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Butter pecan ice cream features butter-flavored vanilla ice cream and chopped, toasted pecans. A popular flavor, butter pecan can be easily found in most grocery stores and ice cream shops. Most ice cream brands make this flavor, and there is usually minimal variation in taste between brands. Butter pecan ice cream can also be made at home, with or without an ice cream maker.
Popularly found commercially, butter pecan ice cream uses traditional vanilla ice cream ingredients combined with butter and pecans. Whole milk or half-and-half, heavy cream, and light brown sugar, as well as vanilla extract and eggs are all usually included in the ice cream. Unsalted butter, salt, and toasted pecans are often the only additional ingredients. Some homemade versions may use alternate ingredients, however, such as French vanilla pudding or evaporated milk.
To make butter pecan ice cream, the sugar, milk or cream, butter, and eggs are mixed and heated, creating a custard. This step is necessary in order to kill any bacteria that may be in the raw eggs. The custard is then sieved and chilled. Afterward, the remaining ingredients, except the pecans, can be added.
Homemade versions will then place the ice cream mixture in an ice cream maker or transfer it to the freezer and periodically beat or stir the ice cream as it freezes. Commercially, the ice cream is placed in large tubes or vats and is whipped continually as it freezes. Whipping, by hand or in commercial or homemade makers, helps to keep the ice cream fluffy, but even more importantly, it prevents ice crystals from forming which would ruin the flavor and texture.
The pecans used in butter pecan ice cream are toasted or sauteed in butter and only added near the end of the freezing process. If they are toasted, they are usually tossed with melted butter and salt before they are cooled. As they cool, the nuts will absorbed the butter. They are normally chopped before being added to the ice cream.
Once the mixture is sufficiently frozen, but not yet hard enough to effectively scoop, the pecans are folded into the ice cream. If an ice cream maker is used, this step is accomplished after the ice cream has been removed from the ice cream maker and before it is transferred to a container to complete the freezing process. Homemade ice cream usually takes several hours freeze completely.