The older I get the more I find there are two types of people in this world. Those who like walnuts. And those who cast them off as chalky, wrinkly little bastards. (Not my words.)
Who consider their presence abhorrent. A good brownie, spoiled. A chocolate chip cookie gone bad.
To all the he-man walnut haters, I say: feel free to substitute pecans. The point is, do not let this prevent you from making this ice cream. You’ll get a ballet slipper beige cream with brick red flecks from the piment d’Espelette, a delicate chile with a subtle heat, said to have hints of peach and sea.
I find the walnut’s tannins a welcome contrast to the heavily steeped cinnamon. And they convince me of this further once buttered and generously salted. The ice cream does have a little kick to it, so feel free to play with the spices. Just don’t nix the nuts.
Call me crazy, but I think it’s a dessert even a walnut-hater could love.
Cinnamon Piment d’Espelette Ice Cream with Buttered Walnuts
Inspired by Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home
for the ice cream base
2 cups whole milk
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp cornstarch
1¼ cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp brown rice syrup
1½ ounces cream cheese, softened
pinch kosher salt
½ tsp ground piment d’Espelette
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 cinnamon stick
pinch of smoked paprika (optional)
for the buttered walnuts
¾ cup walnut halves
1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
½ tsp sea salt
In a medium saucepan, pour in the whole milk. Take out about 2 tbsp of milk and mix with the cornstarch in a small bowl; set aside. Add the cream, sugar, and brown rice syrup to the saucepan with the milk. Bring to a rolling boil over medium heat and then let boil for 4 minutes.
Remove the hot mixture from the heat, whisk in the cornstarch slurry, and return to the heat until it thickens slightly, stirring occasionally with a rubber spatula (1 to 2 minutes). Meanwhile, whip the cream cheese until smooth (this can be done with a wire whisk).
Gradually whisk the cream cheese into the milk until smooth (be sure the cream cheese is at room temperature or it will never fully incorporate). Add the salt, piment, ground cinnamon, cinnamon stick, and paprika. Allow to steep for 30 minutes (or until desired level of spice is achieved). I wanted a little more cinnamon flavor, so 30 minutes was perfect for me, but this will depend on your preference and the strength of your spices, so start tasting after 15 minutes.
Once at the desired level of cinnamon, remove the stick and allow to cool. (You can speed up this process by setting the ice cream in a bowl that has been set in a larger bowl filled with ice.) Allow to chill overnight in the fridge.
To prepare the nuts, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the nuts in the butter and salt and spread on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes (or until toasted and fragrant), turning once during the baking. Let cool completely and then seal in an airtight container.
Pour the ice cream base into the frozen canister of an ice cream maker and spin until the ice cream starts to form a ribbon and pull away from the sides of the bowl; add in the buttered nuts during the last minute of the spinning. Pack the ice cream into a freezer-safe container and seal with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit roughly the size of the lid. Cover and allow to freeze at least 4 hours before eating.
Makes about a quart
-I only had brown rice syrup, which I think I might actually prefer to the corn syrup that is usually called for with Jeni’s ice cream bases. (It’s a little less sweet.)
-The nuts will almost taste too salty on their own. But you’ll need this salt to come through the cold ice cream.
-In addition to pecans, another potentially interesting walnut substitute could be peanuts.