This stellar butter pecan ice cream recipe combines a creamy brown butter ice cream base with homemade pecan brittle made from toasted pecans, butter, and sugar. A perfect Southern dessert.
This isn’t your typical butter pecan ice cream. It’s richer than most, creamier than most, and, thanks to its copious and generously sized shards of homemade pecan brittle, crunchier than most. It’s also infused with what can only be described as rich molasses notes from the dark brown sugar. Pass some spoons, please. And let us just say, as we talk with our mouths full, a word of thanks to the Southern sensibility that created this summer standby, because only in the South do they pull off graceful and indulgent at the same time.–David Leite
Butter Pecan Ice Cream FAQs
What can I substitute for pecan brittle?
If you’d like to skip the step of making the pecan brittle, you can add 8 ounces (227 g) of toffee bits, such as Heath brand “Bits o’ Brickle” (often found in the baking aisle of the supermarket), to the mixture instead. You can also make this recipe with a different nut brittle, such as cashew or pistachio if that’s what you desire.
How long will butter pecan ice cream keep in the freezer?
The ice cream will keep for up to two weeks in a sealed container in the freezer, though we’re willing to bet it will be devoured long before then.
Butter Pecan Ice Cream
- Candy or deep-fry thermometer; ice cream maker
For the brown sugar ice cream
Make the brown sugar ice cream
- Fill a large heatproof bowl or your kitchen sink about halfway with ice water.
- In a medium saucepan off the heat, combine the brown sugar, skim milk powder, and milk. Blend with an immersion or stick blender, mix with a handheld mixer, or whisk until smooth. Make sure the skim milk powder is wholly dissolved and that no lumps remain (any remaining sugar granules, on the other hand, will dissolve when heated). Stir in the cream.
- Clip the candy or deep-fry thermometer to the saucepan and set the pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring often with a rubber spatula and scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent sticking and burning, until the mixture reaches 110°F (45°C), 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat.
- Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl. While whisking constantly, slowly pour 1/2 cup (120 milliliters) hot milk mixture into the egg yolks to temper them. Continue to whisk slowly until the mixture is an even color and consistency, then whisk the egg yolk mixture back into the remaining milk mixture.
- Return the saucepan to medium heat and continue cooking the mixture, stirring often, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon and reaches 165°F (75°C), 5 to 10 minutes more.
- Transfer the saucepan to the ice water in the sink and let cool for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and making certain absolutely no ice water spills into the pan. Add the vanilla and stir to combine. Pour the ice cream base through a strainer into a resealable container and refrigerate for about 8 hours.
Make the pecan brittle
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 275°F (135°C). Butter a 12-by-18-inch rimmed baking sheet and line it with parchment paper.
- Spread the pecans in a single layer on the parchment and toast until they just begin to change color, about 10 minutes. Immediately transfer to a plate and let cool. Reserve the prepared baking sheet for the brittle.
- Grab a medium deep-sided saucepan (3 1/2- to 4-quart would be perfect) and add the syrup, sugar, salt, butter, and water. Clip the candy thermometer to the side of the pan and set the pan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the ingredients are combined and the sugar has dissolved, then continue to cook without stirring until the mixture reaches 305°F (150°C), at least 15 minutes and up to 25 minutes. You want to constantly monitor the temperature so that it doesn’t rise above 310°F (154°C).
- Remove the pan from the heat and immediately stir in the pecans and baking soda and whisk to combine. (The baking soda will cause the mixture to bubble slightly but not too furiously. This is where that deep-sided saucepan comes in handy, as it keeps spatters to a minimum.) Working quickly, as the mixture will begin to set as the temperature drops, spread the mixture evenly on the prepared baking sheet. Let the mixture cool at room temperature until it’s brittle, about 2 hours.
- Break the brittle into bite-size pieces and store in an airtight container in the freezer until ready to use.
Assemble the butter pecan brittle ice cream
- Pour the cooled base into an ice cream maker and churn it until it’s ready, 30 to 40 minutes.
- Move the ice cream to a resealable freezer-safe storage container, folding in the pecan brittle pieces as you do. Use as much of the brittle as you want; you won’t necessarily need the whole batch. (We found that about 1/2 batch of brittle was just right.) Serve the butter pecan brittle ice cream immediately if you prefer a super soft consistency or stash it in your freezer for 8 to 12 hours to harden if you prefer to be able to scoop it.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This butter pecan ice cream recipe makes a home-run, slam-dunk, 10/10 ice cream recipe. It creates an ice cream that is amazing in both texture and flavor and also the most delicious brittle ever. I really have nothing but positive comments about this one, so go ahead, make it, and indulge!
The texture was amazing—perfectly scoopable even straight out of the freezer. The butter pecan ice cream recipe is clear and does us a great service by providing accurate weight (metric) as well as volume measures. I used a pan that was heavy and a bit wide to cook the caramel and the ice cream. The timing was accurate and closer to the lower time frames (so about 6 minutes for the ice cream and closer to 10 minutes for the caramel). Different pans will cause the timing to vary, though, so it’s great that the recipe provides temperatures.
The recipe uses non-fat dried milk powder; don’t substitute liquid milk or the texture won’t be as nice. (The milk powder helps add milk solids without adding fat or water and makes for smooth ice cream with little ice crystals.) The recipe makes a lot of butter pecan brittle. I think adding any more than half of it to the ice cream is too much, so go ahead and halve the brittle recipe if you want, but I highly recommend that you not do this. The homemade pecan brittle is delicious on its own. Just nibble on the extra and give some to friends if you can part with it. (I could not.)
To heck with the ice cream, you should make this recipe just for the butter pecan brittle! It’s so good that it’s gone onto my list to make for Christmas gifts next year. The good news, though, is that you can have your brittle and your ice cream, too. The recipe for the brittle makes a bit more than you really need. That’s a good thing, because you won’t be able to resist stealing a few pieces as a cook’s treat.
I used about 3/4 of the homemade pecan brittle in the ice cream, and that yields an ice cream that is chock full of brittle. You could use 1/2 a batch and still be satisfied. All the times noted in the recipe were correct. The base of the brittle took more like 25 minutes for me to reach 305°F. You have to watch it the entire time and keep checking the temperature because you don’t want it to get over 310°F. The baking soda didn’t make the brittle mixture foam up in any significant or frightening way. It does cause small bubbles to form, which makes it possible for you to bite into the brittle rather than having to suck it like a lollipop.
If you make the butter pecan brittle in a 3 1/2- to 4-quart saucepan, there will be no danger of it bubbling over. And there was plenty of time to get the pecans stirred in before the mixture set. It was a little harder, though, to get the brittle to spread evenly on the sheet pan before it set.
Right out of the ice cream machine, it was a soft-serve texture—soft enough that you can stir in the brittle. That’s essential, because if you have a 1 1/2-quart ice cream maker, as I do, the ice cream will fill it up, and there won’t be room to add the brittle while it’s churning. I tasted the ice cream right away, but put the rest in the freezer overnight to get a firmer texture. The next day, it was firm but still easily scoopable—just what I like.
The ice cream has a wonderful flavor. Don’t stop adding brittle when your ice cream maker starts to overflow—fold some more in when you move it to a resealable container for storage. The base ice cream has a nice flavor, too, but the brittle really makes it.
Call me an ice cream snob. The texture and the flavor have to be just perfect for me. This butter pecan ice cream definitely has both. The timing on the custard and the brittle was bang on.
However, I couldn’t serve the ice cream as soon as it was churned as it was still very soft. So I added about 1 1/2 cups brittle, which I chopped into bits slightly bigger than chocolate chips, and froze the ice cream for a couple of hours before I tasted it. Even then the ice cream was quite soft, so I think it needs to freeze for a good 8 hours before it’s scoopable.
I hope to make the custard again, adding a couple more egg yolks to make a thicker, richer, creamier custard.
While this recipe is unusually long and has many more steps than a normal ice cream recipe, it’s really worth it. The extended family loved this one and childhood memories and stories were told at the dinner table.
Whisking a little of the sugar into the egg yolks before tempering the hot liquid into them will help to prevent curdling. You can adjust the quantities of milk and cream as long as you keep the cream in the mixture. (I wouldn’t go below 1 cup of cream, but I haven’t done the experiment.)
It’s always difficult to predict exactly when the mixture is ready for add-ins. You need to know your ice cream maker. I used 24 minutes of churning before adding the pecans.
Originally published April 27, 2016