While I usually try to shield myself from disturbing current events (“the bad news,” as I call it), one has piqued my interest: the recent maple syrup theft in Quebec. Besides being an unprecedented culinary tragedy, the honeyed heist also gives depth of meaning to my so-called Stolen Granola.
Questions abound: Who are the culprits? What was their motive? Will it affect my baking? Do they now find themselves in a sticky situation?
But most of it would disappear into an enormous batch of my latest ice cream addiction.
Every recipe I post on this site is one that feels complete, as good as it can possibly be, but this ice cream has received particularly high praise. Eyes widen as the first bite is taken; friends vigilantly watching their weight ask for seconds; Jay, who rarely enjoys ice cream on its own, will eagerly accept a bowl; and my chocophiliac sister asked me to make it for her birthday, which is unprecedented for a non-chocolate dessert.
In addition to the winning combination (I just accidentally typed “sinning combination”) of maple, bourbon and pecans, flaky salt crystals lodged within crunchy clusters of candied pecans enhance flavors. Salt plays beautifully with the earthy maple and sweetened nuts, and the crisp nuggets contrast their creamy surroundings. The pecans, enrobed in hardened caramel, stay crisp, quite unlike the soggy bits you may remember from store-bought Butter Pecan.
Best of all, this ice cream tastes intensely of maple, due to generous amounts of grade B syrup, which is darker in color and more richly flavored than grade A. It lends the cool cream a warmth of flavor, bridging the gap from summer to fall and whispering of winter holidays.
This ice cream also has the added bonus of being softly scoopable straight from the freezer. The sugars in the maple and the alcohol in the bourbon conspire to keep it pliant, the texture of Italian gelato kept at the proper (warmer) temperature.
This dessert needs no embellishment, but it wouldn’t hurt to add it to a slice of apple pie, or to serve it with a few crisp Maple Bacon Sugar Cookies.
Grade B maple syrup is darker and more flavorful than grade A, and will lend a more pronounced maple flavor, which is what we want here. This ice cream is best within the first week of churning when the candied pecans are crisp. After that, the hardened caramel melts and the pecans begin to soften; there are worse fates, though. If you like, save a few pretty pieces of the brittle to use as garnish.
Makes about 5 cups
Ice Cream Base:
3/4 cup maple syrup (preferably grade B)
1 cup half and half (or whole milk)
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons bourbon whiskey (such as Bulleit)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Salty Candied Pecans:
1 cup pecans, toasted, cooled, and broken into quarters or sixths
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon corn syrup
1 teaspoon butter
1/2 teaspoon flaky salt (such as Malden)
Make the ice cream base:
In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the maple syrup, half and half and fine salt. Heat over a medium flame, stirring occasionally, until the mixture starts to steam and small bubbles form around the edges. (If the mixture begins to look curdled, take it off the heat and don’t worry; it will smooth out in the next step. It’s just the acidity of the maple syrup having its way with the milk solids.)
Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl and place the bowl on a damp kitchen towel to anchor it. Place the cold, heavy cream in a heat-proof bowl and set a mesh sieve over the bowl.
Slowly dribble the hot milk mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the pot, place over a low flame, and cook, stirring constantly with a heat-proof silicone spatula, until the mixture begins to “stick” or form a film on the bottom of the pan, or reaches 170º. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, and pour the mixture through the strainer and into the cold cream. Stir to combine, then cover and chill until very cold, at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.
While the base chills, candy the pecans:
In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, add enough water to barely cover the bottom of the pan. Add the sugar to the center of the pot, moisten it evenly with the water, and wash any crystals that get on the sides of the pan down into the water. Add the corn syrup and cover the pot with a lid. Place the pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil until the sugar has dissolved.
Have the butter, salt and nuts measured and at the ready, and have a sheet of parchment paper or a baking sheet ready on which to dump the candied nuts.
Remove the lid from the pot, and, without stirring, boil the syrup until it reaches an amber caramel. (If the mixture begins to crystallize, you can save it by adding more water and beginning the caramelization process again.) Remove the pot from the heat and immediately swirl in the butter and salt, then add the nuts and stir quickly to coat with a heat-proof silicone spatula.
Dump and scrape the nuts out onto the parchment, and quickly separate the pieces with the spatula as much as possible. You can use your fingers when the mixture cools a little more, stretching it into fun shapes. Let the nuts cool, break or chop up any large clumps, then freeze the nuts while you…
Churn the ice cream:
Stir the bourbon and vanilla into the chilled ice cream base. Place the ice cream base in the freezer for half an hour to get it really cold, stirring it every 10 minutes to prevent ice crystals from forming.
Churn in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When the ice cream is the consistency of a thick milkshake, stir in the candied pecan pieces. Scrape the ice cream into a container, and freeze until scoopable, at least 4 hours.
The ice cream is best within a week of churning, but will keep for several months. Store with a piece of parchment paper pressed to the surface to prevent ice crystals from forming.