Ice cream! Nuts! Crunch!
I was tickled to death to get selected as one of the 25 contestants in the Iron Foodie 2010 contest sponsored by Marx Foods and Foodie Blogroll. You'd better believe I was peeking out the door, waiting for the delivery of my box of secret ingredients.
Voting is now over. Thanks everyone, for looking at the recipe, for the comments and for the votes!
When it arrived, I unpacked it with a whole lot less ceremony than I planned. Patience of a five-year-old, I have. Forget about fanfare or letting anyone else get their mitts on my box of treasure. I ripped in and ogled each product in turn, thinking about the possibilities. I arranged and rearranged them in groups of three, pondering the dishes I could make.
I changed my mind a dozen times, but the two flavors that I kept coming back to were maple sugar and smoked salt. What's better than sweet and salty, after all? Fennel pollen almost won out as the third ingredient in the trio. Pork was a possibility as the vehicle for those flavors.
Then a flash of inspiration hit, and I decided on Browned Butter Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with Smoked-Salt Maple Pecans. Which is actually a horrible name for a dish. Way too long and cumbersome. A shorter title was required. After toying with a variety of options and asking for opinions, I settled on a name and short menu-like description:
Buttery, Salty, Sweet 'n Nutty
Browned butter ice cream infused with Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans and garnished with butter-toasted pecans generously coated with maple sugar and a touch of smoked sea salt.
That's a decent description, but it still doesn't do justice to the richness of this ice cream, the nuttiness that the browned butter imparts, or the salty smoky surprise hidden in the maple sugar. And real vanilla beans. Let's not forget those.
Okay, it's just ice cream and nuts, but it's a gloriously decadent ice cream with sugary-smoky-salty-crunchy nuts that are a perfect foil for the richness. It's the closest thing to a perfect bite that has ever come out of my kitchen. While the ice cream is good on its own and the nuts are a fine snack, together they are that rare commodity - that perfect marriage - where the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
This dish is also a perfect bite of my food philosophy. While I eat a lot of what people would consider "healthy" food, when I indulge, I go all the way. No holds barred. Great ingredients, carefully prepared, with attention to details. And then served in reasonable quantities. You don't need a lot of this ice cream to satisfy. A small scoop, a few nuts, and some quiet time to savor the indulgence and it's a perfect end to a great meal ... or a great reward for surviving a crummy day.
|See the specks of vanilla and browned butter bits?|
For the ice cream:
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 vanilla beans
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the garnish:
1/2 cup pecans
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons maple sugar
1/2 teaspoon smoked sea salt
To make the ice cream:
Place the milk, cream, and about 1/2 of the sugar into a heavy bottomed saucepan. Slit the vanilla beans open and scrape out the seeds with the back of your knife. Add the seeds and pods to the saucepan. Heat to boiling, stirring occasionally, then turn off the heat.
Meanwhile, melt the butter on low heat in a small saucepan, then turn the heat up to medium, stirring often and watching carefully. When the milk solids in the butter begin to brown and there's a nutty aroma, turn off the heat. If the browned bits turn black, it's gone too far, and you'll need to start over. So watch carefully, and be ready to kill the heat quickly.
|Mmmmm ... crunchy nuggets of maple sugar and salt.|
When the melted butter has cooled so that it is still warm, but not hot, begin adding it to the egg yolk mixture slowly, a little at a time, beating it in thoroughly. The butter needs to emulsify with the eggs, so make sure it fully incorporates before you add more. Scrape in all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan as well.
The milk mixture should still be rather warm. Add it slowly to the egg yolk mixture, a little at a time, beating or whisking it in quickly. When you've added about 1/2 of the warm milk to the egg mixture, you've warmed the eggs enough to prevent them from scrambling. Transfer all of the egg-milk mixture from the bowl to the pan with milk. Mix well, then turn the heat to medium.
Heat the mixture, stirring constantly, until it thickens so it coats the back of a spoon. Basically, dip a spoon in the mixture, run your finger down the back of the spoon, and if the line holds, it's done. Turn off the heat.
Pour the mixture through a strainer into a medium bowl, and place that bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice. Stir the mixture occasionally, until it cools, then refrigerate for at least a few hours. I usually let it rest overnight and churn it the next day.
When the ice cream base has chilled thoroughly, churn following the instructions for your ice cream maker.
You can retrieve the vanilla bean pods from the strainer, rinse them, and find other uses for them. Like making vanilla sugar or adding a more subtle vanilla flavor to something else.
To make the garnish:
|Make extra. You will snack on them.|
Combine the maple sugar and smoked salt in a small container and set aside.
Melt the butter in a medium skillet and add the pecans and the granulated sugar. Turn the heat to medium and stir constantly while you watch for the sugar to melt. Stir quickly to coat the pecans with the hot melted sugar.
You're not looking for an even coating here, so don't worry if you see bits and blobs of melted sugar. There will be enough clinging to the nuts to add a crispy crunch and to grab onto the maple sugar.
Turn off the heat and add the maple-salt mixture, stirring quickly to coat the pecans with the sugar. Remove to a plate to cool. You can make this in advance, but you might want to make extra - these are addictive to nibble on.
Scoop the ice cream and garnish with pecans. There will be extra sugar/salt mixture that hasn't adhered to the pecans. Sprinkle some of that over the top of the ice cream as well.
|It's a little melty here. No more photos. Time for me to dig in!|
You can garnish with a bit of whipped cream, but that might be overkill. If you do use whipped cream, make it a good one, like my Best Whipped Cream Ever.