bottom of the pan. Once the solids brown and turn an amber color, remove the pan from the heat and pour the butter into a non-reactive bowl. (I use a pyrex measuring cup here.) Set aside to cool.

Whisk together egg yolks and set aside.

Combine 1 cup heavy cream, milk, sugar, salt, and vanilla in a medium sauce pan. Heat over medium heat until sugar melts but do not let it boil. Using a metal small measuring cup or ladle, add the warm mixture to the egg yolks, whisking constantly, until you have added about half the milk mixture to the eggs. Then pour that back into the saucepan and cook, whisking constantly.* Cook the custard until it thickens. (If you have a good thermometer, cook until it registers 170 degrees. If not, you want to cook it until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon. Dip the spoon and then run a finger across the back. If a clear line appears, it is done. Take pan off heat and set aside.

Pour remaining cup of cream into a bowl set over an ice bath. Set a mesh trainer over the bowl and pour the custard in. Stir the mixture over the ice bath until it cools. Then put it in the refrigerator to finish chilling. (I usually give it at least a few hours. The longer it chills, the better the texture.)

Once the ice cream has finished chilling, churn it in the your ice cream maker for 20 to 30 minutes, until it reaches the desired texture. Then pour it into storage container and stir in chopped pecans. Freeze at least three hours before serving.

* If you have a silicon whisk, this is the place to use it. A silicon whisk won’t damage the saucepan. If you don’t have a silicon whisk, then you can use a wooden spoon.

Candied Pecans
(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

1/3 cup dark-brown sugar
2/3 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 lb. pecan halves
1 egg white**
1 tablespoon warm water

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees and line a 9×9 square cake pan*** with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk together the sugars, salt, paprika and cinnamon.

In a separate bowl, mix the egg white and water together with a fork until it foams slightly and stiffens.

Place the pecans in a large bowl. Add egg white mixture and stir to coat the pecans. Add the sugar mixture and stir to coat.

Spread the nuts out in the cake pan and roast for 30 minutes, stirring at 15 minutes and again as soon as they come out of the oven. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes and then dump into a bowl and break apart clumps.****

** Reserve the egg yolk for use in the ice cream base.

*** The original recipe for these nuts appeared on Smitten Kitchen and she encouraged that you spread the nuts out onto a baking sheet and avoid crowding. I completely disagree on this point. Crowd these nuts onto a smaller sheet! You need to stir them more often when roasting them but the result is a better spice coating on the finished nuts.

**** This recipe creates many many more nuts than you need for the ice cream, but the nuts are amazing. Eat them on their own or sprinkle them on your oatmeal.


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