I got the idea for this ice cream from a recipe in Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams by Jeni Britton Bauer (Artisan 2011). It was a recipe that relied on cream cheese as well as cream — no eggs — and I had some difficulty making it work. So I fell back to my tried-and-true egg-yolk method, which was simpler anyway, and I was pleased with the results. I hope you will be, too. (The pine nut technique is also slightly altered from Bauer's, though the composition is the same.)
T. Susan Chang for NPR
T. Susan Chang for NPR
Makes about 1 quart
1/2 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
Pinch of salt
1 cup pine nuts
5 or 6 sprigs of basil (with 5 or 6 leaves on each)
1 1/2 cups milk (whole or 2 percent)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar, divided
2 cups heavy cream
For The Pine Nut Pralines
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Melt the butter in a medium cast iron pan or other oven-safe heavy skillet. Add the brown sugar, honey and salt and stir well to combine with a heat-proof spatula. Add the pine nuts and stir thoroughly to coat.
Put the pan in the preheated oven for about 12 to 14 minutes, stirring once or twice so the nuts color evenly. When they have attained a deep golden brown and the mixture has dried slightly, take the pan out and let it cool for 10 minutes. Be sure to stir a few times while it's cooling, as the praline will harden rapidly.
For The Ice Cream
Shred the basil leaves into about 1-inch pieces, discarding the stems. In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, salt and shredded basil and heat gently until small bubbles appear around the edge of the milk. Remove from heat and leave to steep while you work on the egg and cream mixtures.
Whisk the egg yolks and 1/3 cup of the sugar together until thick and pale yellow. (You can use a mixer with a whip attachment, an egg beater, or an immersion blender fitted with a whisk attachment)
Scatter the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar over the base of a large, nonreactive skillet, and then add the cream (the sugar on the bottom helps keep the cream from scalding). Bring just to a simmer. Remove from heat and pour about 1/2 cup of the cream over the whipped yolks.
Return the warmed yolks to the skillet with the cream. Add in the basil-infused milk (including the shredded basil). Cook over a gentle heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (or heat-resistant rubber spatula). Be careful not to let it boil. (Just before it boils, you may see some of the following signs: tiny bubbles around the edge of the pan; a dull, quiet, suppressed boiling sound beneath the surface, like a teakettle before it whistles; a faint heaving and expansion of the surface. If you detect any of these signs, pull the pan off the flame right away.)
Strain the mixture into a sturdy gallon zip-top bag. Cool the ice cream quickly by carefully placing the bag in a bowl of iced water. When it is thoroughly cool to the touch, churn the ice cream in an ice-cream maker until the mixture resembles semi-whipped cream. Fold in the pine nuts, and then freeze until firm.