Most people wouldn’t put black walnut ice cream and “delicious” together. Black walnuts may LOOK like English walnuts, but the very first bite mugs your mouth with a musky, who-died-on-my-tongue putrescence. Ugh...so eating ICE CREAM with those things?
“Spit me out, NOW.”
Ignore your yammering brain and TASTE. Black walnut ice cream is incredible, and I think I’ve finally perfected the recipe, thanks to The Resident Carpenter.
The RC grew up the middle child of a very large family, where the best way to get more than your fair share of a treat was to prefer whatever your siblings wouldn’t eat. His dad loved black walnut ice cream and no one else did, so it became one of his favorite flavors.
I mostly knew black walnuts from my preteen years spent in the midwest; the trees grew all over, producing greeny-black botanical bombs that stained everything. They made great wargaming missiles, since they got your opponent all brown and stinky, and they invoked round after round of pioneer-woman-coloring-yarn scenarios that got me in trouble with Mom. (apparently it’s a bad idea to use her best knitting wool for test samples)
I probably would never have touched black walnut ice cream if I’d known what it was. Mom cannily scooped out her own bowl without offering me any and, thinking it was adults-only stuff, I demanded a share and was hooked.
A few weeks ago, ordering nuts for our squirrel clan (Willow, Butch, Sundance, Cassidy, Douglas, and a new Willow-daughter that the RC has yet to name), I came across black walnut pieces on nuts.com.
A few days earlier, our across-the-street neighbor Kim gifted us with a whole carton of expensive, hand-packed ice cream from Salt & Straw, a boutique ice creamery I’ve always wanted to try. “I got the wrong flavor; I really don’t like eating bugs,” she explained.
Turns out Salt & Straw makes bug ice cream. Matcha-flavored with mealworms and crickets, to be exact.* I’m not into floor-sweep flavors, so pretty much decided against EVER visiting S&S..but it got me to thinking about exotic flavors of ice cream. And black walnuts.
“I’ve always wanted to do a really good black walnut ice cream…” I mused.
“You like black walnut ice cream?” Nate exclaimed, “That’s my childhood favorite! It’s almost impossible to find in the store.”
BOTH of us liked black walnut ice cream, so we had bags of incentive to try making our own. I ordered the black walnuts, and when they arrived (snatching them away from our bushier-tailed family members), I combed the web for good ice cream recipes.
The best lived on a really great website, Hank Shaw’s honest-food.net. He’s the author of Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast, a combo cookbook/identification bible for modern hunter-gatherers.
Like most great recipes, his ice cream is simple: Black walnuts, a bit of sugar, cream, milk, half a vanilla bean, and egg yolks. I’ve tweaked it a tad to create an ice cream that’s pale gold, heavily redolent of vanilla and that distinctive black walnut scent, richly creamy, and a tiny bit exotic.
It needs to be started the day before you actually want to make it, since you need to give the vanilla and walnuts time to infuse into the cream.
Black walnut ice cream
- 2 cups fresh, heavy whipping cream
- 2 cups fresh whole milk
- 1 1/4 cups chopped black walnuts (NOTE: My mom tried this ice cream and felt it would be better with fewer nuts…so you might want to start with 3/4 cup and work your way up….)
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 vanilla bean
- 1/2 teaspoon excellent (REAL) vanilla extract
- Pinch each of cardamom and nutmeg
- 4 egg yolks
- Heavy 3-4 quart saucepan
- Big strainer
- At least two big bowls and one smaller bowl
- Wooden spoon
- Candy thermometer or infrared thermometer gun
- Ice cream freezer. I have one of those Cuisinart ice-jacketed freezers that makes small quantities of ice cream (fill it to the recommended line and you will wind up with soft-serve ice cream exploding all over the floor). I’m not sure I recommend them over a cheap hand-crank or powered-crank freezer that you fill with ice and salt.
- Slit your vanilla bean down the middle lengthwise, then scrape all the seedy goo out of the middle.
- In your saucepan, mix the whipping cream, milk, and sugar together, whisking lightly (you’re not whipping it, you’re just getting it a tiny bit frothy).
Dump in the black walnuts and turn the heat on low, stirring constantly, until steam starts coming off the mixture. (It should be doing this while you’re stirring–if you let it sit without stirring it’ll start glooping and bubbling, which you don’t want). The temperature should stay between 165-170 (and not go above) for about five minutes.
- Remove from the heat, then add the vanilla bean pod and seed scrapings, the vanilla extract, cardamom, and nutmeg, stirring well until mixed in.
- Cool, then refrigerate uncovered, overnight.
- In the morning, strain the whole mixture into a bowl. It should be a beautiful ecru color.
- Pick out the vanilla pod pieces and discard, then move the vanilla-seed-and-cream-covered walnuts into a separate bowl and refrigerate.
- Transfer the strained cream mixture back into the saucepan and return to low heat, stirring until it reaches 160-170 degreesF and is steaming very lightly.
- Put the egg yolks into a bowl and whisk until they’re just starting to form a ribbon.
- Slowly dribble about a quarter-cup of the warm cream mixture into the yolk bowl, whisking vigorously the whole time. When that’s mixed in, dribble in about another half-cup or so, continuing to whisk. (You’re tempering the eggs so that they don’t scramble the moment they hit the hot cream)
- Cook the mixture over very low heat for 5-6 minutes, making sure it never gets past 170 degreesF, then remove from heat. You’ve just made a custard.
- Let the custard cool down completely, then refrigerate until you’re ready to churn the ice cream. It will thicken up–it’s a custard, after all–until it’s about like loose sour cream, and you’ll be scraping every last bit out of that bowl.
Put the custard into your ice cream maker, and turn it on. I have no idea how long it will take to freeze, it depends on your freezer, but you want to get it to a very soft consistency, about like soft-serve ice cream or softened butter.
- Dump in your cold, cream-soaked walnuts and continue to run the freezer until the ice cream is too stiff to churn.
- Scrape the ice cream into a bowl or container put in the freezer to ripen and firm up for an hour or two (or preferably overnight) but I’ve never seen anyone wait that long.
I’m playing around with alternatives, such as dumping in ribbons of caramel or chocolate when adding the walnuts toward the end.
As I mentioned, this is a VERY chunky ice cream that uses nearly twice the nuts (2/3 cup) recommended by Mr. Shaw in his original recipe. The walnut infusion period softens them so they’re not hard or crunchy at all, but if you want more silk and less chunk, add maybe half the nuts and see what you think before adding the rest.
…which makes me think of OTHER alternatives: What I if pralinized some additional black walnuts, and stirred them in at the last minute? How would this recipe work for other nuts? Pistachios? Toasted almonds? Hazelnuts?
Hmmmm…better get busy.
*The Resident Carpenter, having already tasted many bugs as part of his be-a-wild-survival-man-in-the-wilderness thing, actually gave the stuff a try, and made a face. “I don’t mind chewing the bugs,” he admitted, “But I draw the line at bug-flavored cream.”