Ice cream is not exclusive to summer menus and can be a welcome addition to winter dessert tables, too.
Now might not seem like the best time to make your own ice cream as outside temperatures hover around zero, yet certain frozen desserts lend themselves to old-fashioned comfort food menus, weather not withstanding. What would a slice of pound cake be without a great scoop of nut-flecked ice cream, or pecan pie topped with a rich vanilla bean frozen custard?
One of my favorites this time of year is homemade butterscotch butter pecan ice cream, with its crunchy texture from the toasted, buttered pecans mixed into the richness of a brown-sugar custard base. I like to spike the custard with a shot or two of whiskey, giving the cream an incredibly winey taste resembling the bloom of a good Cognac.
Making ice cream in Maine is particularly suited to the use of our great farm-fresh dairy products, which are essentials in the best ice cream recipes. From fresh cream and milk to eggs, with their deep yellow yolks, the ingredients are notably part of our essential larder.
In making ice cream, I prefer raw milk and cream for the purity of its flavor, unadulterated from the pasteurizing process. Not everyone is comfortable with raw dairy, but whatever you do, avoid ultra-pasteurized milk and cream because it’s boiled at a very high temperature and the process leaves an unpleasant boiled taste.
When you make ice cream, it’s best to chill the custard for at least 12 to 24 hours before churning it in your ice cream maker. This step affords a creamier ice cream than those allowed to chill for only a couple of hours.
When preparing, it also helps to have a candy thermometer when you’re making a custard-base ice cream. When cooking the milk, cream and egg mixture with sugar over medium-low heat, the custard will start to thicken, steam will rise and the temperature on the candy thermometer will reach 175 degrees, the perfect point at which the custard starts to thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon. Once you’re done, pour it through a fine-meshed strainer, because there will always be a few “scrambled” eggs at the bottom of the pot.
This butter-pecan ice cream is one that I’ve adapted from cookbook author and pastry chef David Lebovitz, whose book, “The Perfect Scoop,” is one of the definitive tomes on great ice cream making.
I make this ice cream fairly often, and one time I gave a pint of it to a neighbor and friend who went nuts (no pun intended) over it. So I always make a little extra so she can share in its goodness too. And once you try this, it’s sure to become a firm favorite, too.
Old-fashioned Butterscotch Butter-Pecan Ice Cream
Servings: 1 quart
5 tablespoons salted butter
3/4 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt such as Maldon Salt
2 cups raw or pasteurized heavy cream
3/4 cup raw or pasteurized whole milk
6 large egg yolks, preferably pastured
1 to 2 tablespoons whiskey, or to taste (but no less than 1 tablespoon)
Buttered pecans (see below)
Whisk the egg yolks together in a medium mixing bowl. Set aside.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, then stir in the brown sugar and salt and stir until well moistened. Whisk in 1 cup of the cream and all the milk. Heat the mixture for about 1 to 2 minutes or just under the simmer. Let cool for about 20 seconds.
Slowly add the butter-sugar mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warm egg yolk mixture back into the pot.
Affix a candy thermometer to the pot and stir constantly with a wooden spoon over medium-low heat, using a figure eight motion to get all corners of the pot. If you’re not using a candy thermometer, watch the custard carefully, testing it with a metal spoon to see if it coats it fairly thickly; steam will start to rise from the mixture, but do not let this simmer. If using the thermometer, cook, stirring, until it reads 175 degrees.
Pour the mixture through a very fine wire-meshed strainer into a clean bowl. Add the remaining 1 cup cream, stirring to combine thoroughly. Set the bowl into an ice bath, stirring occasionally, to cool it down quickly. Add the whiskey (besides flavoring the custard liquor helps to keep ice cream creamy, preventing ice crystals from forming). Stir to combine. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 12 hours, preferably 24 hours.
Churn the ice cream according to the manufacturer’s instructions. About several minutes before the ice cream is done, gradually add the buttered pecans (see recipe below). Transfer to containers and put in the freezer to firm up, at least 2 hours.
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 ½ cups pecan halves
1/2 to 1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Melt the butter in a heavy skillet such as black cast iron. Add the pecans and stir to coat, then sprinkle with the salt, stirring to combine.
Spread evenly on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove to a bowl and let cool before using. Put into a plastic bag and roughly chop them by pounding with a rolling pin until medium pieces.
Add to the ice cream as directed.