Hickory smoked ice cream was inspired by one of the greatest desserts I've ever eaten in my life at Saison My first time eating there at the end of the tasting menu that had to be about 15 courses, the server brought us a little orb of white ice cream. They explained to us that the ice cream was smoked before they poured a thread of warm salted caramel over the top. It was one of the best things I've tasted in a restaurant.
After we finished dessert, I had to interrogate the server about the process of making the ice cream. What he explained to me was that in the morning each day, the cooks would take the milk from the cow on the farm that the restaurant owns, and quench a burning log in it.
Working with smoke, and incorporating the flavor into food that tastes good is a learned skill. I would have never thought to put something alight into dairy as I would assume it would taste charred, but if it worked for them I had to try it myself.
After a good amount of trial and error, I came on some proportions that work pretty well. It's not the same ice cream they served at Saison, but it's not supposed to be. I was inspired by their method and wanted to see if there would be a way I could do something similar using shagbark hickory bark as I know it's often used to make syrup people sell as a sort of maple syrup substitute.
It turned out to be one of the most interesting desserts I've made, and got rave reviews from the groups of people I've served it to over the years now. I usually make a batch in the winter for my friends Winter Solstice party.
Varying and adapting the recipe
There's so many different things you could do with this I could write whole post on the possibilities. The biggest thing to mention is that you can make a version of this using traditional hickory nut milk, also known as Kanuchi, made from shagbark hickory nuts (Carya ovata).
To make this using hickory nut milk
Make one recipe of Hickory Nut Milk and cook it down until 1 cup remains, then add 2 cups of cream, ¾ cups sugar, and 6 egg yolks, and heat gently, whisking, just until the egg thickens the mixture slightly and proceed as directed for the ice cream as per the manufacturers directions for your machine.
Smoked Hickory Ice Cream (With Shagbark Syrup)
- 2- inch piece of clean hickory bark preferably leftover from making syrup
- 3 cups half and half
- 6 egg yolks
- 1 cup hickory syrup or use ¾ cup granulated sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ cup toasted chopped hickory nuts (optional)
Toasting hickory nuts (optional)
- Line a baking sheet with parchment (optional-this is a restaurant tic). Put the nuts on the baking sheet and toast for 5 minutes or until just barely starting to turn golden in a preheated 350 F oven. Be very careful not to burn the nuts-you just want to toast them a bit to bring out their flavor. Cool the nuts to room temperature and reserve.
Infusing the dairy
- Take the piece of bark, and heat it over a fire until it’s engulfed in flames. Extinguish the burning bark in the cream, and allow to infuse for 20-30 minutes, then remove the bark and discard.
- Whisk the cream, egg yolks, syrup, and salt, then heat on medium-high, turning down the heat when the mixture gets warm, until the custard thickens, whisking constantly and being very careful not to coagulate the eggs.
- Cool, and allow to rest overnight for the best texture, then process in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s directions.
- Stir in the toasted nuts (if using) after spinning while the mixture is still malleable and soft.
- Freeze the ice cream until set (at least a few hours). As it sits in the freezer it may get a little stiff over time. It's best served the day of or the day after making it. If your ice cream has been in the freezer for a while or seems stiff let it soften a bit before scooping.