Why It Works
- Blanching and peeling the pistachios rids them of their fibrous and woody-flavored skins, allowing their true flavor to shine.
- Gently drying and slowly toasting the pistachios creates a deep and nuanced pistachio flavor that isn't obscured by darker, roasted notes.
- A long, slow infusion gives the milk and cream a complex pistachio flavor.
- Amaros like Cynar help expand the aroma of pistachios, but liqueurs like Maraschino can lend a fresh note that complements the pistachio instead.
From blanching, peeling, and toasting the nuts to infusing them overnight with milk and cream, this pistachio ice cream is anything but quick or easy. Yet for those who want to make ice cream from fresh pistachios, not paste, the effort it well worth the reward—a silky-smooth ice cream with a nutty fragrance and rich pistachio flavor.
The exact character of this ice cream will vary depending on both the type and freshness of the pistachios involved. Sicilian pistachios are highly prized by gelato makers and pastry chefs, driving up their price per pound, and they provide the strongest, most iconic pistachio flavor and color. American pistachios are more affordable, with a milder flavor and color that tends toward beige, but these deficiencies can be punched up with a few food-science hacks (see note). In either case, be wary of dusty pistachios that look past their prime or those that feel mealy after blanching, as well as pistachios with a price tag that seems too good to be true.
- 9 ounces best-quality whole, raw pistachios (shy 2 cups; 255g) (see note)
- About 1 teaspoon roasted pistachio oil, or a neutral oil like vegetable or grape seed
- 16 ounces whole milk (about 2 cups; 455g)
- 10 ounces heavy cream (about 1 1/4 cups; 285g)
- 6 ounces plain or toasted sugar (preferred) (about 3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons; 170g )
- 4 ounces egg yolk (about 1/2 cup; 115g)
- Heaping 1/4 teaspoon (1.5g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt, or more to taste; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight
- 1/2 ounce Cynar, Cardamaro, or a similar amaro, or Serravinci's Pistacchino, maraschino, or almond liqueur (about 1 tablespoon; 15g)
- Blue gel paste, such as Americolor, optional
Preparing the Pistachios: Blanch and peel the pistachios, then drizzle lightly with pistachio oil. Toss to evenly coat with oil, spread over a parchment lined half-sheet pan, and place in a cold oven. Preheat to 200°F, and dry the pistachios until they feel firm to the touch and rather hard, with a golden hue just beginning to develop here and there, about 3 hours. The timing of this process can vary dramatically depending on the accuracy of a given oven, and how much water the pistachios were able to absorb during the blanching phase, among other factors, such as freshness. The idea is to slowly and gently drive off their moisture and develop a delicately toasted flavor, rather than one that is dark or robust. Everything about the flavor of the ice cream hinges on this step, so keep a close eye on them.
After toasting, cool the pistachios and then roughly chop. Combine with the milk and cream in a 3-quart saucier, and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring from time to time, then cover and cool to room temperature off heat. Once cool, refrigerate overnight, or up to 36 hours.
Return the chilled pistachio-infused dairy to a simmer, then strain through a mesh sieve into a large bowl. The pistachios can be used as a 1:1 substitution for the pistachios called for in our pistachio paste, but they will not be used further in this recipe. That pistachio paste can go on to be used in our triple-pistachio buns, pistachio whipped cream, or our pistachio-frangipane tart.
Let the 3-quart saucier cool until safe to touch (no need to wash), then add the toasted sugar, egg yolks, and salt, and whisk to combine. When smooth, add the warm pistachio-infused dairy and whisk gently to combine.
Cook over medium-low heat, stirring and scraping constantly with a flexible, heat resistant spatula until warm to the touch, then increase heat to medium. Continue stirring and scraping until thickened and steaming hot, or around 165°F (74°C), although precision is not required in a recipe like this. Strain the ice cream base into a non-reactive container, then whisk in the Cynar, or other liqueur.
Color Correction, optional: Depending on the natural color of the pistachios, as well as the degree of browning developed in the toasting phase, and the intensity of the color of the yolks, the color of the ice cream base can range from army green to khaki, or outright yellow. This is perfectly normal, if not what's traditionally expected. If desired, the warm tone imparted by the toasted pistachios and egg yolks can be neutralized with a minute amount of blue gel paste. Place a single drop onto the edge of a knife, then dip the top of a whisk or spatula into the gel. Whisk or stir the base to disperse the color, and repeat as needed, stirring patiently between each addition to ensure the full color has developed. Use caution, as excess dye will produce a decidedly artificial color.
Cover and refrigerate the base until no warmer than 39°F (4°C), or cool to the same temperature in an ice bath; the time required will vary considerably depending on the technique, as well as the container style. Churn in an ice cream maker until thick, with a texture like soft-serve. Meanwhile, place a 1-quart container and flexible spatula in the freezer. When ice cream looks thick and light, shut off the machine and, using the chilled spatula, scrape ice cream into the prepared container. Enjoy as soft-serve, or cover with plastic pressed directly against surface of ice cream, then close lid and freeze until firm. In an airtight container, with the surface of the ice cream protected by a sheet of plastic, the ice cream will keep for up to one month in the freezer.
3-quart stainless steel saucier, non-reactive sieve, stainless steel mixing bowl, ice cream maker, non-reactive, freezer-safe container
If the pistachios have a weak flavor, or seem less than fresh, as evidenced by a mealy texture in the peeling phase, add a 1 1/4-inch sprig of rosemary (about 0.35g) and a 3/4- by 1/4-inch strip of orange or lime zest (0.15g) in with the dairy to steep. The herb and zest contain essential oils similar in composition to those found naturally in pistachio, and subtle use can help bring out the flavor in lackluster nuts.
With or without this addition, the milk-soaked pistachios leftover from the infusion can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to one week and used as a 1:1 replacement for the fresh pistachios called for in our pistachio paste. The color of the paste will be quite muted, but the flavor will still be rather toasty and bold.
Make-Ahead and Storage
In an airtight container, with the surface of the ice cream protected by a sheet of plastic, the ice cream will keep for up to one month in the freezer.