Ice Cream/Frozen Desserts

Butter Pecan Ice Cream—Without the Ice Cream Machine

This week’s Big Little Recipe is a fuss-free take on a summertime favorite.

May 25, 2021

A 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!

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.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Does anyone remember Butter Brickle ice cream? It was my favorite when I was a child (a hundred years ago) but I haven’t seen it in years. I’d love to find a recipe for it! Butter Pecan runs a close second, though, so I’m looking forward to trying this version. Thanks!”
— Karen

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.

Photo by Mark Weinberg. Prop Stylist: Ali Slagle Food Stylist: Sam Seneviratne

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?

What kind of no-churn ice cream will you be making this summer? Let us know in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Shaun508
  • Andree
  • Karen
  • lucylocket
  • Robert Notzon
    Robert Notzon
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Shaun508 May 27, 2021
I tried this recipe today and I absolutely love it!! Great job and keep up the good work!
Andree May 27, 2021
Immediately it seems to me that this can be adjusted to make any flavor ice cream (especially strawberry!). I would puree some and chop others up. But the proportions of fruit and sugar: by taste? by eye? Thank you.
Karen May 26, 2021
Does anyone remember Butter Brickle ice cream? It was my favorite when I was a child (a hundred years ago) but I haven’t seen it in years. I’d love to find a recipe for it! Butter Pecan runs a close second, though, so I’m looking forward to trying this version. Thanks!
AntoniaJames May 27, 2021
Yes, we had butter brickle ice cream in Virginia way back when. My husband who grew up in Tampa also loved the stuff. (In fact whenever I make toffee with nuts in it during the holidays, he always calls it "brickle.")

I'm thinking you could use any really good toffee recipe (I like this one: but for this purpose, I would leave out all the chocolate, of course), and finely chop the toffee after it is fully cooled. I'd use some in place of the pecans in the recipe - adding the brown butter, though, for extra deliciousness -- but I'd want lots of bits of it stirred into the ice cream at the end. Just discussing this makes me want to go make some right now! ;o)
Karen May 27, 2021
Thank you! I’ll give it a try an let you know how it turns out!
Jenny May 31, 2021
Sure do. And I recall Butter Brickle cakes too!
Tasmagirl August 15, 2022
Thanks for reminding me of this flavor! I grew up in the DC area and remember enjoying this. And thanks for the recipe info too
lucylocket May 25, 2021
I CANNOT WAIT to try this recipe! Butter pecan is, hands down, by far, my favorite ice cream and so, so difficult to find as a quality, buttery, pecan-y, flavor. I love that there is no ice cream maker needed and only a few ingredients needed, Even better, the ingredients are staples in my home, so the process will be made even easier.

Thank you Food52, and Emma, for sharing this? Looking forward to other easy ice cream recipes that do not require an ice cream maker and have only a short list of ingredients.
Robert N. May 25, 2021
This looks delicious! I usually don’t like the blender because it is so deep and narrow and hard to get everything out. Would a food processor also work for the recipe?
Emma L. May 25, 2021
Hi Robert! I haven't tried a food processor for this, but I bet it would work just fine.
Robert N. May 25, 2021
Cool! I'll give it a shot and let you know.
Robert N. May 26, 2021
The food processor seems to have worked fine. Not sure if the texture is the same as yours, of course, but it tastes great! I was pleased to see your vanilla measuring technique. I have been doing that for about 20 years, now. I also use that measuring technique (in a way) with nuts. Lastly, in Texas, we pronounce pecan: puh - cahn'. It's also our state tree. Take care.
AntoniaJames May 25, 2021
Yes, please! I've added this to my must-try list. My husband the Tar Heel will be thanking you, as butter pecan is his favorite ice cream, by far.

To answer your question: This summer (and spring, as both are currently represented in my freezer, right now) we'll also be enjoying Dori Sanders' No-Churn Lemon Ice Cream and Nigella Lawson's No-Churn Coffee Ice Cream - both "Genius" recipes well deserving of that honor. I served the lemon last night in fact to company, atop this excellent cardamom cake (also a Genius recipe) . I'm looking forward to making this butter pecan! ;o)
Emma L. May 25, 2021
Yay, hope you both enjoy!
Openblusea May 25, 2021
Thanks for these other too
AntoniaJames May 26, 2021
My pleasure, openblusea! ;o)