Polish-Jewish background aside, I was raised in a house of Irish coffee. Sunday nights a few family friends usually came over to share good laughs and gargantuan steaks—and, of course, some hooch. My father is a dedicated Scotch aficionado, and many of these dinners began and ended with a wee dram. Those meal-ending sips were more often than not stirred into Irish coffees, served in specially reserved glasses and topped with snow caps of freshly whipped cream. Irish coffee epitomized indulgent nightcaps for me, so it was only a matter of time before I set out to capture it in ice cream form.
It has buttery, smoky caramel, a dash of coffee grinds, and a generous helping of whisky for good measure. It's a bracing combination, but oh does it work. First you taste the coffee, roasted and rich, with the pleasant bitterness of an actual cup of joe. Then comes the caramel to sweeten things up just a tad, melting to sweet buttery goodness. Then the whisky: the more ice cream you eat, the more you taste it. I used a couple shots of Jameson: it's rich like caramel but surprisingly light and doesn't overwhelm the other ingredients.
The mix-ins here are like those plops of whipped cream: totally unnecessary, but totally delicious. Besides reinforcing the roasted, buttery notes of this ice cream, candied pecans and shaved dark chocolate help fight the good fight of sweetness in a custard with plenty of kick. How you do mix-ins is of course up to you. I kept the pecans whole and used them as a garnish, but you can just as well chop them up and add them to the ice cream while churning. Nuts not your thing? You could do a lot worse than chocolate-covered pretzels or coffee beans.
- Yield:makes 1 quart
- Active time: 1 hour
- Total time:5 to 6 hours, or overnight
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pats
- 3 cups half-and-half (or 1 1/2 cup each cream and whole milk)
- 1 teaspoon medium grind coffee
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt, to taste
- 4 tablespoons Scotch or Irish whiskey (recommended: Jameson)
- 6 egg yolks
- 2 ounces dark chocolate, about 70% cacao, shaved fine with a vegetable peeler and chilled in freezer
- 1/2 cup candied pecans, chilled in freezer
Add sugar to a three quart saucepan with enough water to just moisten sugar, about 1/4 cup. Place on high heat and bring to a boil. Let caramel form and darken, rotating pot if hot spots form. When caramel has turned dark amber and starts to smoke, turn off heat and stir in butter with a wooden spoon. Caramel will bubble, so watch for steam.
When butter is fully integrated, add half-and-half in a steady stream and stir to combine. Caramel will bubble high and steam. When dairy is fully incorporated, add coffee. If caramel seizes up, stir it on low heat until it dissolves.
In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks well until lemony in color and thickened. Add a ladle of caramel mixture to yolks, whisking constantly. Repeat until bottom of bowl is warm to touch. Transfer yolk mixture to pot and whisk to combine.
Return pot over medium-low heat and cook, whisking frequently, until a custard forms on a spoon and a finger swiped across the back leaves a clean line, or until custard temperature reaches 170°F. Stir in whiskey and salt to taste.
Strain custard through a fine mesh strainer and chill in either ice bath or refrigerator until it is very cold, about 40°F. Churn in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions, adding chocolate shavings and pecans in last minute of churning, then transfer to an airtight container and to harden in freezer for at least 4 hours before serving.