Brown Butter Bliss


Brown Butter Ice Cream


Have I ever told you how I feel about ice cream? I mean, really feel about it? No? Oh good, I’m glad there are still some secrets between us.

Here’s the deal. There are plenty of things I love – pizza, dark chocolate and dry-cured olives, for example – but all of these have their time and place, and sometimes they just aren’t what I feel like eating. Not so with ice cream – I don’t think I have ever not felt like eating it. I’ve had this near-obsessive relationship with ice cream as long as I can remember, and even attempted to cure myself of it long ago by spending a summer scooping it for a living. It didn’t work, obviously; being elbow-deep in it every day only made me love it that much more. I’ve eaten ice cream in more places and flavors than I can count, from chewy dondurma in Turkey that refused to melt in the noonday sun to garlic ice cream at a festival in Oregon that caused my poor husband to almost lose his lunch as I scraped the bowl clean (hey, it was good!). Then, of course, there have been multiple trips to Italy where somehow I’ve convinced myself that it is totally acceptable to eat ice cream four (or more) times a day. The single biggest indicator of how much I love it, though, is that of all the food businesses I’ve contemplated over the years, the only one I could actually see myself opening is some kind of ice cream shop. Something about the rhythm of days spent gently heating cream and pureeing fruit just appeals to me like nothing else, and imagining the limitless palate of flavors I could paint onto a pot of custard – sweet corn ice cream! rosemary ice cream! – sets me to daydreaming for hours.

That’s not to say I’ve only daydreamed about unusual ice creams. Over the past few years all kinds of weird and wonderful flavors have taken up residence in my freezer, though admittedly some were quite a bit more weird than wonderful. Many of the best you’ve heard about, things like lemongrass, nutmeg and crème fraîche, and strawberry-balsamic. Others weren’t quite so successful, like the chocolate-olive oil which came out horribly bitter and chalky, or the black pepper which tasted eerily like a sweet béchamel sauce. Then there was the brown butter, which I had such high hopes for. You see, I’m almost as crazy about brown butter as I am about ice cream, and so naturally I figured that a combination of the two would produce something spectacular. The flavor was great, in fact, but that was mostly disguised by the fact that the butter separated out during the freezing process, forming hard little globules that kind of crunched under my teeth and gave me the impression I was eating frozen buttercream frosting. Ooh, I feel a bit sick just remembering.

But then… I stumbled across the recipe for brown butter ice cream in Jennifer McLagan’s new book Fat, and in an instant everything was illuminated. You see, she had the exact same problem as I did, but she found the solution. She experimented with different ways of blending the ingredients until she discovered that by emulsifying the warm butter into the egg yolks before cooking – the same technique you use when making mayonnaise – everything holds together. It’s a stroke of genius! And it really works. This is one of the smoothest, creamiest ice creams I’ve ever made – and more than that, it’s one of the best ice creams I’ve ever had. It’s soft and silky even after days in the freezer (yes, I heroically refrained from eating it all on the spot just to confirm this. You’re welcome.), and the brown butter is unmistakably there, lending its nutty, caramelly, utterly addictive flavor to every bite.

In other words, it’s a triumph. And it will most definitely be on the menu if I do ever open that ice cream shop, right next to sweet corn, rosemary and garlic. Well, on second thought maybe I’ll have garlic be special-order only; after all, I don’t know if there are that many people who love ice cream as unconditionally as me.

Brown Butter Ice Cream

Yum, yum, yum. Doesn’t the mere thought of this ice cream get your mouth watering? Admittedly, I was a bit nervous before starting the emulsification, knowing how tricky it can be when making mayonnaise. Well I needn’t have worried; as long as your butter is warm (not hot!) and liquid and you whisk diligently, there’s very little room for failure. Really, it’s a cinch. And while there really isn’t anything I’m compelled to change about this recipe, if I did want to tinker I might try upping the proportion of milk to cream, just to see what a slightly less-rich version might taste like.
Source: Fat by Jennifer McLagan
Yield: about 3 cups (750ml)

1 cup (250ml) whole milk
1 cup (250ml) whipping cream
1/2 cup (100g) sugar
1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, diced
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

Combine the milk and cream in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and add about half the sugar. Place the pan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In another saucepan (not nonstick – something that will allow you to see the color change), place the butter over low heat. When the butter is melted, increase the heat to medium. Watch the butter carefully, using a spoon to push aside any foam to check the color of the milk solids. When they turn brown and you smell a nutty aroma, remove the pan from the heat, add the lemon juice, and allow to cool until the butter is no longer hot to the touch but still liquid.

In a large bowl whisk the egg yolks, the remaining sugar, and the salt until light-colored and thick. Whisk in the browned butter bit by bit, whisking vigorously so that the mixture is emulsified (it should look like a loose mayonnaise). Once all the butter is incorporated, slowly whisk in the warm cream and milk mixture.

Pour the mixture back into the saucepan the milk was in and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Don’t let it boil. Strain the mixture into a bowl and cool quickly by placing it in a larger bowl or sink filled with ice water. Stir the mixture often. When it is cool, cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, churn the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This ice cream will keep, covered in the freezer, for a week or so.