Fig and Candied Walnut Ice Cream

"Fig and Walnut ice cream?" you might ask. "Ew, figs," you might say. But before you pass judgement on this slightly unusual ice cream flavor, make it and see how fast it'll disappear. Because it is fabulous.

I love trying new ice cream flavors, and while I was in Italy, this was one of my favorites, though it could only be found in a couple of places. (You can read more about my gelato and Italian food ramblings here.) I learned almost zero Italian in the two months of my stay, and could barely manage a "what's your name?" But pointing at a tub of this wonderful ice cream and saying, "una pallina di noce e fichi"? I had it down pat.

This ice cream is rich, smooth, and creamy, with sweet and tender pieces of fig and crunchy walnuts swirled in. The sugar coating the walnuts dissolves a little in the ice cream, giving it little golden-brown streaks of caramel, while the fig flavor is not at all strong, and only gives the ice cream a nice warm, fruity flavor.

This is a basic custard ice cream, with figs and caramelized walnuts thrown in. It's a three-step process of making the ice cream base, fig sauce, and candied walnuts. (I heard that! Don't say ew to the fig sauce. It makes the ice cream magical and yummy.) I used an ice cream maker to make this, which probably gives the smoothest results, but here are a few ways you can make ice cream without a machine.

The only tricky part of making this ice cream is cooking the custard. which requires tempering the eggs, and gently heating them so that they don't scramble. This is the same process you'd use to make other custard-based desserts, such as pastry cream.

You start by heating the milk in a saucepan.

While that's heating, separate the egg yolks from the whites. Save the whites to make other desserts, such as these macarons.

Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar.

Slowly pour about half of the hot milk into the egg yolks while whisking constantly.

Pour the egg yolk/mixture bake into the pot, and continue to cook it, stirring constantly. It's important to keep on mixing, or else the custard will be lumpy.

The custard is done when it is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, and your finger leaves a clean trail in the custard on the spoon.

Now pour this mixture into a large bowl and mix in the whipped cream. Chill this for several hours in the refrigerator for several hours, and then churn it in the ice cream maker. In the last 5 minutes of churning, add the fig sauce. In the last minute of churning, add the walnuts.

Serve in a large bowl along with a cup of hot coffee. No one says you can't enjoy ice cream in winter (:


Fig and Candied Walnut Ice Cream

Yields: about 1 quart of ice cream

Ice cream base adapted from David Lebovitz, candied walnut recipe adapted from The Food Network

For the custard base
1 ½ cup milk
5 egg yolks
⅓ cup sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cup heavy cream, chilled

For the fig sauce
8 ounces dried figs, roughly chopped
⅓ cup water
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the candied walnuts
1 ½ cup walnut halves
⅓ cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt


Make the custard base. Place the milk in a saucepan and bring it to a simmer.

While the milk is heating, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and salt.

Slowly drizzle about half of the hot milk into the egg yolks while whisking constantly.

Pour the egg/milk mixture back into the saucepan and continue to cook it until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. When you run your finger through the custard on the spoon, it should leave a clean trail. Let the custard cool.

Pour the heavy cream into a large bowl and pour in the custard. Mix well and refrigerate for several hours, preferably overnight.

Make the fig sauce. Place the figs, water, honey, and sugar in a saucepan and cook until it forms a thick paste. Take the saucepan off the stove and stir in the almond and vanilla extracts. Let cool.

Make the candied walnuts. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Blanche the walnuts. Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Boil the walnuts for 3 minutes, then drain well.

Mix together the powdered sugar, brown sugar, and salt.Roll the walnuts in the sugar mixture.

Place the walnuts on a baking sheet, and bake for about 10 minutes, until the walnuts are a deep golden brown. Let cool.

Break the walnuts into the smaller pieces.

Churn the ice cream in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. In the last 5 minutes of churning, add the fig sauce. In the last minute of churning, add the candied walnuts.

Scoop the ice cream into a container and freezer for several hours until firm before serving.