I haven’t been able to bake the last couple Baked Sunday Mornings recipes, but I knew I had to find time to try Matt and Renato’s ode to New Orleans in the form of a pecan praline ice cream cake. Not only have I found myself enjoying pecan praline ice cream more and more as an adult, but the history of pecan praline candy is fascinating. According to the reputable people at Southern Candy Makers and Wikipedia, pralines were originally a French delicacy, therefore the art of making praline candy was taught by French Ursuline nuns to “casket girls” starting around 1730 as part of their “homemaker training” before the girls were married off to colonists in the New Orleans area. In France, the nut of choice for pralines was almonds, but those were scarce in New Orleans, and thus the widely available pecan was substituted instead. Cream was also added to the candy, and thus the achingly sweet, meltingly soft pecan praline confection was born. Almost 300 years later, this Ursuline girl (whoa) is very happily devouring Matt and Renato’s delicious version of pecan pralines.
Although the recipe for this pecan praline ice cream cake has four different components, it’s really not that much work to make, it only requires planning ahead. The pecan pralines need to cool before being added to the ice cream, but they take less than 15 minutes to make. Similar story for the caramel sauce. The graham cracker crust/layers take less than 5 minutes to make. The ice cream and assembly stages are the only steps that take much time, and most of that time is inactive time. Make the ice cream base, chill it, run it through an ice cream maker, add the pecans and caramel, chill it again, assemble the cake in three stages (graham cracker-ice cream layer #1 -> chill, layer #2 -> chill, layer #3 -> chill). I skipped the graham cracker layers because the guests I had over watching me make the ice cream were too impatient to wait for the cake version. Instead, I served the ice cream with honey graham crackers on the side for anyone who wanted to use them as edible spoons.
I’ve been reading about making ice cream and other custards in a sous vide and how much simpler it was to use a sous vide because you didn’t need to worry about overcooking the egg. You just need to bring the water to 185 F, add the water-displacement sealed Ziploc bag of ice cream base to the hot water, and let it cook for an hour at constant temperature (agitating a few times to ensure everything is well-blended). I own a sous vide (thank you Kickstarter), so naturally I was intrigued and decided to try this method for making my brown sugar ice cream base. I whisked all the ingredients together (except the vanilla extract and obviously the pecans and caramel), added them to my Ziploc bag, displaced the air, and brought my water bath up to temperature. Things started to go downhill at this point. First of all, it took an age for my water bath to come up to temperature. At least an hour, probably closer to an hour and a half. Next, when I tried to add my bag of ice cream base, it lowered the temperature of the water bath rather significantly – I feel like I should have preheated the water to 190 or 195, then added the custard and turned the temperature down. Even worse, the bag dropped to the very bottom, where it’s not supposed to sit because it will cook unevenly there. In trying to contain my ice cream base bag, I shorted out my sous vide stick. Thank goodness Caleb is here and was able to rescue it, but in the couple minutes that rescue took, the water bath dropped down to 160 F. At this point, I considered throwing everything out and buying some vanilla ice cream to use as my base, but I figured I might as well see what happened. I was able to contain the bag finally by dropping two drinking glasses into the bath between the circulator stick and the ice cream base. At this point, the bag was floating, so I used a wooden spoon to keep it from bobbing and covered most of the top of my pot with aluminum foil to try and help temperature maintenance. About 70-80 minutes later, I took the bag out, put it in an ice bath, let it cool to room temperature in there, added the vanilla extract, agitated the bag to mix it in, then put the bag in the refrigerator to chill the base further. I didn’t worry about a skin forming since it was still in a Ziploc, but I did put it in a bowl in case my Ziploc sprouted a leak somehow (it didn’t, thank goodness). The morale of this story? I could have made the ice cream base the “standard” way about 10 times in the amount of time it took me to make it with the sous vide. However, when I strained the base into my ice cream maker, I had no overcooked egg in my custard and it tasted creamy, rich, and brown sugary.
In contrast to making the brown sugar ice cream base, I made the pecan pralines and the caramel base as instructed. Both were a cinch to make and tasted amazing on their own. The pecan pralines are quite sweet on their own, they mellow out in the ice cream base and also pair well with something a little salty, like pretzels or potato chips. The recipes for these two components make at least triple what you actually need to complete the pecan praline ice cream. It turns out Caleb and I have no problem eating extra praline pecans and caramel sauce, but if that’s not you, the caramel sauce will keep in the fridge for quite a while and Matt and Renato suggest gifting the praline candies. Or just make a half batch. Adding the caramel sauce and the pecan pralines to the ice cream machine was a little messy – I found it difficult to drizzle in the caramel without hitting the sides or top of my little machine, but otherwise this too was super simple. The only challenge was the recipe specifies two radically different metric amounts of pecan pralines to add to the base – 75 g or 140 g. The smaller amount is not nearly enough, so add the 140 g (same as the 3/4 cup volume amount given), or even a little more if you like plenty of pecan praline chunks in your ice cream. I didn’t go the final step of make the ice cream cake because no one (myself included) was willing to wait another 9 hours (layering and then chilling the completed cake) to try the ice cream. I loved this ice cream by itself, but I also though it worked really well with graham crackers – either straight graham crackers or crumbled pieces of the buttery graham cracker crust (without the sugar added). It is quite sweet – not toothache inducingly sweet, but indulgently sweet. The brown sugar base is rich and creamy, the caramel sauce adds a nice salty-sweet note, and the pecan pralines chunks make this the best pecan praline ice cream you’ll ever eat. Like most homemade ice creams, it does melt exceptionally quickly, so don’t plan on transporting it anywhere unless you have a lot of freezer cubes to keep it cold. I liked the peppermint ice cream we made last year from Baked Occasions, but I love this ice cream. I could happily eat this ice cream any time of year for any occasion and everyone who tried it says they feel the same.
Head over to Baked Sunday Mornings for the recipe and to see what others thought of this marvelous tribute to New Orleans.