You read that right: popcorn ice cream.
When it came time for Dan, my main squeeze, to celebrate his mother’s birthday, he made it clear that she wasn’t a cake person. Lucky for me, Holli is an ice cream person, and a popcorn lover as well, so I set myself to the task of making a buttered popcorn ice cream for her birthday. This was my first chance to make an impression on her, and I was determined it be a delicious one.
I had made a popcorn sorbet at Poppy restaurant as the base of a caramel corn sundae, and had enough experience to know better than to blend popped corn with hot liquid. The starches in the popcorn form long gummy chains and make it kind of snotty—yuck! I blended popped corn into a chilled ice cream base, but it wasn’t quite right—and this ice cream had to be just right. After a team powwow, Harry Flagger, pastry cook supreme, said it was missing the flavor of the toasted oil. And boy, was he right. I popped the popcorn in clarified butter on the stovetop, then I added the ice cream base to the pot—and it perfectly captured the aroma of popcorn.
Popcorn Ice Cream
- 2 cups Cream
- 2 cups Milk
- ¾ cup Sugar
- ¼ cup Glucose
- 2 teaspoons Clarified butter or oil
- 2 tablespoons Raw popcorn kernels
- ¾ teaspoon Salt
- Texture agent of your choice
- Pop the popcorn. Place the clarified butter and popcorn in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Cover with a lid and cook until you hear the sound of the corn popping. Use pot holders to take hold of the handle in one hand and the lid in the other. Gently shake and swirl the pot around, keeping the bottom flush with the burner, to encourage even popping and avoid burnt spots. Continue until the sound of popping corn has slowed to less than one pop per second. Immediately remove the popcorn from the heat.
- Clarified butter is butter that is cooked until the water simmers away; the milk solids sink to the bottom and are strained and discarded. You can often find ghee, the Indian style of clarified butter, which are perfect for this recipe!
- Infuse. Working quickly, remove the lid from the popcorn pot and pour the dairy into it. Stir the popcorn, watching it dissolve. Let the popcorn-dairy mixture cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.
- Blend. Transfer the popcorn mixture to a blender. Add the salt and start blending on low speed at first, increasing gradually to full speed, to avoid the liquid’s jumping out of the blender cup. Continue blending for 1 to 2 minutes, until the ice cream base is very smooth.
- Chill. Transfer the base to a shallow metal or glass bowl. Working quickly, fill a large bowl two-thirds of the way with very icy ice water. Nest the hot bowl into this ice bath, stirring occasionally until it cools down.
- Strain. When the ice cream base is cool to the touch or a thermometer reads 50°F or below, strain it through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the bits of hull.
- Cure. Transfer the ice cream base to the refrigerator to cure for 4 hours, or preferably overnight. (This step is optional, but the texture will be much improved with it.)
- Churn. Place the base into the bowl of an ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The ice cream is ready when it thickens into the texture of soft-serve ice cream and holds its shape, typically 20 to 30 minutes.
- Harden. To freeze your ice cream in the American hard-pack style, immediately transfer it to a container with an airtight lid. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface of the ice cream to prevent ice crystals from forming, cover, and store it in your freezer until it hardens completely, between 4 and 12 hours. Or, feel free to enjoy your ice cream immediately; the texture will be similar to soft-serve.
- Best texture: Commercial stabilizer – 3g or 1 teaspoon. Mix with the sugar before it is added to the ice cream base.
- Least icy: Guar or xanthan gum. 1g or ¼ teaspoon. Whirl in a blender with the ice cream base after it is chilled in the ice bath.
- Easiest to use: Tapioca starch. 5g or 2 teaspoons / mixed with 20g or 2 tablespoons of cold milk. Whisk into the ice cream base after it is finished cooking.
- Most accessible: Cornstarch. 10g or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon / mixed with 20g or 2 tablespoons of cold milk. Whisk into the simmering ice cream base, then cook for 1 minute.