Basil Ice Cream with Honey Pine Nut Praline…or Better Ice Cream through Science

November 8, 2014
 The Lion and I got married in June, and it was wonderful.  We didn’t do a registry, and instead opted to do a charity registry, but the Lion still got me a wedding present!  He got me the KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment, something that I had coveted for many years!  In addition to that, he got me the Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream cookbook, so naturally I started making ice cream as often as I could!
I was so excited to receive Jeni’s book because the recipes were not custard based, which I thought would help the superbly creative flavors shine!  Jeni’s recipe is unique in that she instructs that you boil the milk and heavy cream mixture for 4 minutes, then add cornstarch, then boil again for another full minute.  After that, the hot milk mixture is whisked into some cream cheese, then cooled rapidly in an ice bath, and finally churned.  Sounds wonderful, right?
Sadly, when I started to make the recipes, I was a little bit disappointed with the final product.  First off, the hard boil created some off “overcooked” dairy flavors.  Then, the added cream cheese added an undesirable tang.  The ice cream was also oddly very sweet, even after freezing.  And finally, and in my mind, most egregiously, the texture was all wrong.  The ice cream was very pasty in texture and it simply did not melt!  This was not an ice cream that you could lick off of a cone.  This was an ice cream that felt more like eating natural peanut butter, which is definitely not what I look for when I’m hoping to eat ice cream.
I decided to tackle each of these issues head on with the help of Harold McGee’s incredible On Food and Cooking:  The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.  This book is incredible, and you should all get it.  It contains a rich tapestry of information, ranging from cultural uses of different food products to basic science involving protein chain folding.  It is incredibly well written, as well.  I read aloud passages from the fascinating milk section to the Lion, much to his amusement.
But I digress…Back to ice cream science and my solutions to my perceived problems with Jeni’s recipe.
1.  The overcooked dairy flavors:  These flavors were clearly due to the extended boil period of the original recipe.  Jeni states in her introduction that the reason for this hard boil is to denature the milk proteins.  This is a crucial step in making ice cream as it allows the water and proteins to bind together to prevent an icy ice cream, as that icy sensation is caused by water separating from the protein matrix and making ice crystals.  Per consultation with Harold McGee, milk proteins start to denature at about 172F.  I decided to make this simple change to the recipe, and kept the milk temperature in between 175F and 180F just to be safe.   Additionally, to compensate for the increased evaporative loss of water that inevitably happens at 212F vs 172F, I doubled the cooking time from 4 minutes to about 8 minutes.  This definitely takes a bit more work and a bit more time, but in the end the off putting overcooked dairy flavor was…poof…gone!  I couldn’t find any strong evidence for the cream cheese in Harold McGee’s text, and when the milk wasn’t overcooked, the sweetness of the milk and heavy cream totally balanced the tang of the cream cheese, so I kept it in there!  Also, as a side note, I also thought that the ice cream had a slightly too buttery flavor, and the percentage of fat in it is very high.  So I decreased the amount of heavy cream slightly.  This brought out the delicious flavor of milk with a nice hint of smooth cream.
2.  Excessive sweetness:  I thought that Jeni’s ice cream was a bit too sweet.  I suppose with the original recipe this is necessary to mask some of the off flavors from the overcooked milk and the tang from the cream cheese.  Per Harold McGee, most premium ice cream brands have between 13%-16% sugar based on volume.  Doing some simple stoichiometry (who says college chemistry is useless?) put the percentage of Jeni’s ice cream at a whopping 21%!  No wonder I thought it was so sweet.  The two sweeteners used in Jeni’s recipe are white granulated sugar and corn syrup.  The corn syrup provide stability to the final frozen product so I decreased the sugar leading to a total of 16% sugar by volume.  It was perfect, especially as the sweet flavor of fresh milk and cream really sang with the modifications in step 1.
3.  Textural flaws:  This was most egregious in my mind.  I love to eat ice cream out of a cone and both love and hate when it drips down the side of the cone.  The original recipe from Jeni just simply did not melt.  Short story:  I took out some ice cream from the freezer and scooped it into a bowl, and then promptly forgot that I had done so.  This was the middle of the summer and the temperature of our house was over 80 degrees.  I had left the ice cream on the counter top for over two hours, and when I finally returned the kitchen, it was room temperature, but looked exactly the same as when I had originally scooped it!  To me, this was just silly.  Ice cream, when left on a counter for two hours in the middle of summer, should dissolve into a puddle of milky soup!  This ice cream stayed in a firm little lump that jiggled like jello when I dumped it into the sink.
Looking into the recipe, I think this was from boiling the corn starch at a very high heat for 1 full minute.  Per Harold McGee, the gelatinization temperature of corn starch is 144-180, thus it seemed unnecessary to cook the mixture at such a high temperature.  Once again, I decreased the temperature from Jeni’s recommended 212F to between 180-185F and cooked the mixture for two minutes–just until there was a slight line in the back of my wooden spoon when I drew my finger across the mixture.
After churning and freezing my ice cream, I could tell that this was an enormous success.  The ice cream could be licked off of a cone.  It melted cleanly in the mouth without a pasty consistency like peanut butter.  And it melted beautifully.  Just take a look:
The Lion and I ate a lot of ice cream in preparation for this post.  And every bite was totally worth it and every recipe modification made the ice cream better and better.  Jeni’s ice cream is good to start with, but with a little help from science, it is now incredible!  All you taste are her interesting and unique flavor combinations and delicious sweet milk and cream.  These modifications to the recipe are simple and are worth the extra time and the extra vigilance!  Try it!  You’ll be so, so happy that you did!

Basil Ice Cream with Honey Pine Nut Praline

From at

Prep: Cook: Yield: 1 qt ice creamTotal:

A delicious, creamy ice cream that explores the sweet side of basil, complimented by a delicious honey, pine nut brittle.

You'll Need...

  • For the ice cream base:
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp corn starch (or tapioca starch)
  • 3 Tbsp cream cheese, room temperature
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp light corn syrup (or tapioca syrup)
  • 1 bunch basil leaves, torn into rough pieces
  • For the honey pine nut praline:
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • Pinch of kosher salt


  1. Make the praline first:
  2. Heat over to 350F.  Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl except the pine nuts.  Mix thoroughly.  Toss in the pine nuts and coat thoroughly.  Spread on a baking sheet and bake for about 5 minutes.  Stir the mixture, spread again, and bake for another 5-7 minutes until there are some scant bubbles throughout the mixture.  Remove from the oven and stir intermittently until completely cool.
  3. Make the ice cream:
  4. (Follow the instructions on your ice cream machine as to if you need to cool a canister before.  Mine recommends cooling for 15 hours before making ice cream.)
  5. Mix 2 tablespoons of the whole milk with the cornstarch and set aside.  Whisk the cream cheese and the salt together in a large metal mixing bowl until smooth and set aside.
  7. Combine the remaining milk with the cream, sugar, and corn syrup.  Place a candy thermometer in the pot.  Heat to between 175F-180F maintaining the temperature by increasing or decreasing the stove temperature as needed for a full 8 minutes.  Give the corn starch slurry a stir, and carefully drizzle it into the hot milk mixture, whisking as you go.  Increase the temperature to between 180F-185F and cook, while stirring intermittently for about two minutes.  Check to make sure that at the end of that time period it coats the back of a wooden spoon and leaves a line in the spoon when you draw across it with a finger.  Remove from heat.
  9. Fill your kitchen sink with ice and water to create a large ice bath.  Whisk about 1/2-1 cup of the hot milk mixture in the cream cheese and salt mixture.  Whisk thoroughly ensuring that there are no little clumps of cream cheese left.  Gradually whisk in the remainder of the hot milk mixture.  Add the basil leaves and stir.  Place this bowl directly into the ice bath and stir continuously to cool it down.  Be very careful not to let any water from the ice bath splash into your ice cream mixture.  Continue to stir intermittently for about 20-30 minutes until the mixture is ice cold.
  11. Strain the basil out of the ice cream mixture while pouring it into a spouted vessel.  Follow your ice cream maker's instructions and churn the ice cream.  Pack the ice cream into a storage container as quickly as you can, folding in small chunks of the praline as you go.  Press a piece of plastic wrap directly against the surface of the ice cream and place in the freeze.  Freeze for a least four hours.  Then scoop and enjoy thoroughly!

Additional Notes

Adapted heavily, as above, from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams


You Might Also Like


  • Reply Arun Kilara November 9, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    Tanivi I am impressed with your efforts to understand the science-based approach to cooking. McGee's book is great. You can also email me. Arun Kilara.

  • Reply Suresh November 10, 2014 at 12:10 am

    Smooth…delicious…creamy….and MELTS in the mouth!

  • Reply Matt Dunn December 13, 2014 at 8:37 pm

    Awesome work! Thanks for posting.

  • Reply Joy March 6, 2015 at 7:08 pm

    Sounds like a great ice cream! I like the way you have given a detailed explanation to take one through the process. You made it so doable!

  • Reply Laura May 11, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    Hi! I just have to say that your changes to the Jeni’s recipe are brilliant. I was having the same taste issues with the recipe, so I tried your method and the ice cream came out better than I ever imagined homemade ice cream could be! I will never make ice cream any other way again. Thank you!

    • Reply Tanvi | The Hathi Cooks May 11, 2016 at 5:47 pm

      Hi Laura! I’m so glad that my modifications worked for you! Her flavor ideas are brilliant, and I’m glad we finally have a base recipe that delivers too!

    Leave a Reply