Apples and sour cream first crossed paths on my plate during a latke party I hosted years ago. I was wary of the sour cream—love it though I do, it felt wrong on a latke—but I decided to give it a try. Long after the latkes were gone I was spooning sour cream and apple sauce onto my plate and lapping it up like a starving dog. There's something special about plopping applesauce and sour cream unceremoniously on something warm and fatty. They seep into its cracks just so, and every bite is a creamy union of sweet and tart.
The time has come for us to end this ice cream series, October being halfway to Halloween. We wanted something to complement fall's palette of desserts: crumbles, crisps, cakes, and quickbreads, filled with apples, pears, walnuts, and cinnamon. With that in mind, apples and sour cream were a no-brainer, a lusciously tart rejoinder to rustic late-harvest food.
Sour cream ice cream is the perfect dessert topper. Unencumbered by eggs, it melts easily into a cool, creamy pile—not a puddle—on a plate. As ice creams go, it's refreshing and won't weigh you down. And when you add in an eightfold reduction of apple cider, a sticky and gloriously acidic syrup, you may just have heaven on a plate. I say "may" only till you add the browned butter. Then it's a done deal.
Our experiments gave us two versions of this ice cream, and they're both worthy of your next dessert course. The first is more tart than sweet, light and apple-y, nutty and caramelized from the browned butter. It's refined and lovely and exactly the dessert topper we were looking for. It's tangy enough to balance sweet crumbles or some apple butter (pictured), and it melts into an addictive sauce for oven-fresh cakes.
The second version has twice as much browned butter and brown sugar, and tastes like a caramel apple on crack. The apple flavor is dialed back and it's much less tart, but a half pound of browned butter speaks for itself. It's an overindulgent, caramelized mess best left unadorned by anything seeking to dilute its intense, albeit unrefined glory (though you may miss some of the tartness). Which version you choose is up to you, how sweet you like your ice cream, and the other items on your dessert plate. Or make a pint of each and apologize for nothing.
Note: Use the best apple cider you can get, but take a look at the nutrition facts. This recipe is formulated for cider with 120 calories (two tablespoons of sugar) per cup. If your four cups of apple cider have less than 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons, 480 calories) of sugar, add enough brown sugar to compensate.
Ethan Frisch is the chef and co-mastermind behind Guerrilla Ice Cream, the only ice cream company that looks to international political movements for inspiration and donates all of its profits. He's traveled around the world (30 countries, 5 continents) and worked as a pastry chef and line cook in some of NYC's great (and not so great) restaurants. He lives above a tofu factory in Manhattan's Chinatown.
Max Falkowitz writes Serious Eats' weekly Spice Hunting column. He's a proud native of Queens, New York, will do just about anything for a good cup of tea, and enjoys long walks down the aisles of Chinese groceries.
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, cut into small chunks [OR 2 sticks for second version]
- 4 cups apple cider, plus one tablespoon, divided (see note)
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 cups sour cream
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup brown sugar [OR 1/2 cup for second version]
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
In a skillet, melt butter on medium heat. When fully melted, increase heat and let butter brown to a rich amber. When the color has darkened significantly and you see black particles in the pan, pour off into a heat-proof container, straining out the black particles on the bottom, and set aside to cool.
In a medium saucepan, bring the four cups of apple cider to a boil and add the nutmeg. Reduce until you have 1/2 cup of syrup, about 20 minutes. Do not reduce further. Keep an eye on it when bubbles start stacking up, as it will reduce very quickly. Set aside to cool.
Whisk together sour cream, milk, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a large bowl. When the butter and apple cider syrup have cooled, whisk them in very thoroughly. The butterfat must be completely emulsified into the base, or it will get grainy when frozen. You can do this step in your blender if you like. Add the last tablespoon of apple cider, cover, and refrigerate overnight. The base will also keep for up to a week.
The next day, spin the base in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. The ice cream is at its peak at this point as soft-serve, or after an hour in the freezer, which will firm it up a bit. If you plan to serve it later, leave it to thaw on the counter for at least half an hour before serving, or it will be grainy.