You can taste the summer ideal in your mind: Homemade ice cream that is creamy, a little elastic, rich enough to feel like every bite is indulgence.
The flavor doesn’t matter: Peach, strawberry, butter pecan. What matters is that texture.
A couple of things fell into my life recently that demanded an ice cream performance.
First, I had the chance to land a supply of truly great buttermilk. For a buttermilk fan, it can be the grail quest of dairy products. Shortcut buttermilk is available in every supermarket: Made with cultures, it has a little tang and it will work in baking projects. But it doesn’t have the serious twang of serious buttermilk.
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Real buttermilk is something you have to search out. You have to go to specialty markets like Atherton in search of Homeland Creamery, or arrange a delivery from Lakeview Farms, or schedule a two-hour trip to Peltzer, S.C., for Happy Cow Creamery buttermilk, or find a way to get really lucky and score something special, like Cruze Farm buttermilk, an actual churned buttermilk made in Knoxville, Tenn. That’s what I got when a friend was driving back from Knoxville with an empty cooler and was willing to play “milk mule.”
With two jugs in my refrigerator, I pulled out the buttermilk stops: Buttermilk-brined fried chicken, buttermilk coleslaw, buttermilk biscuits, buttermilk ranch dressing. And yes, buttermilk ice cream. It’s like vanilla that’s dressed up and ready to party.
If you’re going to do it, go all the way: So, the second secret ingredient: Duck eggs.
Duck eggs are easy to find these days, thanks to farmers’ markets. Why a duck? (Sorry, it had to be typed.) Duck eggs are slightly larger than chicken eggs, but what really makes them is fat. Their yolks are a little larger and higher in fat. That makes them perfect for certain things, including homemade pasta and, yes, ice cream.
The only trick is figuring out the amount to substitute: Duck eggs are generally about 50 percent larger than chicken eggs. You could get all fancy and weigh the yolks, but I just winged it (sorry, that had to be typed, too), substituting three duck yolks for four chicken yolks. (Yes, I could have gone with two yolks, but I wanted the texture that comes with extra fat.)
I could have kept it plain, but I couldn’t resist tossing in 2 tablespoons of bourbon (wait until the custard has chilled, so the alcohol doesn’t have time to break the emulsion) and a half-cup of toasted pecans.
Ice cream, meet ice dream.
Bourbon Buttermilk Duck-Egg Ice Cream
Save the egg whites for another dish, like a pavlova or meringue cookies.
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped, or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup light brown sugar (not packed) or raw cane sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 duck-egg yolks
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons bourbon
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted and cooled
Place the cream, vanilla pod and seeds, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Warm until it just has bubbles around the side, stirring often until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let stand for 20 minutes.
Place the yolks in a heatproof mixing bowl and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the cream mixture, then stir back into the post. Cook over low, stirring constantly, until it thickens slightly and registers 170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 6 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the buttermilk. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Cover and chill at least 4 hours and up to overnight. Toast the pecans in a dry skillet, stirring often, until fragrant and set aside.
Set up an ice cream maker (if you have the kind with an insert, make sure to freeze it at least 12 hours or overnight.) Stir in the bourbon, then pour the custard into the ice cream maker and churn according to the directions. About 10 minutes before the ice cream is finished, pour in the toasted, cooled pecans.
Scrape into a resealable container and freeze about 4 hours, until solid. Before serving, let sit at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes to soften slightly for the best texture.
Yield: About 1 quart.