Close your eyes and think of pecan pie. What do you think of?
Something gooey, right? And sweet, sure. Is nutty the first thing that comes to mind? Probably not, but maybe it's the second or third. And then think about the crust—wait, does anyone really think about the crust in pecan pie?
I don't think so. Because when we talk about pecan pie, we're really talking about gooey filling tinged with molasses, and the textural contrast of chopped nuts.
Which makes me think that perhaps the best pecan pie isn't pie at all. Maybe it's ice cream. Because if you have a sweet creamy base flavored with vanilla and nuts, and swirl in a salty-sweet-gooey mix of brown sugar, molasses, and pecans, you get everything pecan pie is all about, without that pesky crust getting in the way. There's sweetness, creaminess, a touch of gooeyness, and just enough crunch to keep it interesting.
What's more, you have an opportunity to let the pecans really shine by steeping them along with a vanilla bean in your dairy for an hour before making your ice cream. This pecan pie ice cream tastes way more like pecans than molasses—when's the last time you could say that about the pie?
Note: Let the ice cream base firm up in the freezer for a few hours before adding the swirl, otherwise the swirl will integrate too much into the base and sink to the bottom of the container. When adding the swirl, fold it in just enough to distribute with a large spatula or spoon. Even with that precaution your pecans may sink towards the bottom of the container, so use one that's wide and shallow, and scoop deeply.
- Yield:makes about 5 cups
- Active time: 1 hour
- Total time:5 hours, plus an overnight chill
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup milk
- 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
- 2 cups (about 8 ounces) pecans, toasted and roughly chopped, divided
- 6 egg yolks
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 1/4 teaspoons Kosher salt, divided
- 1/2 cup light (clear) corn syrup
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons bourbon
For Pecan-Vanilla Ice Cream: Bring cream and milk to a simmer in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add vanilla and 4 ounces pecans, turn off heat, cover, and let steep for 1 to 2 hours.
Whisk egg yolks and granulated sugar together in a mixing bowl until thoroughly combined. Pour dairy through a fine mesh strainer into yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Whisk to combine and return mixture to saucepan. Discard pecans and vanilla bean. Cook dairy mixture over medium heat, whisking frequently, until a custard forms on the back of a spoon but a swiped finger leaves a clean line. Strain custard into an airtight container (preferably wide and shallow), stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, and chill overnight or at least 6 hours. The next day, churn in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Chill in freezer until firm but not totally solid, 2 to 3 hours.
For Bourbon Pecan Swirl: In a small, heavy saucepan, combine corn syrup, brown sugar, molasses, butter, and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt. Cook on low heat until all ingredients are combined and sugar is fully dissolved. Stir in remaining 4 ounces toasted pecans. Stir in bourbon and reduce heat to very low, keeping sauce just warm enough to stay mobile.
Using a large spoon or flexible spatula, quickly fold pecan swirl into ice cream, just enough to distribute without integrating swirl into base. Return to freezer to harden for 2 to 3 hours before serving. Pecan chunks may have settled to the bottom of the container, so scoop all the way to the bottom when serving.