MacNut Ice Cream

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We spent a week in Maui during the last week of June, accompanied by three other couples who we adore and who are all wonderful with Phoebe. It was our first plane ride with a baby—our first trip and first nights spent anywhere other than our house with her, in fact—so we approached the whole experience with some trepidation. But despite some rough nights and time-change adjustment woes, it all went rather smoothly. Don’t get me wrong, it certainly wasn’t the most relaxing trip of my life, with a toddler still clamoring for attention every minute of the day, but it was absolutely lovely to spend days all together at the beach, floating in the warm water, building sand castles Phoebe promptly smashed with her little fists, and snagging baby-free moments to go snorkel and ogle the colorful fish. Chickens abounded throughout the neighborhood—hens ushered peeping, puff-ball chicks across lawns and roads while roosters sang their little hearts out at all hours of the day (Phoebe, with great effort, managed to imitate the roosters quite well). The mountains in the distance were nearly always blanketed with thick, puffy clouds and doused in steam, resulting in hazy, ephemeral rainbows that floated in the valleys between peaks.

We had a few fantastic meals, though Jonji and I learned we had to order immediately upon being seated and still spent most of the time switching off Phoebe-chasing duty so the other could enjoy a few bites of fish and chips, pork buns, or garlic noodles. The most relaxing ten minutes of a meal was when a generous waitress at Monkeypod brought Phoebe a glass full of the same honey and passionfruit foam that topped all of our fantastic Mai Tais. We gratefully sipped our drinks while Phoebe blissfully spaced out, dipping her whole hand into the foam and licking it off her little sticky fingers. Once Phoebe went to sleep each night the eight of us adults packed into one of our two condos, playing games that provided us ample opportunity for stomach-aching laugh attacks and trying every sort of mixed drink involving POG juice you could think of.

In Hawaii, the treat of choice is shave ice. We indulged several times over the course of our week there, standing in line for what felt like two hours, but was likely 30 minutes, each time in order order bowls full of, essentially, powdered snow doused with delicious fruity syrup. But the best part of all was the little scoop of ice cream embedded at the bottom of the sugary pile. Each time we all chose macadamia nut (often simply shortened to “macnut”) ice cream, and it was always a joyful moment to reach that creamy center, embedded with contrasting chunks of crunchy, rich macadamia nuts.

Since good shave ice can only be found in Hawaii, apparently (and only made by using a special shave ice machine), I gave up on recreating the entire dessert. Instead I focused on the ice cream, which is arguably the best part, anyway. It was surprisingly easy to come up with a version that feels super close to what we ate in Hawaii, although mine is a little richer and ended up a lovely golden hue. But since macadamia nuts are essentially worth their weight in gold, the color feels appropriate. This ice cream is an especially indulgent treat given that you’re using over a cup of the precious, buttery nuts, but it’s worth every penny. And really, you’re saving money by making this ice cream instead of flying to Hawaii.

MacNut Ice Cream

Makes 1 quart

3/4 cup plus 1/3 cup raw whole macadamia nuts
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
5 egg yolks

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Roast all of the macadamia nuts for 8–10 minutes, shaking once halfway through, until they smell toasty and are a light golden brown. Let cool completely.

By hand or using a food processor, chop 3/4 cup of the toasted macadamia nuts until the nuts are in small shard-like pieces (but not so fine that it’s like a nut flour). Combine the whole milk, cream, 1/2 cup sugar, a pinch of salt, and the chopped nuts in a small-medium pot and set over medium heat. Heat the mixture, stirring often, until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid feels hot (but not boiling) to the touch and a few little bubbles pop up around the edges. Cover with a lid and set aside for 30 minutes or longer.

Ready an ice bath in a bowl that’s large enough to hold the medium bowl that you’ll cool the custard in. Set a strainer on top of the medium bowl and place it in the ice bath. (I use about 2 cups of cold water and several ice cubes for the ice bath).

Place 5 egg yolks in another medium heatproof bowl and whisk them lightly with 1/4 cup sugar until the mixture is light in color, about 1 minute. Set close to the stove on a kitchen towel (this will ensure the bowl doesn’t slide around the counter).

Set the pot with the nut and cream mixture back over medium heat. Bring to a bare simmer—bubbles will just be forming on the edges of the pot, but not in the middle. Set the bowl containing the egg yolks directly next to the pot. Whisking the egg yolks constantly and quickly, slowly pour 1/2 cup (about 1 ladle full) of the hot milk mixture into the yolks. Repeat once more with another 1/2 cup, continuing to whisk (if you don’t whisk quickly and constantly, some of the egg may curdle).

Pour the yolk mixture slowly into the milk mixture on the stove, constantly stirring the cream mixture with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring all the while, for a couple more minutes or until thickened. To know if the custard is properly thickened, run one finger over the back of the spoon: if it is done, there will be a clean trail where your finger passed throught (the mixture will hold the line relatively well).

Moving quickly, pour the custard through the strainer on top of the bowl in the ice bath. Press on the macadamia nut pieces to extract as much flavor as possible. Remove the strainer and stir the custard with a clean spoon or spatula. Stir every few minutes or so, until the ice cream mixture is cool. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours, or overnight.

Chop up the remaining 1/3 cup toasted macadamia nuts into small chunks. Place whatever vessel you’ll be storing your ice cream in in the freezer to chill while the ice cream churns.

Freeze the ice cream according to your mixture’s instructions—generally, it takes about 20 minutes to churn fully.

Spread a layer of ice cream in the bottom of your chilled container, then sprinkle with an even layer of nuts. Repeat until all the ice cream and nuts are used up. Allow at least a few hours for the now-frozen ice cream to set in the freezer. Enjoy!

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