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Aw, Nuts: Ice Cream’s Texture Gets a Boost

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chocolatewithnuts1When I was a kid, a trip to Baskin-Robbins was a big treat because I got to choose some sort of exotic ice cream that went beyond the generic choc-van-straw we would get at home.

My two favorites were always Jamoca Almond Fudge and the unnaturally colored Pistachio Almond, largely because they both had nuts, which were a luxury item all those years ago. They are still luxurious in ice cream, as are buttered pecan, which polls have shown to be almost as popular as No. 1 vanilla and No. 2 chocolate.

Nuts offer more than flavor to ice cream. If that’s all you wanted, you could just add almond extract and be don’t with it, right? Nuts offer texture, something crunchy and rough to complement the smoothness of the cream.

Another plus is that nut don’t freeze the way that fruit chunks do.

They remain an appealing addition to ice cream, but a few modifications are called for. No green food coloring in the pistachio is a big plus. And no chemically flavored chocolate syrup gumming up the chocolate almond is another.

If you’re really nuts for nuts, like I am, you can take the finished ice cream and roll it in more crushed almonds, pecans or pistachios.

Here are three nutty recipes that are easy to make and worth the wait until the ice cream has ripened.

Play around with all three and tailor them to your taste.

chocolatewithnuts2Add some shredded coconut to the chocolate almond. If you use toasted almonds, add a light touch of cinnamon. Add a little extra cocoa powder to give the ice cream a dark chocolate flavor; or subtract a little if you want a milk chocolate flavor.

Add caramel syrup at the end of the pecan mixture to give it a praline-type flavor. Adding cajeta is another winning combination. Or top the finished product with toasted coconut.

If you like the combination of pistachio-almond, add some almond extract to the cream mixture or some almonds to the pistachio paste. This recipe below is for a gelato, not an ice cream. If the occasionally greasy or slick texture of some gelati isn’t to your liking, blend the egg-cream base of the Chocolate Almond recipe with the pistachio paste.

Chocolate Almond Ice Cream

4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 cupĀ  sugar
2 cups heavy cream or half-and-half
1 1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup cocoa powder sifted
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup toasted almonds

Beat eggs, and add sugar, whisking until the sugar dissolves. Scald the cream and milk. Slowly add 1 cup of the dairy mixture to the eggs mixture to temper the eggs.

Add the egg mixture back to the remaining milk mixture. Stir in cocoa, heat just to steaming. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and almond extract.

Chill for 4 hours.

Pour into freezer container. Add toasted almonds. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to freeze the ice cream.

Adapted from

Butter Pecan Ice Cream

2 cups pecans (1/2 pound), finely chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
4 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Toast pecans in a shallow baking pan in middle of oven until fragrant and a shade darker, 7 to 8 minutes. Add butter and salt to hot pecans and toss until butter is melted, then cool pecans completely (they will absorb butter).

Whisk together brown sugar and cornstarch, then add eggs, whisking until combined. Bring milk and cream just to a boil in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat, then add to egg mixture in a stream, whisking constantly, and transfer custard to saucepan.

Cook custard over moderately low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until thick enough to coat back of spoon and registers 170 to 175 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 2 to 3 minutes (do not let boil).

Immediately pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and stir in vanilla, then cool, stirring occasionally. Chill custard, its surface covered with wax paper, until cold, at least 3 hours.

Freeze custard in ice cream maker until almost firm. Stir together ice cream and pecans in a bowl, then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden.


Pistachio Gelato

The following recipe comes from David Lebovitz, a celebrated pastry chef and author of “The Perfect Scoop.” Unlike many ice cream recipes, this one does not use eggs. And there’s a reason for that, he says: “The main advantage is that not using eggs means the flavor’s focused squarely on the pistachio with nothing to distract from those perfect scoops of it. Except your spoon.”

2 cups whole milk, divided use
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup sugar
7 ounces Bronte pistachio paste (see note)
A few drops of lemon or orange juice

Make a slurry by mixing the 1/4 cup of the milk with the cornstarch, mixing until the starch is dissolved and the mixture is smooth.

Heat the rest of the milk in a medium-sized saucepan with the sugar.

When it almost starts to boil, stir in the cornstarch mixture and cook at gentle simmer for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat, scrape into a bowl, and chill thoroughly, preferably overnight.

Once chilled, whisk in the pistachio paste and just a few drops of citrus juice until smooth.

Freeze the gelato in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Note: When buying pistachio paste, look for one that’s at least 40 percent pistachios. And if ordering online, don’t confuse it with a liquore called Crema di Pistacchio di Bronte, which is a drink. Pistachio paste is not available at Central Market, Whole Foods or Williams Sonoma locally, so if you want to make your own, see the recipe below.

Makes about 3 cups.

From David Lebovitz

Pistachio Paste

This is the pistachio version of almond paste. If you want your paste to not be green, soak the pistachios overnight, and then remove the skins with a tea towel. If you leave the skins on, you end up with a product whose color can best be termed “unfortunate.” On the other hand, if you are using pistachio paste in a recipe and want the end product to be green, you might want to leave the skins on.

1/3 cup pistachios
1/3 cup powdered sugar
2-4 tablespoons water

Grind the pistachios in a food processor for 1-2 minutes, until it’s a near fine powder. Add the sugar and incorporate into the nuts.

This step is critical. Add water to mixture in the processor, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the paste has the consistency of marzipan. You want to err on the side of too little water rather than too much. The paste should not look liquidy, and should be easily held and shaped when in your hand.


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