Every year on November 1, the Internet collectively explodes in a shower of “new/favorite/best make-ahead pumpkin-apple-cranberry-turkey-roasted-vegetable-mashed-potatoes-oh-and-don’t-forget-the-cocktails” recipes. And almost every year, I’m about three weeks late on sharing anything for the holiday, but not this time! This time, I have ice cream. Ice cream…with butter in it. You’re welcome.
This is not just any ice cream, but my new favorite best ice cream that’s perfect alongside a slice of warm apple pie. And yes, you can make it ahead, though I can’t guarantee you won’t need to make a second batch before Thanksgiving. In fact, best be safe and plan on making two batches.
Can I confess something? As crazy as everyone goes over salted butter caramel, I wish it wasn’t so sweet. And was maybe a little more salty. And a smidge more buttery. This ice cream is all that. It’s that toasty, nutty, caramelized flavor I love from the butter (incidentally, the same flavor that makes these my favorite chocolate chip cookies and these my favorite brownies) but without the toothache. And with just a little bit of vanilla? Perfection.
And while I’m stirring the proverbial hornet’s nest, I’ll argue that this is better than even the best vanilla ice cream alongside apple (or any) pie. Vanilla ice cream is so often the default with dessert because the flavor is somewhat neutral and doesn’t compete with the pie for center stage; here, the browned butter actually complements and elevates the flavor of a perfectly browned pie crust and juicy, cinnamon-y apples (or pumpkin, pecan, sweet potato–whichever is your pie of choice come November 26).
When it comes to styles of ice cream, I prefer just milk, sugar, cream, and flavorings (aka Philadelphia-style, aka the style that Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream has made so popular) instead of the more common egg-based custard. This allows the flavor of really good milk and cream (and, in this case, really good butter) to stand out. Plus I don’t end up trying to uncurdle half a dozen egg yolks (vanilla scrambled eggs are decidedly un-tasty) or trying to figure out what to do with the half-dozen leftover egg whites.
By the way, once you’ve melted the three sticks of butter and used the one tablespoon of butter solids in the ice cream, for the love of god and all that is holy, save the rest of the butter. It’s clarified butter (though with a slightly toastier flavor than what you’ll get in a jar at the store) and is spectacular in so many things. Like, oh, say, apple pie filling. Or a pan of roasting vegetables, or stirred into mashed potatoes. Or for basting your turkey. As if the ice cream itself wasn’t reason enough to make this, you have a great ingredient for the rest of your dinner too. You can thank me later.
Browned Butter Vanilla Ice Cream
Most ice cream makers require you to freeze the base at least 24 hours in advance. Recipe slightly adapted from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home.
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) cream cheese, softened
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 vanilla bean, split
In a saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat until bubbling. Continue cooking the butter until the solids at the bottom of the pan turn a caramel-y brown and the butter smells nutty. (The darker you can get the butter without burning it, the better the flavor will be.) Pour the butter, scraping any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, into a liquid measuring cup and set aside until the solids settle to the bottom of the cup, about 5 minutes. Pour the clear butter into a clean jar until only the solids and a little bit of butter are left in the measuring cup; you should have about 1 tablespoon.
In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of the milk. In another bowl, add the cream cheese and salt. Finally, in a saucepan, combine the remaining milk, cream, sugar, corn syrup, and butter solids. With the back of a knife, scrape out the inside of the vanilla bean; add the seeds and the pod to the pan. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil for 4 minutes, whisking regularly.
Remove pan from the heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch/milk mixture. Return to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, and boil for 1 minute, until thickened.
Pour a little of the thickened ice cream base into the cream cheese, stir to combine, and add it back to the rest of the mixture. Remove the vanilla pod.
To ensure the butter is distributed throughout the ice cream and to get rid of any little chunks of cream cheese, blend the ice cream base with an immersion or regular blender for 2 minutes. Pour the mixture into a 1 gallon freezer bag and submerge in an ice bath for at least 30 minutes or until the mixture is cold. Churn according to your ice cream maker’s directions, then freeze the ice cream for at least 4 hours.