Armed with my fancy new toy from Santa (with the appropriate attachments, of course!), I knew this week’s dessert simply had to be ice cream of some sort (despite the fact that its winter and below freezing. Hey, the fruit is seasonal, even if the dessert isn’t!). To be honest, my original plan was persimmons, but as luck would have it, this was the first week I couldn’t find any at the grocery store (foiled again!). Without so much as giving that a second thought though, it was on to my next fruit heart-throb as of late: pears. The last pear dessert I’d made was a tasty take on pears, so I wanted to have another go at caramelized pears. I took some notes on preparing a caramel ice cream, and from there, hoped that the pear dynasty would continue to reign supremely over my dessert course.
And oh it did. The ice cream was incredibly rich. There was a smooth caramel taste from start to finish with a really luxurious creaminess–almost buttery. There was a slight toasty, nuttiness to the ice cream, with the occasional crunch of a piece of pecan here and there. The pear taste was somewhat subtle, bringing something of a floral sweetness right behind all of the caramel sweetness, all wrapped up with a clean and refreshing lemon aftertaste. Texture-wise, this was silky smooth, creamy, with a really attractive tawny color. To sum it up: a very elegant bowl of ice cream. So long, store bought ice cream! This is also my entry for this month’s In the Bag.
- 1.5 cups sugar
- 6 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1.5 cups heavy whipping cream
- 2 cups whole milk
- 8 egg yolks
- 4 tsp vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- 4 Bosc pears
- 1/2 cup pecans
- 1 lemon
Set up a large bowl with about a cup or so of ice water. Set a medium-sized bowl in that one (so its standing/floating in the ice water). Pour 1 cup of whole milk in the inner bowl and set this aside.
Now, the first step is to make the caramel sauce. In a saucepan, pour in 1 cup of sugar and set it on high heat. Shake things up a bit every now and then to stir the sugar around, and somewhere shy of 10 minutes, the sugar should be almost completely caramelized. Before this happens, drop the heat down to medium and carefully incorporate 4 tablespoons of the butter (things will froth up, so don’t get burned!), whisking everything together.
Once fully mixed, carefully and slowly add 1 cup of the cream, whisking constantly. The caramel might seize (odd, tacky chunks will form), but just keep it on medium heat and keep whisking–peace and order will be restored soon enough. Once it is, add 1 cup of the whole milk, whisking until your arm is tired and everything is mixed and looking good. Keep this on the (medium) heat–we’ll return to it shortly.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (on a low speed, or just do it the old fashioned way with a bowl and whisk), beat the egg yolks and 1/2 cup of sugar until the color changes and it is well mixed. While still mixing, temper the yolks by scooping in a small amount of the hot caramel sauce. This is to let the yolks know what’s coming. Eggs don’t like surprises, and if you like ice cream, you give the eggs what they want. So give them a heads up. Temper, mix, and temper again, just to be nice.
Now that the yolk mixture has been tempered, pour the yolk mixture into the caramel sauce, whisking constantly. This is a dangerous period–the eggs are on heat, so keep it moving and don’t go for too long (you don’t want scrambling!). Keep this whisking until the mixture has thickened up some and bubbles are forming. Do not boil and do not walk away.
Once you’ve cooked this long enough (its hard to say in retrospect, but I would estimate it was under 5 minutes), pour the egg and caramel mixture through the strainer into the bowl of milk (which is seated in an ice bath–you want to calm that caramel down so the eggs don’t continue to cook). The strainer is to catch any bits of scrambled egg or hardened caramel that may have been lurking in there (so don’t skip it!).
Now, add in a bit more cream (at most, 1/2 cup), the vanilla, and salt, and whisk it all together. Remove the bowl from the ice bath, cover with plastic wrap, and put this in the fridge. Now, for probably the most exciting part of this whole process: wait. For like 8 hours. Really, and don’t cheat.
Now that we have a few hours to spare, on to the star of the show: the pears. Peel, core, and dice them up, so that they’re not super tiny, but manageable chunks (I wanted noticeable pear chunks in the final ice cream, and given that, mine were too small. If you want chunks, make your pieces bigger). You’re going to simmer them in hot caramel, so they’ll soften up and break down some more, but if they’re really big chunks, they won’t get as tender, and then you’re going to freeze it in your ice cream, which would be unpleasant to chew. Also take this opportunity to zest a lemon and dice that zest up finely. I found the lemon flavor was a bit too pronounced in the final product, so I would use at most 1/4 of the lemon’s worth of zest, if any zest at all (definitely use all of the juice, though).
Grab a wide pan and caramelize the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar on medium-high heat (it won’t take very long–so little sugar spread out thinly, so keep your eye on it). Once almost all of the sugar has caramelized (some minor chunks are ok), add in no more than 2 Tbsp of butter and whisk it all together. As the frothing calms down, carefully place the pears and zest in the caramel (be careful, it will froth up some more when you do). Finally, juice the lemon into the caramel as well. Simmer this on medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring periodically.
Now, heat up a dry pan (medium/medium-high heat), and throw in the pecans. Toss them around every 2 minutes or so. Around 5-10 minutes later (how convenient–they’re done around the same time as the pears), take the pecans off of the heat and pulse them in a food processor to grind them up somewhat finely but not entirely to powder–you want some texture. Mix the ground pecans into the caramelized pear mixture. Let it cool off a bit (caramel is hot!) and then pour into a container and refrigerate.
Once the countless hours of waiting have passed (at least 8!), finally, you can advance to the next step. Assemble your ice cream maker per instructions and get it cranking (for me, this meant keeping the attachment bowl in the freezer for 24 hours, and then, attach it, turn the mixer on the lowest speed) and pour in the custard batter. The caramelized pear mixture is still sitting in the fridge–leave it there.
After about 15-20 minutes of letting this churn, pour in the pear mixture. Let it churn for another minute or two and then transfer this entire mixture into an airtight container. Transfer to the freezer and give this at least 4 hours of quiet time so that the ice cream can ripen and become true ice cream (since right now, the texture doesn’t quite look ice cream like). Ideally, just let it sit in the freezer overnight and plan on having it tomorrow. You’ll be glad you did.
So now, finally, the moment is here. The ice cream is ready–put two or three scoops in a bowl and enjoy!