French Toast Ice Cream

Ice is the enemy of ice cream. More specifically, large ice crystals are the enemy, which create a grainy, crunchy texture instead of the smooth, creamy consistency you expect in good ice cream. I usually don’t manage to keep a batch of homemade ice cream around long enough for ice crystal formation to be a problem, but I have been looking into different methods of retarding crystal growth.

Cook’s Illustrated just published a method that looked promising, but it involves a lot of extra work: chill most of the custard base overnight, freeze the remaining base, mix the frozen and chilled portions together, churn in an ice cream freezer, transfer to a chilled metal pan in the freezer, and then to a final storage container. That’s a lot of mechanical manipulation of the ice cream, and ignores almost every ingredient-based solution to the problem, although they do incorporate corn syrup to reduce crystallization.

I was working on a recipe that used corn syrup as well as a small amount (0.1%) of xanthan gum when I heard about the method used in the recently-published Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home. Unlike my preferred recipe (which uses a 2:1 ratio of cream to milk, and four to six egg yolks), Jeni’s recipe inverts the dairy ratio, substitutes cream cheese for the eggs, and adds a cornstarch slurry to the mix. The corn starch – an ingredient rejected by the Cook’s researcher – performs the same ice-retardant function as the xanthan gum, so I decided to do a head-to-head comparison of her dark chocolate ice cream with my gold standard: the recipe from The Perfect Scoop. Lebovitz’s version had a deeper chocolate favor, but Jeni’s version had a creamier, gelato-like texture that maintained its consistency for more than a week.

Convinced of the practicality of Jeni’s method, I skimmed through the rest of her recipes (which, frustratingly, does not include the Bacon Praline to which she refers more than once ), looking for something interesting to make. I had settled on the Toasted Brioche with Butter and Jam recipe because I still had a chunk of brioche left from the no-knead brioche recipe in Ideas in Food:

When I remembered this post about powdered French toast, I realized I had a new recipe to create. I started with what I’d need to make the powdered French toast: about two cups of cubed brioche, a half stick of butter, three tablespoons of maple sugar (found in any New England supermarket), a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, and some fresh nutmeg.

I sautéed the brioche in the melted butter until it was brown and crispy, then added the maple sugar, cinnamon, and a few grinds of nutmeg. After a few minutes of stirring, I had caramelized French toast cubes.

When the cubes cooled, I added them to a food processor with an equivalent volume – about two cups – of tapioca maltodextrin and blended until I had about three cups of irregular powder.

I made powdered toast, Ren & Stimpy’s favorite breakfast:

To make the maple ice cream, I measured out two cups of whole milk, one and a quarter cups of heavy cream, two tablespoons of light corn syrup, a cup and a half of grade B maple syrup (the good stuff), four teaspoons of cornstarch, an ounce and a half of softened cream cheese, and a half teaspoon of sea salt.

I boiled the syrup over medium heat until it reduced by half. It’s crucial to use an overly large saucepan – at least four quarts – to prevent boilover. (Maple sugaring tip: if the sap is about to boil over, add a splash of cream. The fat in the cream reduces the surface tension of the bubbles.)

While the syrup boiled, I blended the salt and cream cheese together, added the corn syrup to the cream, and mixed the cornstarch with two tablespoons of the milk.

I removed the syrup from the heat and slowly stirred in the cream and then the milk. I returned the pan to a rolling boil over medium-high heat and let it cook for four minutes. This is a key step in Jeni’s method; it removes a lot of the water from the dairy components.

I slowly whisked in the cornstarch slurry and boiled for another minute, stirring the mixture with a spatula. Then I gradually whisked it into the cream cheese.

I learned from making the chocolate recipe that no amount of whisking will remove little bits of undissolved cornstarch, so I passed the mixture through a fine meshed strainer into a container in an ice bath. (You can also pour it into a zip-top freezer bag to chill. It’s faster, but I wasn’t in a hurry and prefer to let the ice cream base sit overnight in the fridge.)

The next day I pre-chilled my ice cream freezer and churned the iced cream for half an hour, adding about a cup and a half of the powdered French toast.

After four hours in the freezer, I had French toast ice cream, which I served topped with a sprinkling of the reserved crumbs. It tasted just like French toast: the maple wasn’t overwhelming, I could detect the cinnamon and nutmeg, and the crumbs retained their crunch – a perfect contrast to the creamy texture.

I’m thinking of serving this along with my prosciutto ice cream. Bill Cosby may have served chocolate cake for breakfast, but I can have ice cream for brunch.

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