Crumbs o’ the Irish: Brown Bread Ice Cream

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So you made an Irish feast a few days ago and now you have a bunch of brown bread left over, right? Now, I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t keep slathering thick slices with salted butter as long as you can, but here’s another idea: ICE CREAM. Yep, bread and ice cream– I’m so glad David Lebovitz brought it to my attention. Like, really glad. This Brown Bread Ice Cream is one of those recipes that I wish I could say I invented– how delicious, creative, and resourceful; I would venture to say it’s one of the most brilliant repurposing efforts I’ve ever seen. It is, apparently, a real thing in Ireland, and I plan to make it a post-St. Patrick’s Day tradition from now on. David Lebovitz describes it as similar to “Grape Nuts ice cream” (yes, the cereal), and it totally is! I never would’ve thought of that (and didn’t realize that was even a thing), but this is a spot-on description. I’ve enjoyed frolicking in Irish cuisine for the past week, especially after my recent trip to Ireland, and this was such a nice way to close out St. Patrick’s Day festivities. The ice cream is made with brown sugar, which always lends a nice caramelized depth, and it also has a full brick of cream cheese in it, giving it the perfect amount of tanginess to complement the sweetness of toasted, cinnamon-y brown bread crumbles.

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The ice cream base is a cross between traditional cooked custard and Philadelphia-style, which is not cooked and sometimes contains cream cheese. You’ll first heat the milk, cream, and sugar, temper the egg yolks with a bit of that mixture, then cook all of it until it thickens. You will pour this over the cream cheese and more cold cream, and stir it until blended.

I wish I could say it went smoothly, but I did have a couple of hiccups. The milk/cream/sugar mixture on the stove seemed to curdle– I’m not sure what the issue was, but it had tiny bits in it, even after tempering the eggs. I also apparently cooked the custard too much after adding the eggs, BUT it completely smoothed out after straining. Then, the cold cream cheese wouldn’t blend easily into the custard, so I had to incorporate it using an immersion blender (making the custard strangely frothy, as seen in the photo below in the recipe).

My ice cream base came out quite thick because of that, but it all worked out fine after churning the ice cream. It got extremely thick in less than 20 minutes– I had to fold in the caramelized brown bread bits by hand afterwards. In the future, I would soften the cream cheese and pre-mash it a little to help it blend more easily.

The only improvement I would make is the ice cream texture. It got very hard in the freezer and was slightly crumbly because of all that custard drama… but still soooo DELICIOUS! (Once it softened on the counter for 10-15 minutes, it was beautifully creamy.) I think this was just due to the blending method, and I would 100% make this again regardless. The incredible, complex flavor is made special by a kiss of cinnamon, and I loved the crunchy/creamy contrast.

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Brown Bread Ice Cream
Adapted from David Lebovitz
Yields 1¼ quarts

I made the brown bread recipe on the back of the package of King Arthur Flour’s Irish-Style Flour— super easy and very tasty on its own, as well as in this recipe. You can use any crumbly brown bread or rustic whole-grain loaf. David Lebovitz says that day-old bran muffins or gingerbread work nicely as well, especially for the holidays.

For the caramelized brown bread crumbs:

  • 9 ounces (250g) brown bread (2-3 slices)
  • ½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons (45g) butter, salted or unsalted (I used salted– I highly recommend Irish butter!)

For the ice cream custard:

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1½ cups heavy cream, divided
  • ⅓ cup (65g) granulated sugar plus ⅓ cup (70g) light or dark brown sugar, or ¾ cup (170g) granulated sugar (I used the white/brown combination)
  • ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 ounces (225g) cream cheese, cubed and softened (or sour cream, though I didn’t try that)
  • 5 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • 1 tablespoon whiskey (optional)

For garnish (optional):

  • Toasted brown bread crumbs

Make the brown bread crumbs:
Preheat an oven to 350°F– a good-quality countertop toaster oven works well for this if you have one. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Crumble the brown bread into small bits with your hands or in a food processor fitted with the metal blade; the pieces should be about the size of peas, give or take. Place them in a bowl and add the sugar, cinnamon, and salt. In a medium skillet, melt the butter and cook it until it foams and starts to brown. When you have lightly-browned butter, remove from the pan from the heat and add the contents of the bread/sugar bowl. Stir the bread until all the bits are coated with butter.

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Spread the bread on the baking sheet in an even layer and bake for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the crumbs have turned a deep, toasty brown– they should have a soft-crisp texture and will firm up more when they cool. Place the pan on a wire cooling rack and let the bread cool completely. The crumbs can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days if you’re not using them right away, and leftovers (there will be some) can be stored in the freezer.

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Make the ice cream base:
Pour the milk, ½ cup heavy cream, granulated and brown sugars, and salt into a medium saucepan. Stir them together to break up the sugar and heat the mixture just until it comes to a simmer.

Meanwhile, place the softened cream cheese in a medium bowl and mash it around with a rubber spatula to break up the chunks. (If using sour cream, simply put it in the bowl.) Pour the remaining 1 cup heavy cream over the cream cheese.

Make an ice bath by filling a larger bowl with ice and cold water, and set out a fine-mesh strainer, keeping both near the bowl of cream and cream cheese.

In a third bowl, mix together the egg yolks just until smooth. Slowly stream about ⅓ of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly as you pour to avoid cooking the yolks. Pour this back into the saucepan with the remaining hot milk and whisk until blended.

Cook the mixture over low heat, stirring the entire time with a heatproof spatula or a ball whisk, making sure to scrape the bottom and corners of the pan, until the custard becomes thick enough to coat the spatula/whisk.

Using the fine-mesh sieve, strain the custard into the bowl containing the heavy cream and cream cheese (or sour cream), and whisk to combine it into a smooth and homogenous ice cream base. Whisk in the vanilla extract and whiskey, if using.

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Place the bowl in the ice bath and stir occasionally until the temperature is just warm to the touch. Pour the cooled custard into a 4-cup measuring cup or other vessel with a pour spout and cover the top with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the ice cream base until it is thoroughly chilled, at least several hours or overnight.

Churn the custard in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. In the last two minutes of churning, add about ½ of the toasted bread crumbs (more if you wish) to the machine. Scrape the ice cream into a freezer container and press a piece of parchment paper directly on the surface to avoid freezer burn. Alternatively, fold the bread bits into the ice cream by hand with a spatula as you transfer the ice cream into the container. Store the ice cream in the freezer for several hours, until firm and ready to serve.

Top the ice cream with more browned bread crumbs if desired. (You really should.)

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2017.

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