Baked Sunday Mornings: The New Orleans (aka Pecan Praline Ice Cream Cake)

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Sometimes you get those special recipes that you catch yourself daydreaming about long after the last bite has been savored… Friends, this is one of those recipes. It’s really hard to pick a single favorite recipe from Baked Occasions, but this one is way, WAY up there—Top 5 for sure. I made The New Orleans (aka Pecan Praline Ice Cream Cake) once for a summer BBQ a couple of years ago, and I could.not.wait. to make it again on the Baked Sunday Mornings schedule for Mardi Gras. Which got me thinking… I don’t actually know that much about Mardi Gras. I once went to Cologne, Germany for Carnivale during the year that I studied abroad in France, but it was sort of a bust. Besides a shower of green, yellow, and purple beaded necklaces, I couldn’t remember much about the holiday. The Googles have told me that the roots of Mardi Gras originated in Rome and Venice in medieval times (and I do love anything and everything Italian), then swept into France in the 18th Century, and followed to the French colonial territory of present-day New Orleans. Over the years, more elaborate rituals came to pass, including parades and masquerade balls, and Mardi Gras even became a legal holiday in Louisiana in 1875, which holds to this day.

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Buuuut let’s get back to ice cream cake. It might seem complicated and intimidating at first because there are four different parts to it, but don’t let that deter you from the eventual deliciousness! The recipe does take a while to pull together, but each component is not particularly difficult. I make it in phases over the span of a couple of days, and each part is rather easy. For starters, the Brown Sugar Praline ice cream will make your eyeballs roll into the back of your head. It is thick, rich, decadent, and so flavorful—unquestionably the best ice cream I’ve ever made, and possibly among the best I’ve ever eaten? Layered with graham crackers and drizzled with sweet and salty caramel on top—I can’t even. (I didn’t miss chocolate, and that’s saying something.)

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The first step is making the pecan pralines, which I’d never made before attempting this recipe. They are basically cookies made out of brown sugar caramel, so it’s hard to go wrong. I started by combining the white and dark brown sugars, heavy cream, corn syrup, and salt in a saucepan, stirring it to dissolve the sugar granules and bringing it to a nice bubbly temperature of 235°F.

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Next I added butter, pecans, and vanilla and stirred for a couple more minutes before portioning out the pralines on a sheet pan to cool. I forgot from the first time that the recipe makes a huge batch of pralines; in the future, I’d halve the recipe, although my coworkers appreciated the extra ones. In fact, unless you purposely want to have the individual cookie-like portions, I’d simply pour the whole mixture onto a sheet pan rather than scooping out individual mounds, since they will get chopped up anyway for the ice cream.

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Next you make the sweet and salty caramel, one of BAKED’s signature items, and always a favorite of mine. It’s quite dark and bitter, a little too bitter for me to eat off the spoon actually, but it is perfect and heavenly when swirled into ice cream, frosting, and brownies! For this, I stirred together sugar, corn syrup, and water in a small saucepan. When making caramel, it is very important to avoid sugar crystals splashing up the sides of the pan because it can cause the whole pot to re-crystalize, so I always keep a glass of water and a pastry brush nearby to wash down any rogue sugar. Once the sugar dissolved and the mixture started bubbling, I stopped stirring and let it boil until it turned a gorgeous shade of deep amber. BAKED says to cook it to a temperature of 350°F, but every time I’ve made it (and my thermometer is fine), it’s gotten quite dark at about 305°F, so that’s when I pull it off the heat.

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I then added a stream of heavy cream (stand back, it gets bubbly), fleur de sel, and sour cream to make a gooey caramel that will thicken as it cools. I put aside ¼ cup for the ice cream and planned to drizzle some on top.

The third part is making that glorious Brown Sugar Praline ice cream. You’ll stir the cream, milk, brown sugar, butter, and salt in a saucepan, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Then whisk the egg yolks in a bowl and stream in half of the hot brew while whisking the whole time. You’ll then pour all of that back into the pot with the remaining hot cream mixture and cook it (keeping stirring) until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.

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Strain the custard through a sieve, add the vanilla, and BOOM, you have the best ice cream base ever!

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Let that cool (I do this by placing the bowl in an ice bath) and chill it for 4 hours, or a little less if you use the ice bath, then churn it in your ice cream machine. A couple of minutes before it’s done, add the reserved caramel, followed by chopped pralines. (There’s an inconsistency in the recipe for the weight of the crushed pralines in the ice cream– in one spot it says 70g and in another it says 140g, but the constant notation was ¾ cup. I used slightly under 140g, but I could have used the full amount, if not an extra handful.) My ice cream came out smooth and thick, and after freezing it overnight, it was utterly perfect– it’s what I always aspire for my ice cream to be.

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The last component is the graham cracker crumb mixture for the “cake layers”. I combined graham crackers crumbs with melted butter and sugar, pretty much like any graham cracker pie crust. I was then ready to assemble the ice cream cake. One note on this: We are instructed to make the crumbs just prior to assembly; however, the layers in the finished cake look completely different, depending on the texture of the crumb mixture. In other words, the freshly mixed crumbs compact pretty flat and wet since the butter is still melty, whereas the two subsequent layers are more crumbly and fluffy because the butter has re-solified, so they don’t flatten down as much. This is fairly nitpicky, but if you want them to look the same, either make the crumbs ahead so that they firm up before you lay down the first layer, or microwave them for a few seconds when you add the second and third layers to re-melt the butter. Oooor don’t worry about if you don’t suffer from Baking OCD like me. 😉

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It’s recommended to use an 8″ springform pan, which I don’t have, so I used a cake ring lined with acetate set on a parchment-lined quarter-sheet pan instead, which worked nicely. Assembly takes a good while because you have to freeze the cake a few times as you add the layers, but it’s pretty simple.

Press ⅓ of the graham crumbs into a flat layer on the bottom and spread them evenly to the edges, then freeze for 10 minutes to set it. Scoop ⅓ of the ice cream over it, spread it evenly, then press in half of the remaining graham crumbs. After a 45-minute freeze, add another layer of ice cream and then graham, freeze again, and add the final ice cream layer on top and smooth it all pretty. Let the cake nap in the freezer for several hours or overnight to solidify.

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I removed the cake mold and unwrapped the acetate to reveal a beautiful layered ice cream cake. My only minor complaint is that I’d like it to be taller, so I might do a 6″ cake next time. (Or I guess I could make a second batch of ice cream and graham crumbs if I wanted to keep the 8″ size– there are plenty of pralines and caramel.) I didn’t add pecans on the sides of the cake because I like the exposed layers; I did however sprinkle some on top, over which I drizzled that sexy salty caramel. The masterpiece was complete!

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I had built it up so much in my mind that I was a little nervous to try it… Would it be as good as I remembered?? No pressure… I had meant to bring it to work (I swear), thinking that a lot of ice cream cakes stay fairly frozen for a short period of time, but it started melting within minutes as I took photos, so it quickly became apparent that surviving my morning commute was out of the question. Just let me tell you how distraught I was that I to keep it all for myself. (Can you feel the distress??) For some reason, my husband showed little interest in this cake that was plainly available for eating in the freezer; it was fair game… basically not my problem that he chose not to eat it. I forgot (seriously!) to offer it to a friend who came for dinner, so except for a couple of modest slices, this entire thing went into my belly, and I’m pretty freaking happy about that. Best example of #sorrynotsorry that I can think of. 😉

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Anyway, the cake was just as delicious as it was the first time, which is to say, incredibly lovely. It kept fine in the freezer, covered in plastic wrap, for the 2-3 weeks that it took me to eat eat. The ice cream, graham layers, and caramel are a terrific sweet and salty combination. I am still thinking about it… kinda like every day. This cake is also a showstopper visually, in my opinion– I really couldn’t have asked for anything more from this dessert!

Trust me when I tell you that you don’t need a purple, green, and yellow dessert to celebrate Mardi Gras– this is a wonderful way to honor the occasion, since pralines are such a sugary staple of that region. Find the recipe for The New Orleans (aka Pecan Praline Ice Cream Cake) over at Baked Sunday Mornings, and please check out the ice cream cakes made by my fellow bakers this week. 🙂

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2017.

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