I don't think of ice cream as a seasonal thing. Let me clarify: I do think of ice cream flavors as seasonal things, but ice cream, as a general and cardinal food group, is very much a year-round treat for me.
To give you an example, I have just returned from Deauville in Normandy, wherein I attended the Omnivore Food Festival, a two-day event during which new-generation chefs demonstrate their craft onstage, and artisan vintners present their wines.
And in between demos and discussions that added a good dozen names to my restaurant dream list*, I felt compelled to sneak out and visit Martine Lambert's ice cream parlor: the Paris location is included in my book, but this is the original shop, and a bit of a pilgrimage destination for ice cream devotees.
It being February, overcast and misty, let us say there wasn't much of a line, yet I shed my mittens and dug into my cup of vanille paillettes de chocolat -- vanilla with flecks of chocolate -- and caramel au chaudron -- caldron-cooked caramel -- as I scampered back to the conference center. As the modern French expression goes, c'était une tuerie (~ it was killer). The caramel in particular, which had been pushed almost to the tipping point of bitterness: caramel should not be timid, and Martine Lambert certainly gets that.
This wintry ice cream fix suddenly reminded me of a truly rapturous ice cream I made some weeks ago and, inexplicably, failed to post about: it is a recipe for maple pecan ice cream, a French-style, custard-based ice cream flavored with maple syrup and studded with pecans. I hope you won't be scared off by the word "custard": I've included detailed instructions in the recipe below, and you will be fine, I promise. (I myself learned the technique for this type of ice cream in David Lebovitz's ice cream book; surely you've noticed I refer to it again and again, so I trust you've acquired your own copy by now?)
It is a typical winter ice cream, cuddly and smooth, that I prescribe you make at least once before spring. I definitely will, seeing as I've received a box of all-natural maple goods from Brien in Quebec, and can't wait to put them to good use.
* Especially Laurent Chareau's Le Chat in Villechaud, Emmanuel Renaut's Flocons de Sel in Megève, Mads Reflund's MR in Copenhagen, Stefano Baiocco's Villa Feltrinelli on the shores of the Lake Garda, and the Marcons' green restaurant in Saint-Bonnet-le-Froid.
Maple Pecan Ice Cream
- 240 ml (1 cup) milk (I used reduced fat, or lait demi-écrémé in French, because that's what I have on hand to make yogurt)
- 1 tablespoon raw cane sugar
- 100 grams (1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon) crème fraîche or heavy cream
- 3 egg yolks
- 80 ml (1/3 cup) maple syrup, the darker the better
- 1 good pinch sea salt
- 75 grams (3/4 cup) pecans, coarsely chopped
Makes about 1/2 liter (1/2 quart).
Heat the milk and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
While the milk heats up, put the cream in a medium mixing bowl with a pouring lip, and set a fine-mesh sieve over it.
Beat the egg yolks lightly in a second, heatproof medium bowl.
When the milk mixture is warm enough that you see steam rising from the surface, pour it very slowly into the yolks, whisking it in to prevent the yolks from cooking. Pour the whole thing back into the saucepan and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon and scraping the sides and bottom well, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of the spoon (i.e. if you draw your finger across the back of the spoon, it should leave a neat path).
Pour this mixture through the prepared sieve -- this will remove any lumpy bit of egg from the custard -- and whisk it into the cream. Add the maple syrup and salt, and whisk them in.
Put a half-dozen ice cubes in a larger bowl, nest the mixing bowl containing the custard in it, and pour cold water carefully into the larger bowl. (This is called an ice bath, and it helps cool liquids down more quickly, which is recommended for such egg-based mixtures.) Whisk the custard in the ice bath until cool, cover, and refrigerate until chilled. This can be prepared up to 12 hours ahead.
Churn in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions, adding the pecans when the ice cream is almost set.
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