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Toasted Benne Ice Cream with Butterscotch Swirl

Benne and butterscotch ice cream: unexpectedly nuanced and wildly seductive at the same time.

About 1 quart


About 40 minutes of active time, plus overnight to steep the cream, about 30 minutes for churning, and at least 2 hours for freezing

Because of the bennecake, this ice cream base will set up very firmly. Better to err on the side of firmness before swirling in the butterscotch. The butterscotch itself should be fluid, but just barely, and not the least bit warm.


Our bennecake flour, milled from heirloom African sesame, throws a rainbow of flavors: a dressed up faraway peanut butter, and some nutty other things we can’t quite put our fingers on. The flavors produce in us the can’t-quit-you craving we experience in the presence of a fine crystalline halvah or really good tahini dressing. Dawn Yanagihara developed this recipe based on the ancient principles of horchata, nut meal soaked in water or milk to extract flavor, strained, sweetened, and served over ice. She took the haunting liquid, made from it a custard, then an ice cream, and swirled the cream with threads of homemade butterscotch. It is, quite literally, indescribably delicious.

equipment mise en place

For the ice cream, you will need a medium heavy-bottomed skillet, a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, a couple of medium bowls, a large bowl, a small and a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, a whisk, a large fine-mesh strainer, an instant-read thermometer, and an ice cream maker.

For the butterscotch swirl, you will need a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, a 2-cup liquid measuring cup, a small bowl, a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, a whisk, and a table knife.

  • for the ice cream:

    • 2
    • 16
      fluid ounces (2 cups) whole milk
    • 12
      fluid ounces (1½ cups) heavy cream
    • 3
      ounces (7 packed tablespoons) light brown sugar
    • teaspoon fine sea salt
    • 3
      ounces egg yolks (from 5 or 6 large eggs)
    • ½
      teaspoon vanilla extract
  • for the butterscotch:

    • 10
      fluid ounces (1¼ cups) heavy cream
    • 0.75
      ounces (1½ tablespoons) unsalted European-style butter
    • 3
      ounces (7 packed tablespoons) dark brown sugar
    • ½
      teaspoon vanilla extract
    • teaspoon fine sea salt

    Make the ice cream base: In a medium heavy-bottomed skillet, toast the bennecake flour over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the flour takes on a light golden color and smells toasty and rich, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the flour to a medium bowl (fig. 1.1). 


    In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the milk and cream over medium heat until bubbles begin to form around the edges. Pour the mixture over the toasted bennecake flour and whisk gently to blend the flour into the liquid. Let cool until just warm, and then cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, or up to overnight.


    Set a large fine-mesh strainer over a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Pour the benne-infused cream mixture (it will be thickish) through the strainer; stir the contents of the strainer with a spoon to help the liquid pass through, then press lightly on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible without pushing too many particles through (fig. 3.1). Add about 5 tablespoons of the light brown sugar to the saucepan along with the salt, and bring the mixture to a gentle simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally to help the sugar dissolve.


    Meanwhile, rinse out the strainer and bowl, set the strainer back over the bowl, and set this assembly into a larger bowl containing some ice water. In yet another medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining light brown sugar until well combined. When the cream mixture simmers, gradually whisk about half of it into the yolks, and then whisk this tempered mixture into the cream in the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the custard thickens and registers 180 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 30 seconds to 1 minute; do not let the mixture reach a boil.


    Immediately pour the custard through the strainer into the chilled bowl, and then give it a couple of stirs to allow it to release some heat (fig. 5.1). Stir in the vanilla and let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 4 hours, or up to overnight.


    Make the butterscotch: While the ice cream base is chilling, bring the cream to a boil over medium-high heat in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan. Turn down the heat to maintain a vigorous simmer and cook until the cream has reduced to a generous ¾ cup, about 20 minutes (fig. 6.1). Pour the cream into a small bowl and set aside. 


    Add the butter to the now-empty saucepan and set the pan over low heat. When the butter has melted, add the dark brown sugar and stir until the mixture is smooth and shiny. Pour in the reduced cream and whisk until homogenous, and then stir in the salt and vanilla (fig. 7.1). Transfer the butterscotch to a glass container, let cool, and then refrigerate if you won’t be churning the ice cream in the next 2 hours or so.


    Churn the ice cream: If you’ve refrigerated the butterscotch, it will need to be brought back to warm room temperature. Place the container in a hot-water bath or microwave it at 50 percent power until the butterscotch is fluid but not warm to the touch; stir it occasionally. Put a container for storing the ice cream into the freezer to chill. Pour the chilled ice cream base into the canister of the ice cream machine and churn until softly set (it will resemble soft serve), 10 to 30 minutes, depending on your ice cream maker. Remove the chilled storage container from the freezer and scoop about one-third of the ice cream into the container, roughly distributing it in an even layer. Drizzle with ¼ cup of the butterscotch and use a table knife to swirl it in with just a few quick strokes; don’t be too concerned about aesthetics. Repeat with the remaining ice cream and butterscotch (fig. 8.1), creating two more layers of each, and then press a sheet of plastic wrap directly against the surface. Freeze until the ice cream is firm, at least 2 hours.

    1. 1.1
    1. 3.1
    1. 5.1
    1. 6.1
    1. 7.1
    1. 8.1