I know, I know, we're practically on the biggest foodie day of the whole entire year (it's the day after tomorrow and I STILL don't know what I'm baking up), and here I am, bringing you ice cream. Some parts of the country are buried in snow, and other parts are getting ready for the snow that's on its way, yet somehow, I find sharing an ice cream recipe to be perfectly reasonable. I mean, this particular frozen treat is studded with ruby red cranberries and sweet and crunchy pecan praline, which to me, seems to be the perfect blend of cool ice cream and warm fall flavors. It's an ice cream treat that's Thanksgiving-worthy.
I really think that ice cream is my favorite treat, ever. As much as I love cake and cookies, ice cream is just a whole different thing. I find ice cream so comforting, and it's an indulgence that I don't think I'll ever be able to say no to. Regardless of the temperature outside, ice cream is the one pick me up that will always bring a smile to my face, and it's one of my favorite ways to end a big meal (or any meal, really). I don't know about you, but as much as I love pie and cake, sometimes the thought of eating a thick wedge seems less than ideal after I've eaten a huge meal. Ice cream somehow seems lighter to me, and is a sweet treat that I'll look forward to more for dessert. Serving ice cream for dessert on Thanksgiving doesn't need to be reserved to plain vanilla on the side of a slice of pie (not that there's anything wrong with that: see here). The ice cream itself can be the star of the dessert spread!
I've grown to really love Jeni's ice cream base, in fact, it's the only base I've used since the first time I tried it. While initially intimidating, it's no more difficult than making a traditional custard based ice cream. In fact, I find this ice version to be even simpler, because there's absolutely no chance that I'll end up with scrambled eggs. Even though I've made ice cream lots of times using the custard method, the scrambled egg thought always crossed my mind. With this cream cheese based ice cream, I can go right ahead and prepare the ice cream base without a care in the world.
The ice cream may have a lot more components than a typical ice cream, but in reality, they're very simple to make and can be made well in advance. I made the plumped cranberries first, and then made the praline. To start, a simple syrup is made on the stove, and then it's poured over dried cranberries, which are then left to soak. The hot syrup sweetens the cranberries slightly and plumps them up, making them soft and chewy. That gets set aside to cool to room temperature and then chill in the refrigerator. The cranberries can be made well in advance and just stored in your refrigerator, and this is a technique that will work with just about any dried fruit, so your options are endless. While the cranberries were cooling, I made the pecan praline. All it takes is mixing together a little brown sugar, honey, salt and melted butter, and then coating the pecans in this sweet mixture.The pralines are then baked in the oven, where the sugary coating caramelizes and dries out, and leaves behind a crunchy and sweet praline. The components only take a few minutes of time to make, and since both need time to cool, they're the perfect make-ahead mix-in's.
The ice cream base comes together simply. Cream cheese is whisked together in a bowl until smooth with a pinch of salt, for balance, and a slurry is made by whisking together cornstarch and milk in a small bowl. Cream, milk, and sweeteners are warmed in a saucepan until boiling, and then the slurry is whisked in. The mixture is then slowly whisked into the cream cheese, and it's ready. It gets submerged in an ice bath until very chilled, and then it's ready for freezing according to your ice cream maker's instructions. So easy! Once the ice cream has been churned, it gets layered into a freezer safe container, along with the cranberries and pecan praline. It's no more difficult than making any other ice cream, making this an ideal option for an easy Thanksgiving dessert. It's perfectly seasonal and since it's an ice cream, it can be made well in advance. One less thing to stress about on such a big day, plus, you'll have an unconventional dessert option that's a little less heavy than a thick wedge of pie but is just as much of a showstopper. Enjoy!
Cranberry and Pecan Praline Ice Cream
recipes from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home
For the Cranberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
1 cup dried cranberries
For the Pecans
1 cup pecans
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
For the Ice Cream
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 ounces cream cheese, softened
pinch of salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2/3 cup sugar
Begin by preparing the plumped cranberries. Add the sugar and water to a small saucepan and place over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Heat to a boil, then pour the syrup over the dried cranberries. Allow the cranberries to soak in the syrup and cool to room temperature, then chill in the fridge until ready to use.
To prepare the pecan praline, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the pecans, brown sugar, honey, salt, and butter in a bowl, tossing to coat. Spread the mixture out on a baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes. Stir the nuts around on the baking sheet, and bake for another 5-6 minutes, stirring twice. The nuts will look bubbly, yet dry. Remove the nuts from the oven, and let cool completely, stirring the nuts every now and then to break them up.
To make the ice cream base, start by combining about two tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cream cheese and salt until smooth.
In a large saucepan, combine the remaining milk, cream, sugar, and corn syrup and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, boiling for four minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Bring the mixture back to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring with a spatula until slightly thickened, about one minute. Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese mixture, whisking until smooth.
Pour the finished ice cream base into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag in an ice bath for thirty minutes or until very cold before freezing in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Once the ice cream has been frozen, layer it into a freezer-safe container, sprinkling the pecan praline and plumped cranberries in between the layers, and press a sheet of parchment paper directly on the surface of the ice cream. Seal the ice cream, and freeze until firm, about four hours.
Makes 1 quart ice cream