Cinnamon-Nutmeg Ice Cream

As a kid, one of the coolest places my mom could take me was Glen Park, a small park set against an old cider mill, that contains a beautiful waterfall and a small “duck pond”. Endless childhood memories were had here.

Beyond the ‘top’ of the park (past the waterfall) was a quaint ice cream and candy shop named Sweet Jenny’s, which churned all of their own ice cream and offered “smoosh-ins” way before places like Coldstone Creamery caught on.

While I was still enjoying Butterfinger ice cream, my mom would always get the cinnamon-nutmeg ice cream. A few tastes (and years) later and she had me hooked too! However, Sweet Jenny’s has since relocated further down Main Street, and although it’s only a difference of a few blocks, it makes all the difference in terms of park-walkability. (Their previous location has now been taken over by Coffee Culture.)

So, what better ice cream flavor to make at home than our favorite, cinnamon-nutmeg? The recipe I developed only makes a pint. Why? Because homemade ice cream (without the use of stabilizers) has a huge drop off in quality after the first day or two and my family of four never eats a quart that fast. I also used the custard method (as opposed to the Philadelphia-style without eggs), as homemade ice cream really benefits from the addition of egg yolks.

As for the spices, I knew that I wanted to steep whole cinnamon sticks in the scalded milk. I ended up throwing a split vanilla bean in too. I didn’t scrape out the seeds though: the custard is left with a subtle but not overwhelming vanilla flavor.

After carefully tempering the eggs with the hot milk, slowly cook the custard until it reaches 175ºF or the custard coats the back of a spoon.

Strain the cooked custard through a fine-mesh sieve and let cool slightly. Now comes the time for the other spices! Obviously, cinnamon will come into play once again. While the custard should already smell heavenly from the cinnamon sticks and vanilla bean, ground cinnamon will only enhance those flavors while adding a rich color to the ice cream. And the nutmeg! That is: whole nutmeg, freshly ground on a microplane. The flavor of freshly ground nutmeg is much more subtle and complementary, while the pre-ground variety can be harsh and unpleasant. And the best part? A jar of whole nutmegs is nearly the same price as pre-ground nutmeg, so there’s no reason to not buy a jar.

When the spices are added, be sure to press plastic wrap to the surface of the custard so that a skin doesn’t form. I always find that the best texture comes from an overnight stay in the fridge, so make the custard the night before. If you’re making the custard and churning on the same day, leave it in the fridge for at least 6 hours, or until its extremely cold. Trust me: I made this mistake the first time making ice cream and I ended up with rock-hard pistachio milk. Oh, and make sure that the ice cream churn is ice-cold too! If you shake the churn, you shouldn’t feel an ounce of liquid move around inside.

Churn, and let ripen in the freezer for at least 4 hours. Eat as quickly as possible!

Ingredient List

  • 2 Cups of Half & Half (choose pasteurized over ultra-pasteurized if possible)
  • 4 Egg Yolks (save the whites for another use!)
  • Heaping 1/2 Cup of Sugar
  • 2 Cinnamon Sticks
  • 1 Vanilla Bean
  • 3 tsp. of Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. Freshly Ground Nutmeg
  • The Tiniest Pinch of Fleur de Sel

For the Cinnamon-Nutmeg Ice Cream:

  1. Heat the half & half in a medium saucepan over medium heat until steaming. Add a split vanilla bean and two cinnamon sticks and cover. Steep for 20-30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks (by hand or using an electric mixer) until frothy. Continue beating while adding in the sugar. Beat until the yolks are pale and thick (the ribbon stage).
  3. Remove the vanilla bean and cinnamon sticks from the milk. Keep one cinnamon stick to the side, discard the other, and either discard the vanilla bean or throw it in some sugar to make vanilla sugar.
  4. Temper the egg yolks: using a ladle, put a little milk into the yolks while stirring. Continue until the two are completely combined.
  5. Return the mixture to the saucepan and gently bring to 175º over low heat, stirring almost constantly. (If you don’t have a thermometer handy, dip a spoon into the custard, and then make a line with your finger on the spoon. If the line stays and the liquid remains on either side of the line, the custard is sufficiently heated.)
  6. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a chilled bowl. Cool slightly, and then add the cinnamon and freshly ground nutmeg. Stir and taste: if you feel there needs to be more a bit more cinnamon, now’s the time to add it.
  7. Optional: add the tiniest pinch of Fleur de Sel. (I did.)
  8. To make the next day easier, I poured the entire mixture into a large 4-cup measuring cup. Easy to store and easy to pour into the ice cream churn.
  9. Add the reserved cinnamon stick to the cooled custard. Cover with plastic wrap (on the surface) and refrigerate overnight.
  10. The next day, assemble your ice cream churn, remove the cinnamon stick, and pour in the custard with the machine running. Churn for 20-30 minutes, until the ice cream is thick and the consistency of soft-serve ice cream. Ripen in the freezer for at least 4 hours.

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