My fiancé may consider himself an ice cream connoisseur, but even he was hesitant when I told him I was going to make "buttery popcorn" flavored ice cream. I can see how it might seem a bit strange, but I had tasted its perfection myself — in sundae form. At a dinner with fellow food writers last fall, a dessert tasting was ordered to be shared by all. I scoffed at the other desserts, heading straight for the chocolate tart. But after one requisite taste of the popcorn ice cream sundae, my opinion indeed changed. I pulled it close and didn't let another bite out of my sight.
Making ice cream from scratch is one of my all-time favorite kitchen activities, made even better by my fiancé's unending love for the chilly treat. (Which, thinking about it, could very well be directly correlated to his unending love for me). It's so much fun coming up with all sorts of flavors to impress him with; once I nailed my ideal vanilla base, the sky was the limit.
Ice Cream Week at The Kitchn seemed like the perfect opportunity to test out my own version of popcorn ice cream (using that very same vanilla base), and I'm so pleased with the results. I especially love when a recipe I develop transitions perfectly from restaurant to home. It just goes to show that any cook is capable of pastry chef-worthy desserts! Don't be afraid to branch out with this one. I promise the ice cream is really fantastic—the popcorn flavor is present but not overwhelming at all. To guild the lily, I served mine with homemade Cracker Jack (I told y'all I was obsessed with this stuff) and caramel sauce. The pairing is so incredible that I just ate a bowl for breakfast. Now I just have to decide what's for lunch!
Buttery Popcorn Ice CreamMakes 1 quart
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole or 2% milk, divided
6 cups popped buttered popcorn*
6 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Homemade Cracker Jack, to serve
Caramel Sauce, to serve
Heat cream and 1 cup of the milk in a heavy sauce pan over medium heat until just scalded. Add the popped popcorn to the pan and let steep for one hour. Strain the popcorn milk through a fine mesh sieve into a large liquid measuring cup. Add enough of the remaining milk to make 3 cups total (about one more cup, give or take).
Return the milk to the sauce pan and return heat to medium. While the milk is heating, beat the egg yolks, sugar, and salt in a separate bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. When milk is hot but not scalded, add a cup to the egg mixture and whisk vigorously. Pour the tempered (warmed) eggs back into the sauce pan with the remaining milk.
Reduce heat to low/medium-low. Cook, whisking constantly, until the custard reaches 185°F on an instant-read thermometer and is thick enough to just coat the back of the spoon. (You can stir occasionally at first, and more constantly towards the end, watching carefully to make sure the eggs don't scramble). Remove pan from the burner, stir in vanilla extract, and continue stirring for another minute or so to release some of the heat. Strain the cooked custard through a fine-mesh sieve, if desired.
Chill the mixture in the refrigerator until completely cool, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours. Freeze the custard according to your ice cream maker's instructions. For sundaes, serve with caramel sauce and homemade Cracker Jack.
*I used 1 (3.5 ounce) bag of Newman's Own Buttered Popcorn. This gives a very subtle popcorn flavor. If you want a more substantial popcorn punch, double this amount.
(Images: Nealey Dozier)