Roasted Cherry Vanilla Ice Cream with Bourbon and Chocolate

Like many teenagers before us, my best friend and I ate unconscionable amounts of gelato while traveling through Europe many years ago. Each gelateria boasted more exotic flavors than the last, and you had to try them then and there lest you never find that particular one again.

My friend always gravitated toward the fruity flavors, usually ending up with a cone of ruby red berry sorbet and ivory yogurt gelato. I, on the other hand, unfailingly went for the most rich, chunky, decadent flavors; the gelati that oozed with caramel, dripped with fudgy swirls, and were studded with chunks of cookies, chocolate and nuts.

It is said that the dessert world is divided into two camps: chocolate people and fruit people. I realized then that although I may have no longer fit into my pants, I did fit firmly into the former category.

This explained why, as a child, I would always take a Milky Way over a pack of Jolly Ranchers; why I eschewed Cherry Garcia for Coffee Heath Bar Crunch. The world finally made sense.

To this day, I tend to favor earthy flavors and fragrances over their fruity counterparts. Caramel, chocolate, vanilla, coffee, brown butter and aged spirits all make me weak in the knees.

I’ve tried many times over the years to make fruit-based ice creams, but I never really loved the results. Whereas flavors like Irish Coffee, Mint Chip and Cacao Nib get demolished in minutes, fruit-based ice creams, sorbets and frozen yogurts invariably hang out in the back of the freezer until, needing to clear out space, I puree them into breakfast smoothies.

But! Carey’s Roasted Apricot Buttermilk Ice Cream with Almond Streusel provided the inspiration to brave another fruit-based ice cream. I decided to compromise and add a healthy dose of earthy flavors: vanilla, bourbon, and chocolate flecks. I found a lovely recipe from The Craving Chronicles that I adapted only slightly by reducing the quantity so that it would fit in my ice cream maker, and adding more bourbon.

I adapted my favorite Dreamy Vanilla Ice Cream, made slightly less rich to compensate for the booze which lowers the freezing point. Some bourbon goes in the ice cream base, while some gets combined with cherries that have been roasted in a touch of sugar and still more bourbon. I found that churning the ice cream solo and stirring in the chilled cherry goop made the prettiest ice cream, with swirls of burgundy against ivory cream flecked with black vanilla seeds. I then employ David Lebovitz’s messy yet oh so fun “scribble” method for incorporating the chocolate (which I call the “Jackson Pollock” method in order to prove that my BA in Art History wasn’t a complete waste of time and money). This results in uneven chocolate bits that melt pleasurably on the tongue.

Roasting the cherries rids them of the excess water that likes to freeze into icy bits, and steeping them in bourbon helps to keep them even softer in the finished product. The roasted cherry and bourbon compote is worth making on its own; it would be delectable spooned over crepes, worked into a fool or trifle, or simply spooned over vanilla ice cream or sweetened yogurt. The slight booziness and concentrated cherry flavor reminds me of Marachinos, only much, much better.

It still took me three tries to get this ice cream just right, with a creamy, full flavor, a detectable level of booze that still allowed the ice cream to set, and ruby bits of cherries that stay soft and gooey. As a result, we now have three quarts of ice cream living in our freezer. When I explained this to my friend Vanessa, she said, “Ah – three days worth of ice cream.” I like the way she thinks.

This ice cream will satisfy both the fruit and chocolate dessert people in your life. I’m pretty sure my fruit-loving best friend would dig it, and, well, it turns out I’m just as much a sucker for chunky, gooey ice creams now as I was 12 years ago. The bourbon keeps the ice cream soft and pliant straight from the freezer, making it a little too easy to help oneself to a bite or six at various times throughout the day. At least, unlike at a fickle European gelatria, I can have this ice cream as often as I like.

Boozy ice creams:

Maple Bourbon Ice Cream with Salty Candied Pecans
Irish Coffee Ice Cream

Very cherries:

Apricot Cherry Fold-Over Pie
Sweet Cherry Manhattans
Cherry Marzipan Scones

One year ago:

Black Sesame Granola

Two years ago:

Plow’s Ricotta Pancakes

Three years ago:

Saffron Risotto with Spring Vegetable Ragout

Roasted Cherry Vanilla Ice Cream with Bourbon and Chocolate

Inspired by Carey’s Roasted Apricot Buttermilk Ice Cream with Almond Streusel, Carey’s Chocolate, Roasted Cherry, and Salted Almond Ice Cream, and adapted from Craving Chronicles’ Roasted Cherry Vanilla Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate

You can substitute whole milk for the half and half for a lighter ice cream, if you like. I use Bulleit bourbon, though I think a rye whiskey would be quite nice as well. If you don’t have a vanilla bean, you can add 1-2 tablespoons vanilla extract along with the bourbon, to taste. Scharffen Berger’s bittersweet chocolate, with a cacao mass of 70%, is superb here; mild and nutty against the delicate cherry, vanilla and bourbon notes, and not too sweet. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, see David Lebovitz’s post on making ice cream without one.

Great ways to use up those extra egg whites are: Brown Butter Coconut Almond Macaroons, Pistachio Chocolate Torte, Corn and Cheddar Spoonbread, and Buckwheat Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake.

Makes about 1 quart

Roasted Bourbon Cherries:
12 ounces sweet cherries
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons bourbon, divided use

Vanilla Bourbon Ice Cream Base:
1 1/4 cups half and half
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
1/2 cup organic cane sugar
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 large egg yolks
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons bourbon
4 ounces (1 scant cup) bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao mass), coarsely chopped

Make the roasted bourbon cherries:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450ºF. Spread the cherries in a single layer in a small, rimmed baking dish or pan. Sprinkle with the sugar and 1 tablespoon of the bourbon. Roast the cherries in the oven, giving the pan a shuffle every 5 minutes, until they are oozing juice and beginning to collapse and look like prunes, about 15 minutes. Watch them closely so that the juices don’t burn. Remove from the oven and let cool.

When the cherries are cool enough to handle, pit them (I did this with my fingers, breaking each cherry in half and removing the pit). Be sure to save all the precious juice. Chop the cherries coarsely – you want them in roughly quarters or eighths. (This can be messy, so wear an apron!) Combine the chopped cherries, their juice, and the remaining 2 tablespoons of bourbon in a jar and chill.

Make the vanilla bourbon ice cream base:
In a medium saucepan, warm the half and half with the vanilla bean pod and scrapings over medium heat until it steams and small bubbles form on the bottom of the pan, swirling occasionally. Remove from the heat, cover the pot, and let steep for 30-60 minutes.

Add the sugar and salt, and re-warm the half and half until steamy hot, swirling to dissolve the sugar.

Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl, and set the bowl on a damp towel. Place the heavy cream in a heatproof medium bowl and set a fine mesh strainer over the top.

Whisking constantly, dribble the hot half and half mixture into the egg yolks. Pour the mixture back into the pot and set it over a low flame. Stir the custard constantly with a heat-proof silicone spatula, scraping the bottom and corners of the pot well, until the custard thickens slightly and/or registers 170º on an instant-read thermometer. This will only take a few minutes.

Immediately strain the custard into the cold cream. Return the vanilla pod to the custard, and chill until very cold, at least 4 hours and (preferably) overnight or up to 2 days.

Churn the ice cream:
Stir the bourbon into the cold ice cream base. Remove the vanilla pod (you can rinse it, let it air-dry, and stick it in a bottle of booze or a jar of sugar). Place the ice cream base in the freezer for 30 minutes to get it really cold, stirring once halfway through. Place the cherries in the freezer, too, along with a 9×5 metal loaf pan (or a vessel of equal size that will hold your finished ice cream).

Meanwhile, place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl, and set the bowl over a pot of steaming (not simmering) water, stirring occasionally until it is completely melted. Keep the chocolate warm.

Churn the ice cream base in your ice cream maker until it is the texture of a thick milkshake; it will take a little longer than usual due to the alcohol. Gently swirl in the chilled bourbon cherries and their liquid. I like to do this by hand with a spoon, so that the ice cream retains a marbled look of burgundy streaks on white, rather than becoming uniformly pink.

Finish the ice cream:
If the ice cream is soft and difficult to deal with, or if it becomes this way during the chocolate scribbling process, stick it in the freezer for 20 minutes or longer, until it’s cold enough to behave itself.

Make sure your chocolate is warm and runny (but not hot). Working quickly to minimize ice cream meltage, spread about one quarter of the ice cream into the pan. Use a teaspoon to drizzle thin ribbons of about one quarter of the chocolate over the ice cream. Repeat with another layer of ice cream, then chocolate. Continue until you’ve used up all the ice cream, ending with a final layer of chocolate drizzle.

Place the ice cream in the freezer to harden; this will take about 4 hours or overnight. Once hardened, transfer the ice cream to an airtight container. It will keep for several months.

47 thoughts on “Roasted Cherry Vanilla Ice Cream with Bourbon and Chocolate”

  1. This looks delicious! Thanks for putting all your hard work into perfecting the recipe… The photos are gorgeous; beautiful post all round. :)

  2. Growing up, I was definitely a fruit girl…I've found that my tastes have shifted more towards the chocolate in recent years (but I still have a fond place for fruit in my heart)! This ice cream though looks like it could win over both sides of the debate. Just heavenly!

    1. Thank you, Monet! My tastes have shifted, too – I'll almost always order a seasonal fruit dessert at a restaurant over a chocolate one. But apparently my taste in ice cream is still the same. :)

  3. Love your spin on this recipe! More bourbon is always a good thing in my book. I'll have to try your version sometime. That's still one of my all-time favorite ice cream flavors and this is the perfect time of year for it :)

    1. It's definitely one of my favorite ever ice creams, too; my sweetie and my friends are all going gaga for it as well. Thank you for such a perfect base recipe – I was really happy to find it, as well as the rest of your beautiful site!

  4. God, this ice cream is TOO gorgeous!! The chocolate people vs. fruit people is so true, although I think I may have actually started to flip-flop! When I was little, it was 100% chocolate anything all the time. (Although I did have a crippling addiction to grape jolly ranchers. Artificial grape-flavored anything, really. I still love it!) I have branched out a lot during the past couple years, working with fruits in desserts that I would have wanted nothing to do with as a kid. And now I tend to gravitate towards less chocolatey desserts, which is kind of bizarre to me. (I still always go for either chocolate or black raspberry soft serve, though, loaded in chocolate sprinkles!)

    I really loved that chocolate + roasted cherry ice cream that I made last year, but I can kind of imagine how this one tastes, and I'm pretty sure it's even more heavenly! :D I mean, cherry + vanilla + bourbon is basically flavor combo perfection. And the cherry in the chocolate ice cream just kind of enhanced the chocolate flavor, whereas the vanilla against the cherry would be much more complementary, and really let the cherry flavor sing. And then the bourbon and the chocolate chips…yes! Our natural foods market is flooded with cherries at the moment, and I'm definitely grabbing a bunch so I can make this ASAP!

    1. Thanks, Carey!!! You are a huge photographic inspiration to me, so that makes me all verklempt–though I question your taste in Jolly Ranchers. ;) Black raspberry soft serve with chocolate sprinkles sounds killer!

  5. Wow wow WOW! This is really good ice cream. I used a combo of Ranier and red BC cherries That I soaked in Scotch whiskey as I didn't have bourbon. The only dark chocolate I had in the pantry was a mocha bean bar which turned out to be really complimentary. I'm so happy my husband doesn't like cherries! More deliciousness for me!

  6. I just discovered your blog via Pinterest. I think I'm in love (in a purely culinary/platonic sorta way). This is a must-try. Chocolate, cherries, bourbon and vanilla? In gelato form? There is no way this can go wrong–even if it doesn't fully freeze, it will make the best damned frappe on the planet.

  7. since you like bourbon and chocolate, you might like my recipe for chocolate bourbon. time consuming, but worth it.

    infuse a fifth of bourbon (i use american distillery's) with 3/4 cup cocoa nibs and a vanilla beans in a glass jar. store in a cool dry place for three weeks. strain off the nibs. the bourbon will taste a smell harsh and a bit sour, but wait a week (2's better:), then filter and decant

    the nibs retain a fair about of flavor, dry them and repurpose.

    1. Woah, you are blowing my mind here! That sounds like my dream come true. I can't even imagine how good that would be in this ice cream. Thank you for sharing your recipe, Lynn!

    2. sorry for the typos; at least the context was clear:)

      re this bourbon in the ice cream: my thoughts exactly. as soon as i work off some of the holiday excess, i'm going to try a version i saw on nigella: beat together 2 cups heavy cream and a can of sweetened condensed milk until soft peaks form, add some vanilla (and bourbon), then the cherries. can go right in the freezer; no machine required.

  8. I found your blog looking for some recipes to use my cherries in. In May… I dreamt away my entire exam period excited for summer and fall, while ogling all those wonderful photos and creative components in your recipes. I did, instantly, fall madly in love with this one. I have now spent, oh so much time and money on recreating it. Wearing protective "wasp-gear" (only got stung once, yay me!) to pick cherries, bake and pit and chop and freeze (yeez, i cant make everything at once). Bought an ice-cream machine on ebay from UK and had it shipped to Norway. And no. We do not have the same power outlet so here I got the chance to discover my electrical abilities. I then made the mix yesterday, chilled it until today and about 5 minutes ago I tasted the greatest thing to ever come out of my kitchen. And I am not a very bad cook. I used my favorite irish whisky, Bushmills (highly recommended!) and just went crazy. I really hope I will get many chances to recreate as many of your recipes as possible. This is, without a doubt, the best food blog I have ever come across. Thank you thank you Thank You! :) Malene in Norway

    1. You braved wasps to make my recipe? You're a star! This is the nicest comment anyone has ever left on my site – thank you thank you thank you!! I'm so glad to know you're enjoying it so much – my week is made. :D

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