I'd never heard of Coke and peanuts until my friend and inveterate Southerner at Large Jed Portman clued me in. The idea goes something like this: open a bottle of Coke (always a bottle, though not always Coke, if you heed the dissenters), take a few swigs to make some head room, then dump in a sleeve of salty peanuts. Sip, guzzle, and chew the mess down. It's good with whiskey, too.
I'm as Yankee as they come, but I know a good idea when I see one, and the sweet, fizzy drink meets salty snack mash-up is a good one indeed. Once you accept that the Coke functions as a rootsy, molasses-tinged caramel to coat the peanuts in a way not unlike that northern ballpark snack, the concept goes down easier. But my question last weekend went further: could the combination make the transition to ice cream?
"The combination is as much about the snap of the peanuts and the fizz of the Coke as the flavor."
So I started peppering Jed, who's an outspoken advocate for this fast-slipping tradition, with questions about just what such a frozen dessert should taste like. It should be clean and light, he said, but also intensely nutty, with plenty of salt to go along with the sweetness. "The combination is as much about the snap of the peanuts and the fizz of the Coke as the flavor." A tall order indeed.
This recipe took a few attempts, none of which tasted bad, because hey, peanut butter desserts are generally great, but they didn't capture the inimitable faux-caramel-with-peanuts flavor I was after, nor the balance of clean, light flavors with creamy, satisfying ice cream. But the end result is dead-simple: a bottle (or can) of Coke, some smooth peanut butter, a little corn syrup for smoothness, and plenty of salty peanuts. It's a dairy-free sorbet, but it scoops and tastes like an ice cream, though with no milk or cream to distract you from the essential peanuts-and-Coke-ness that it captures. Though there is one trick: a touch of molasses that gives the Coke a boost against all that creamy peanut butter.
The result is smooth and ice-free, creamy and nutty but still clean and refreshing, with salty peanut chunks to keep your molars occupied. The peanut base doesn't taste diluted at all, and the Coke adds deep, almost medicinal flavors to balance out the sweetness. If you didn't tell someone about the Coke they probably wouldn't guess it was there, but they'd be intrigued, and ready for another spoonful right after the first.
To preemptively answer two questions: no, you should not reduce your Coke in a saucepan to intensify the flavor, and yes, this recipe calls for plain 'ol American Coke with corn syrup, not its sugarized Mexican cousin. As with fruit, cooking soda kills its aromatic subtleties and fizzy freshness. And if you insist on only using sugar-sweetened soda—despite the corn syrup in this recipe—you should be fine. But you may want to reconsider if you'll taste the difference anyway.
If you'll indulge me, I have one more question for Jed: When can I expect to see an egg cream ice cream in your magazine? Those disappearing soft drink traditions need to stick together.