chestnut honey and vanilla bean ice cream

Vee Vee has a great relationship with Allandale Farm.  Even this late in November, we’re still getting crates of produce – now mainly winter squash, garlic, onions, apples, and eggs – delivered on a weekly basis.  The farm, one of the oldest in this area, is less than a mile from the restaurant which is crazy-close in urban terms, or any terms for that matter.

In addition to acres of farmland and around 100 chickens, Allandale farm also has a few hives of bees, tended to by bee-keeper Wendy.  And the honey, fruit of Wendy’s and the bees’ labor, has also found its way into the restaurant.  We keep an always-sticky quart size mason jar of farm honey nestled between a jug of molasses and bag of vanilla beans.

This honey is serious.  I don’t know if I’d really given honey a second though before dipping into this jar.  I liked it sure, drizzled into a mug of tea or on top of peanut butter, but it wasn’t a flavor I sought out particularly.  It was sweet, often cloyingly so, and floral; and that was that.  But that mason jar was something different: deceptively light in color, this honey tastes like summer – grass, and hay, honeysuckle, thyme, and lavender.   

Around the same time I discovered the Allandale honey, I’d been experimenting with making ice cream for the restaurant.  Anyone who’s ever made ice cream at home knows that it just doesn’t last like commercial ice cream does.  Day one, even day two, the texture’s creamy-perfect, but it tends to be a slippery slope soon thereafter.  Commercially produced ice cream benefits from fancy freezers and stabilizers like xanthium gum, not generally available to the home cook. 

One thing that really helps homemade ice cream keep its lush and creamy texture longer is invert sugar; namely things like corn syrup, glucose, agave, maple syrup, molasses, and you guessed it, honey!  These are sugars that exist in nature as a liquid, and so prevent ice cream from freezing as hard as it otherwise would.  There are, of course, many other factors that influence ice cream’s texture – David Lebovitz has a great article on the subject here

Both flavor-wise and texturally (think gelato smooth for weeks) good honey is kind of insane in ice cream.  The jar of Allandale honey at Vee Vee has long since disappeared, frozen into batches of creamy honey ice cream to top a whisky pecan tart.  Since then, I’ve been playing around at home with different honeys.  Over the weekend I did a batch with a jar of robust Italian chestnut honey that’s been sitting in my pantry for at least a year now, which turned out beautifully. 

I know it’s not really the season for ice cream now, though I did read somewhere that hearty New Englanders consume more ice cream per capita than any of America’s warmer-climate inhabiting citizens.  What I like about this flavor combination, especially this time of year, is its affinity for any sort of baked fruit, nut, or rich cake.  Use this as a topping for any of the traditional thanksgiving desserts:  apples, pears, pecans, even pumpkin.  And bonus, it keeps its texture so well, you could make it now for thanksgiving weekend.  We ate it over some griddled pears and later, at John’s suggestion, over a sliced of warm gingerbread.  The gingerbread combo was hands down my favorite.    

Feel free to substitute any honey you like here – chestnut tends to be quite strong and dark, so if you wanted to dial things back, I would choose a more subtle flavored honey.  As long as you like the flavor of your honey, you’ll like the flavor of your ice cream.  One thing to keep in mind also as you taste the ice cream base before it’s frozen – the flavors should be quite strong and sweet.  Once frozen, the flavors always mellow.  Makes 1 quart of ice cream.     

For the Ice Cream

  • ¼ cup chestnut honey, or another falvorful honey of your choice
  • 1 cup whole or 2% milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 to 2 vanilla beans depending on their size
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 large egg yolks

Make the Anglaise:

Split the vanilla bean(s) lengthwise and scrape out their seeds into a small sauce pan.  Add the honey, milk, and cream to the pan and set it over medium heat.  Bring to a boil and then shut off the heat and allow the mixture to steep for 45 minutes to 1 hour. 

Return the cream mixture to the heat and bring to just below boiling.  Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, beat together the sugar and egg yolks. 

Pour about a cup of the warm cream mixture into the egg yolks and mix well, then add this into the pan with the rest of the cream.  (This step is called tempering, and ensures you won’t scramble your eggs.)

Cook the mixture over medium-low heat until it thickens slightly and can coat the back of a spoon.  Stir constantly and keep the heat low – you want to avoid overcooking the mixture, as it will curdle.  (The classic test is to coat the back of a spoon and then draw your finger through the coating – if the anglaise is cooked sufficiently, the mark of your finger will stay – like in the picture above.  If it’s undercooked, the anglaise will bleed into the mark.)

One the anglaise is cooked, immediately remove it from the heat and strain into a clean bowl.  You may notice that the anglaise has curdled slightly towards the bottom of the pot; don’t worry, just be sure to strain and discard any lumps.  Discard the vanilla pods or reserve them for another purpose (try putting one in a sealed container with some granulated sugar for vanilla-sugar; great for morning coffee or topping pancakes and French toast.)

Place the strained anglaise in the refrigerator and chill until very cold – at least 4 hours.

Freeze the Ice Cream:

Transfer the cold anglaise (it must be really cold – I sometimes pop it in the freezer for 30 minutes to make sure) into the bowl of your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions – this should take no more than 15 to 20 minutes in a 2 quart machine. 

Once frozen, the ice cream will have the consistency of wet soft serve.  Transfer to a Tupperware container and set in the freezer to firm up – this will take 2-3 hours. 

Scoop and enjoy!  Keeps frozen up to 2 weeks (good luck with that.) 



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