Vanilla Bean Bourbon Pecan Ice Cream

I never used to make ice cream. When my mom would pull out our ice cream maker, it was a special day because this was something we never did. It always seemed too finicky with ratios, too time consuming and too involved...even for me and my mother, and we make sourdough - the starter and all - from scratch.

After receiving an ice cream maker from one of my best friends for my birthday, I made it my goal to develop an incredible ice cream recipe by the end of this summer. And not to toot my own horn or anything, but I did just that.


But before we get to that point, I just need to say: I love ice cream. I love ice cream, gelato, sorbetto, popsicles, granita, hell, I'll even go for frozen yogurt. Basically anything frozen and bursting with flavor, I will eat. I love it so much, I opted to work in a cute little ice cream parlor in high school for a summer, just to give other people the dessert that brings me so much happiness (but in reality I did it because I got to take home almost a quart a night and eat as many samples as I wanted.) I used to be a strictly cookie dough kinda girl, but with age came a refined and explorative palate, (for everything, but really for ice cream) kind of like a fine wine. Yes, I did just compare myself to a fine wine. Cheers.

When I say explorative, I mean corn ice cream, soy sauce ice cream, ube ice cream...that kind of thing. But also blueberry poundcake ice cream, sour cream ice cream, even cantaloup gelato with prosciutto on top. I don't discriminate. Delving deeper into the ice cream obsession, I decided it is now time to whip up my own. I went through some rough patches, like using 6 egg yolks for maybe two cups of dairy. That led to a very eggy tasting ice cream – a flavor that was only magnified by too much almond extract and too-ripe peaches. (I still managed to eat a pretty good portion of the quart.)

 Notice how pale yellow it is?

Notice how pale yellow it is?

The pictures for this not-so-good ice cream, however, were fabulous.

The basics of this recipe came from a bunch of different sources...Serious Eats, NYT Cooking, and Saveur, to be exact. I played around with ratios and flavors for a while until I created something worth sharing. The vanilla bean is sweet and summery, yet the bourbon and toasted pecans are warm and evoke those fall feelings.


This recipe is great because it can be flavored any way you want it to be. Swap the vanilla bean for vanilla extract for a more subtle taste, remove the bourbon completely (but why would you do that?), or take out the pecans and instead throw in chocolate chips, name it. However, if you do choose to take out the pecans, or not use any nut at all, you can skip the first couple of steps and just throw the milk, cream, vanilla, salt, and sugar in the saucepan and start from there.

The base makes a little less than a quart, so feel free to double the recipe for more. Just make sure that your ice cream maker can handle it!

Vanilla Bean Bourbon Pecan Ice Cream

  • 1/4 cup pecans, some whole, some crushed with your hand
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup cream
  • 2 tbsp vanilla bean paste
  • 2 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 2 tbsp bourbon, like Maker's Mark or Woodford Reserve
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 egg yolks

In a medium saucepan, toast pecans over medium-high heat for about five minutes, until just barely sizzling and a nutty aroma develops. Turn the gas to low and gently pour in the milk and cream, stirring quickly with a wooden spoon so as not to burn the dairy. Add the vanilla bean paste and 1 tsp of salt, gently stirring every so often. Let the mixture heat up for about one or two minutes more, turn off heat, and put a lid on the pot. Let the nuts steep for 30 minutes to an hour. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a separate bowl. Remove the lid and turn the heat to medium-low. Add the sugar and the remainder of the salt and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Pour some of the hot mixture into the eggs, whisking vigorously, just until combined. This is so the eggs don't scramble and they reach the same temperature as the dairy. Pour the egg mixture back into the pot, and return to the stove at medium heat. Let cook, stirring, until the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of the spoon. This will happen very quickly! Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a container, and let cool with the lid off. Reserve the pecan pieces in a separate bowl. After about 20 to 30 minutes, seal the container and place in the refrigerator for 2 hours up to overnight. Pour the mixture into an ice cream machine and churn as according to the manufacturer's instructions, adding the pecans in almost immediately after the cold dairy mixture.

Voila! The ice cream will stay for about a week. I find after that, the flavors begin to muddle and dissipate. Sandwich between cookies, top with bourbon-soaked cherries, douse with a strawberry jam...or change the flavors completely. Any way you spin it, this ice cream will knock socks off.

My name is Alexandra Jade, but you can call me Alex, or Trin.  I am a Food Studies major at New York University, and a freelance photographer, journalist, and social media pro on the side.  I run the instagram account @twobrunchgirls.