When I first started outlining this book, I had a long talk with my favorite baking guru, Kyra Effren, whose teaching and baking experience spans a lifetime. She made some great suggestions and then, after we had moved on to another topic, added, “And don’t forget brown bread ice cream—it’s one of my favorites.” Baking crumbled bread with the caramel, a pinch of salt, and just a tablespoon of butter produces sweet crumbs that stay crisp once added to the ice cream. The ice cream recipe is based on the one I learned from Monsieur Alex Frolla, the pastry chef when I did my three summer seasons working at the Sporting Club and the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo. It was the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted.
Makes about 2 quarts ice cream
ICE CREAM MIXTURE
4 cups whole milk
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split
Three 3-inch strips lemon zest, yellow part only, removed with a vegetable peeler
2-inch piece of cinnamon stick
10 large egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
CARAMELIZED BROWN BREAD CRUMBS
6 ounces crustless whole wheat bread, sliced 1/4-inch thick and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
Pinches of fine sea salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
One jellyroll pan or small roasting pan, bottom lined with parchment paper
For the ice cream, set a medium saucepan in a bowl of ice water; place a fine mesh strainer over the pan.
Whisk the milk and sugar in another saucepan and add the vanilla bean. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat, add the lemon zest and cinnamon stick, and let cool for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a bowl just enough to break them up.
Use a slotted spoon to remove the vanilla bean, lemon zest, and cinnamon stick and return the milk mixture to a boil. Whisk about one third of it into the yolks, then return the pan to low heat. Starting to whisk before pouring, pour the yolk mixture into the pan and whisk constantly until the mixture thickens slightly—it won’t be very thick. Immediately strain it into the prepared pan and whisk the strained mixture several times in the next few minutes while it’s cooling. Once cooled, pour it into a non-reactive bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until the next day. Right before you intend to churn the ice cream, whisk in the cream.
For the brown bread crumbs, set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350˚F. Scatter the bread on the pan and bake until dry, but not toasted, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven but leave the oven on.
Combine 1/4 cup water and the sugar in a small saucepan and place over medium heat. Bring to a boil and continue to cook until the sugar starts to color. Pull the pan off the heat so that the caramel doesn’t get too dark—it will continue to darken from the heat retained by the pan. Quickly heat the other 1/4 cup water in a small pan. Check the color of the caramel; if it is not yet a deep amber color, return the pan to the heat for 2 additional minutes, then repeat. When the caramel is ready, cover your hand and forearm with a towel and add the hot water to the caramel, averting your face. The caramel will bubble up, then settle. If the caramel has cooled and hardens on contact with the water, place the pan back on low heat and cook for a minute or two, stirring, until the caramel is liquid. Use a tablespoon to drizzle the diluted caramel over the bread cubes on the pan, sprinkle with the 2 tablespoons sugar, a few pinches of salt, and the butter, then use 2 spoons to toss the bread cubes to distribute the caramel, sugar, and salt evenly.
Bake the bread cubes again, stirring them every 2 minutes, until they are well toasted and crisp, 6 to 7 minutes.
Slide the paper off the pan to a rack to cool the crumbs.
Before you churn the ice cream, place a stainless steel bowl in the freezer. Churn in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Scrape into the prepared bowl and quickly fold in the cooled crumbs. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until serving time.