Under The Wire...

Fall has been in the air for a while now, at least in regard to weather, but it doesn't officially begin until Friday, so I thought I'd squeeze in one last summer treat while I still could. Plus, I thought it would be only fair to give The Perfect Scoop one more go before my new ice cream book arrives in the mail and steals my attention. (And, if I'm totally honest, I had a quart of whole milk in the fridge leftover from my Cake Day cookies last week and my weekend foray into cinnamon bun baking that had a "sell-by" date of yesterday, and ice cream seemed like the logical way of disposing of it.)

Since I was in a time crunch, I wanted to make a recipe that I had all the ingredients on hand for, so the caramelized pear ice cream I've had my eye on for the past couple years got overlooked once more in favor of a maple nut ice cream. (I think though, that I might just have to make some seasonally inappropriate ice cream this fall though and give that caramelized pear ice cream a try, since I've been on a caramel kick this year.) I do love the flavor combination of maple and nuts, and I'm always looking for new recipes that feature that pairing. Though I was a bit skeptical about the "wet nuts" called for in the recipe (apparently they're a common East Coast ice cream topping, but are largely unknown here in the Midwest), mostly due to their rather unappetizing name, I figured I'd give it a try nevertheless.

Now that I'm well-practiced in the art of making egg-based custards, I found this recipe to relatively painless to produce. Even the wet nuts were simple, if maybe a bit time consuming due to the time needed to heat the oven, toast the nuts, then wait for the completed mixture to cool before churning the ice cream. This was my first experience adding mix-ins to an ice cream, but it was fairly straightforward, though I think in the future I might chill my mix-ins first, because adding the room temperature wet nuts to the cold ice cream seemed to raise its temperature. Since adding the nuts was the last step, the runnier ice cream didn't freeze quite as smoothly as normal because it wasn't as cold going into the freezer.

Even if the final product was a bit grainier than some of my other efforts, I still thought the flavor was good, on balance. Despite the huge amount of maple syrup in the recipe, the ice cream wasn't too sweet. I was also amazed at how crunchy the nuts stayed; they were nothing like the soft nuts that one finds in the average container of supermarket butter pecan ice cream. My only criticism is that I think I've decided, after making the eggless Philadelphia-style, Mexican "Hot" Chocolate Ice Cream this summer, that I think I prefer ice cream recipes that don't rely on egg custard bases. The flavor of the egg yolks stands out too much to me, and takes away from the purity of the flavors you're trying to showcase. Though I have a few more custard-based ice creams in my frozen dessert queue to try, I think I'm going to look for more egg-free recipes in the future.

Maple Nut Ice Cream with Wet Nuts
adapted from David Lebovitz

1 1/2 c. whole milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 c. heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
3/4 c. dark amber maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Wet Nuts (recipe follows)

Warm the milk and sugar in a medium saucepan. Pour the cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom of the pan as you stir, until it thickens and coats the back of the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream to cool. Add the maple syrup, salt, and vanilla, and stir until cool over an ice bath.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in the ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. During the last few minutes of churning, add the Wet Nuts.

Wet Nuts

1/2 c. plus 1 tablespoon dark amber maple syrup
1 1/2 c. walnuts or pecans, toasted
Big pinch of salt

Heat the maple syrup in a small saucepan until it just begins to come to a full boil. Stir in the nuts, then cook until the liquid comes to a full boil once more. Stir the nuts for 10 seconds, then remove from heat and let cool completely. The nuts will be wet and sticky when cooled.

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