For most of my life, I never got the point of butter pecan ice cream. It always seemed like less than the sum of its parts: wan pecans poking out of bland vanilla ice cream? No thanks. When I started making ice cream, recipes for butter pecan didn't give me much hope. Three tablespoons of butter per quart? One? I had my doubts that the results would be all that satisfying.
But I felt I owed butter and pecans—which have never failed me—the benefit of the doubt. So I threw out my preconceived notions of what butter pecan was in order to decide what it should be.
My investigations began, as many good things do, with a stick of butter. (This is butter pecan after all!) I went for a high-fat European butter for extra buttery goodness, and then stirred in a fair amount of brown sugar to make a butterscotch-like base. The result tasted good, but flat. It needed something nutty to draw out the pecaniness of the pecans, preferably with a savory kick to cut through all the sweetness. My answer? Miso paste. Intensely savory, rapturously nutty, and crazy delicious with butter. You don't taste a pronounced miso flavor once the custard's aged and churned, but it gives the ice cream the umph it needs. A touch of cinnamon and a splash of vanilla complete the story.
So here is butter pecan for those who want more out of their butter pecan. Sweet and salty, rich and super buttery. I consider myself converted.
Ethan Frisch is the chef and co-mastermind behind Guerrilla Ice Cream. 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 currently lives in London, where he really misses New York City tap water.
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.You can follow his ramblings on Twitter.
- Yield:8 to 10 (makes a generous quart)
- Active time: 45 minutes
- Total time:45 minutes, plus an overnight chill
- 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1 cup plus one tablespoon packed dark brown sugar, divided
- 3 cups half and half (or 1 1/2 cups cream and milk)
- 5 tablespoons shiro miso paste
- 6 egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 1/2 cups pecans
- Pinch of salt
In a large saucepan, melt 8 tablespoons butter over medium-low heat, then stir in brown sugar. Increase heat to medium-high and cook sugar until it just begins to smell toasted and smoky, 2 to 3 minutes. Add half and half and miso paste, whisking to combine. Bring to a bare simmer, whisking frequently.
While dairy mixture is heating, whisk egg yolks well in a medium bowl. When dairy just begins to bubble, add one third of mixture to yolks, one ladleful at a time, whisking constantly. Then transfer yolk mixture to saucepan and whisk to combine. Reduce heat to low.
Cook custard, stirring frequently, until it coats the back of a spoon and a swiped finger leaves a clean line. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla and cinnamon. Pour through a strainer into an airtight container and chill overnight before churning according to manufacturer's instructions.
While ice cream is churning, toast pecans in a large saucepan over medium-high heat with remaining tablespoon of butter and brown sugar. Stir frequently and cook until pecans smell toasted and darken slightly in color. Add salt to taste and set aside.
When ice cream is finished, transfer to a large airtight container or a bowl. Stir in pecans, then transfer to airtight container to chill for 4-5 hours; ice cream will be very soft out of the churn and needs time to set. Stir ice cream well before serving, as pecans may have sunk to the bottom.