maple ice cream with salty buttered pecans


Little known fact. Ice cream tastes better in the winter. That's right. All of our years running after the ice cream man in the summer was for naught. There's something about eating something cold in the cold that is pretty magical. I learned this when I studied abroad in Russia. My friends and I loved buying the flattened pre-scooped ice cream cones from the street vendors. They only came in vanilla and chocolate and the wafer cone was soft and chewy, but who cared? It was super creamy and it was snowing out and it tasted amazing!

Last Friday I woke up to the news that Winter Storm Jonas was barreling down upon us and we were setting up for a real #snowmaggedon. So, what did I do? Make a big pot of soup? Dash to the store to stock up on milk? Nope and nope. I put some maple syrup on the stovetop and pulled out my ice cream maker. 

Making ice cream from scratch does take longer than running to the store to pick up a pint. But, trust me, once you taste homemade ice cream-- made with whole milk, heavy cream and no preservatives-- you will have a hard time going back to Haagen-Dazs. You do have to eat your homemade ice cream more quickly than store-bought (it melts faster and won't last as long in your freezer), but trust me, these are not problems you will have to face. Your ice cream will be gone before you know it! It's that good.

Maple Ice Cream with Salty Buttered Pecans (adapted from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home)

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch (you can use tapioca starch if you have corn sensitivities)
  • 3 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (I use Maldon or bigger-grained salt, not tiny-grained table salt)
  • 1-1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons cane syrup (I use Steen's, but you can use light corn syrup instead)
  • 1-1/2 cups Grade B pure maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup pecans (you can use almonds, walnuts, or hickory nuts if you prefer)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

Thanks to my Mainer Aunt Jane, I have a HUMONGOUS jug of organic pure Maine maple syrup which is just perfect for this recipe. If you don't have a Mainer Aunt Jane, you're missing out, but you can still make this recipe. Just go out and get yourself some pure maple syrup, aka not Mrs. Butterworth. Bring the maple syrup to a boil in a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat. Keep an eye on it and let it reduce by one-half. Depending on how hard you're letting it boil, this can take anywhere from 15- 20ish minutes.

While your syrup is reducing, you can prep the rest of your ingredients. In a smallish bowl, mix your cornstarch (or tapioca starch) with 2 tablespoons of the milk to make a thin paste. In a largish bowl, mix your cream cheese and 1/2 teaspoon of your salt together. (You want to use a big enough bowl that you can add your ice cream base to this cream cheese mixture at the end.) And, finally, in a larger measuring cup, stir together your heavy cream and cane syrup.

Now, go back and check your syrup. Is it reduced by half? Good. It's Go-Time. Leaving the reduced syrup in your pot, take the pot off the heat and add your cream & cane syrup mixture and the rest of your milk to the pot. Stir it all together and return the pot to medium-high heat. Bring it back to a boil and let it boil for about 4 minutes-- it may look slightly curdled, don't worry. While it is boiling, prepare an ice water bath in a large bowl. You will cool your ice cream off in this before adding it to your ice cream maker. 

Has it boiled about 4 minutes? Ok, remove your pot from the heat and add your pastey cornstarch mixture, whisking it completely into the pot. Return it all ONE MORE TIME to the medium-high heat and boil for about a minute. Mix it with a rubber spatula to feel the ice cream base thickening up. Once it starts to thicken, remove the pot from the heat. Take a whiff of that sweet buttery maple smell. Amazing, right? Now, pour that boiling mixture of goodness into your prepared bowl of cream cheese & salt. Whisk it gently until smooth.

Here comes the really messy part. Set an opened gallon-sized zip lock back in your ice water bath and carefully,carefully pour the mixture from the bowl into the bag. This is super messy, but at least all the inevitable drips and drops will give you the chance to sample your ice cream. (Always look on the bright side, right?!) Once you've gotten all you can into the bag, seal it up and submerge the ice cream in the ice water bath. Let it sit there about 30-minutes, adding ice cubes to keep the water cold as needed.

While your ice cream cools off, it's a perfect time to make your salty buttered pecans. Preheat your oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with foil for easy clean-up. Use your microwave to melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small bowl. Add your nuts to the melted butter along with the remaining half teaspoon of salt. Mix and mix and mix. Then, spread the salty buttered pecans out on the baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes, tossing after 5. Keep a close eye on them, burned buttery nuts get bitter and don't taste so good. The good news is you can always make a second batch-- I've had to do this-- in a short amount of time. So, defintiely keep an eye on them. When, they're golden and buttery (not burnt) smelling, take them out and set them aside to cool.

We're almost done, I promise. Set up your ice cream maker. I have a basic Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker (in red because I just think red looks nice in a kitchen) and it works perfectly. If it's been about 30 minutes, pour your now chilled ice cream into your ice cream maker and turn it on, baby! I like to let mine churn outside where it is colder because I think it helps it thicken up more quickly. Even so, it will take 30 minutes or so before it gets to a good consistency. I know mine is well mixed if it is getting close to the top of the ice cream maker. Every machine is different though, so trust your judgement. Once it is well thickened (it should at least be like soft-serve consistency), fill up your ice cream tub, folding in the cooled salty buttered pecans. I sometimes place a sheet of parchment paper over the top of the ice cream before putting the lid on to protect the ice cream from air/freezer burn. I don't know if this works or not and I'm sure my sister (who is really smart) would tell me this does nothing, but it makes me feel better. So, if you choose, put a piece of parchment paper over your ice cream (like you're tucking it in for the night), put the lid on your tub and place it all in the freezer for at least 4 hours.

Flash forward four hours. Put a few scoops in a cup and go sit on a park bench in the snow and enjoy. I dare you to tell me that that's not the best thing you've ever had! Ice cream just tastes better in cold weather... and when it's homemade.