Butter pecan ice cream — without the ice cream machine

You don't need an ice cream machine for this recipe

Published June 1, 2021 11:59AM (EDT)

Prop stylist: Ali Slagle. Food stylist: Sam Seneviratne. (Mark Weinberg / Food52)
Prop stylist: Ali Slagle. Food stylist: Sam Seneviratne. (Mark Weinberg / Food52)

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Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. That means five ingredients or fewer—not including water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (like oil and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Psst, did you hear we're coming out with a cookbook? We're coming out with a cookbook!

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It should come as little surprise that the path toward better butter pecan ice cream doesn't start with cream or milk or eggs or sugar or any number of other ingredients. It starts with butter and pecans—and how you use them. Not with a shrug but with feeling.

As in other recipes, you will melt butter, add lots of pecans, and let them leisurely toast until your kitchen smells like there might be a pie in the oven. This simple step delivers assertively flavored nuts, polka-dotting the ice cream, adding crunch-crunch-crunch amid all the plushness.

But unlike other recipes, you won't stop at that, not yet. Adventure is out there.

Into the emptied pan, toss in another hunk of butter, to melt, then huff, then puff, then brown. Stay close. Brown butter goes from just right to oh no in less time than it takes for me to type this sentence. But when you get it just right? You win more buttery aroma, more buttery flavor, more butteriness, period.

The pecans, too, we're using more than once. Because while roasty nuts get a lot of hooting and hollering, raw nuts are worthy in their own way. Milky and mild, not unlike sweet cream. Which, now that you mention it, we're also using. So why not put the two together?

You don't need an ice cream machine for this recipe. Nor do you need eggs or granulated sugar or brown sugar. Because instead of making a custard, chilling it, churning it, and freezing it, we're opting for a no-churn (aka no-fuss) template: condensed milk plus whipped cream.

The whipping part usually involves a hand mixer, or stand mixer, or whisk and strong arm. But today, a humble blender will do all the hard work: First, by blitzing pecans into powder. Next, by introducing this pecan powder to cold cream. And finally, by metamorphosing this pecan cream into whipped pecan cream.

This nutty floof not only simulates the airiness of an ice cream churner. It also ensures that every mouthful of ice cream is overloaded with pecan—pecanier, pecaniest—flavor.

And yes, you can and should make this whipped pecan cream on its own, to plop on any cake, especially chocolate. Or load up one of those flimsy foil pie tins and throw it at a loved one's face. How fun would that be?

No-Churn Butter Pecan Ice Cream

Makes: 1 quart


  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 cups (171 grams) pecan pieces, divided
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups heavy cream


  1. Stick a quart container or loaf pan in the freezer. 
  2. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 cup (114 grams) of pecans, plus a pinch of salt, and toss to coat. Toast for about 5 minutes, stirring often and lowering the heat as needed so the nuts don't burn, until very fragrant. Transfer to a large plate and immediately stick in the freezer to chill out. (If there are any pecan bits or browned butter left behind, wipe out the pan with a towel.)
  3. Empty the can of condensed milk into a large bowl. 
  4. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to the emptied skillet and return to the stove over medium heat. Cook, watching closely, until the milk solids in the butter start to brown and smell like roasting hazelnuts. Pour the brown butter directly into the condensed milk, scraping every last bit out of the pan. 
  5. Add the vanilla to the condensed milk, plus another pinch of salt, and stir to combine. 
  6. Add the remaining 1/2 cup (57 grams) of pecans to a blender. Process until powdery. Add a big splash of cream and process to combine, scraping down as needed. Add another big splash and repeat. Now pour in the rest of the cream and blend until the cream is whipped. 
  7. Scrape the whipped cream into the condensed milk mixture and gently fold to combine. Now fold in the toasted pecans from the freezer. 
  8. Remove the container from the freezer and add the ice cream. Cover and freeze for at least 6 hours, until however firm you like your ice cream.



By Emma Laperruque

MORE FROM Emma Laperruque

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