Sometime last year, I set about to make caramel ice cream. I followed a recipe and everything. Well, what I should tell you at this point is that I used to buy organic unrefined sugar. Unrefined sugar is not smooth; the crystals are larger than its refined sibling and the edges are jagged. Now this stuff works fine in baking. I never had a single problem. However…. It does not caramelize. It’s not smooth enough. It will get really hot and dark, but it won’t properly turn into caramel sauce.
Upon realizing this, I forged ahead with the ice cream anyway, combining the sad attempt at caramel with the milk, cream and egg yolks, and then chilled and churned the whole thing. It never looked as dark as caramel ice cream should and I had grave doubts, as well I should have.
When it was done churning (and still didn’t look right), I tasted it and exclaimed to Matt, “This tastes like butter pecan ice cream without the pecans!” Fortunately we had some pecans on hand, so I added them and lo and behold, we had butter pecan ice cream.
So I quickly wrote down what I did, then tweaked it and tried it again. And y’all, it’s the real deal – totally by accident! I recently (intentionally) made my recipe for butter pecan ice cream again, and it was just as good as I remembered, so I definitely want to share it now. I really wish all my kitchen mishaps turned out this well. Alas, they most certainly do not. Someday I will properly make a caramel ice cream, with refined sugar that will caramelize as it is supposed to. In the meantime, this is pretty darn good.
4 tbs unsalted butter
¾ cup brown sugar
1 tsp salt
2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup white sugar
Roughly 1 cup toasted pecan halves
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the butter and brown sugar. Stir together until it’s all melted together, about 4 minutes. Add the salt and shut off the heat. Add in the milk, 1 cup cream, and vanilla; stir to combine, turn the heat back on to medium-low, and scald the dairy (bring it almost to a boil, but don’t let it boil).
Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and white sugar; beat well. Add 1/2 cup of the milk mixture to the egg mixture and whisk constantly. This will temper the yolks so they do not scramble. Now slowly, while whisking, pour the eggs into the saucepan with the cream mixture. Turn the heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, for about 15 minutes, until the mixture turns to a custard consistency. It should coat the back of a wooden spoon. This is your ice cream base. Pour the base through a strainer into a clean bowl and refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours. You can speed along this process with an ice bath. Give it a stir occasionally to avoid getting a film on top.
When it’s chilled, stir in the remaining 1/2 cup heavy cream, then pour it into your ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer’s instructions. Mine calls for 25 minutes. In the last five minutes of churning, add the pecans. When it’s done, put the ice cream into the freezer for at least 2 hours to firm up. This makes about a quart.