It all happened one fateful summer afternoon last year. My car tires crunched over the bumpy gravel driveway that stretched across the red-and-white barn-style structure, standing stark against its green and brown grassy backdrop. I’d like to call it breathtaking; picturesque; idyllic; but really, it was more homely than not and juxtaposed beside a bustling miniature golf course that was peppered with exuberant kids and their parents even before lunch time. A life-sized plastic cow stood proudly perched atop the roof of the entrance, a not-so-subtle crack in the armor of romanticized farmland. The inside of the dairy store was…functional, white and uncluttered and with that distinct atmosphere of being just one generation out-dated. It was perfect.
We approached the counter packed with homemade ice cream, fresh from the farm’s own dairy stock, and I began the arduous task of making my selection. This was no cookie cutter ice cream shop, pushing the same flavors of Breyer’s I can find at my local supermarket and selling the experience of eating it in a bubble gum painted parlor. In typical fashion, I painstakingly narrowed it down to 2 flavors and asked to have them shoved into one small cup: butter pecan, a flavor that would have elicited a disgusted grimace from me as a child but peaked my interest so many years later, and some outrageous combination of chocolate ice cream, caramel swirls, and more chunks of chocolate — for good measure. I took my cup and my spoon, and walked with L out to the slanted and weathered picnic benches to the side of the shop. I took a bite, and knew immediately that I would not rest until I found a way to officially marry these two flavors into one.
There is something magical about a good, homemade ice cream recipe, any flavor, but there is something exponentially more wonderful about one that involves buttered pecans and chocolate pieces dancing around swirls of homemade caramel, cloaked in the greatest chocolate ice cream you can imagine. Really, there isn’t any point wasting your time with other chocolate ice creams, which are not truly chocolate flavored but rather something all in their own, a little dull and, I find, generally disappointing. This will not let you down. The caramel swirl should be thicker, a river that threatens to drown the pecans in its wake, but not before you get the perfect bite of salty-sweet, crunchy-creamy satisfaction you had every hope it would be, and is. Still, the flavor is there, unmistakable, and enough that one year later I still think of it and find myself unable to muster the enthusiasm for either chocolate or butter pecan alone.
Some things were just meant to be together.
The ice cream that makes you wonder why you ever bothered with butter pecan or chocolate separately.
- 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
- 3/4 cup water
- (heaping) 1/8 tsp salt
- 2 large eggs
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- 5 ounces chocolate chips
- Combine the brown sugar, water, and all but a pinch of salt to a medium saucepan. Stir as the sugar dissolves and it comes to a boil. Once boiling, let it continue to boil for 2 minutes.
- Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a separate bowl and add 1/2 cup of the caramel mixture you just made. Refrigerate the remaining 1 cup of caramel for later.
- Transfer the egg-caramel mixture to a double boiler and stir until it reaches 175 degrees. Do not let it boil.
- Stir in half of the butter and all of the cocoa powder until melted and fully incorporated. Strain and refrigerate until well-chilled.
- Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the pecans in a skillet and toast until fragrant. Season with a pinch of salt and remove from the heat to cool. When cooled to room temperature, transfer to the freezer to chill.
- Mix the whole milk and vanilla into the egg-caramel base.
- Whip the heavy cream using an electric mixer until soft peaks form, then fold into the egg base.
- Pour the entire base into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's directions.
- With about 2 minutes left, add the pecans and chocolate chips. After another minute, add in the caramel just to combine. (Be careful! The mixture might threaten to overflow at this point.)
- The mixture will be very much like soft serve at this point. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze for several hours to firm up further, if desired.
nutrition information: 342 calories. 22g fat (11g saturated). 75mg cholesterol. 59mg sodium. 35g carbohydrates (1g fiber, 31g sugar). 4g protein.