Big Little Recipes

Salt & Pepper…Ice Cream?!

Psst, no ice cream machine needed either.

May 17, 2022

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. Inspired by the column, the Big Little Recipes cookbook is available now.

Salt and pepper are a given in savory recipes, so much so that they’re often shortened to S&P, like a dear friend signing an email with a single initial. The other letters are unneeded. You know who they are.

This is especially true in savory Big Little Recipes, where there might be only a few other ingredients. Like tuna, avocado, bread, and lemon. Or pasta, onions, and butter.

But by changing the context, salt and pepper can raise their voices, demand your attention, tell you to listen up. Just switch from dinner to dessert. My favorite dessert, in fact: ice cream.

In the United States, vanilla is treated as the default scoop, the canvas onto which you draw hot fudge or sprinkles or whipped cream. But vanilla isn’t vanilla, it’s vanilla. You know? As Sohla El-Waylly puts it, “I get offended when something bland is called ‘vanilla.’ Good vanilla is anything but boring. It’s sultry, floral, and oozes nostalgia.”

Similarly, salt and pepper are vibrant, earthy, and full of oomph. And taken for granted. Because their presence is a given, we don’t even notice them, like a couple of extras drinking coffee next to Jennifer Aniston drinking coffee at Central Perk. How many of those were there in Friends? How many of them can you remember?

Rich yet humble, cream and sugar are happy to let salt and pepper snatch the spotlight. At first, the contrast is jarring. But once you settle into it, it is sweet meets salty meets spicy, like the weather switching from hot to cold to hot, a delightfully confusing reminder that summer is almost here.

Order now

Put down those long grocery lists. Inspired by the award-winning column, our Big Little Recipes cookbook is minimalism at its best: few ingredients, tons of flavor.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • katemcd
  • KaitFaraghan
  • Michele
  • Liz
  • Ruth Arcone
    Ruth Arcone
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.


katemcd June 24, 2022
This is easily one of the best things I've ever made in my life. And I'm a cooking addict. I DO have an ice cream machine, and I'm too lazy to use a whisk, so into the machine a double recipe of this went. Turned out perfectly. I would change it a bit for the machine, however. I would take out the vodka to keep it from being too soft. I can understand why it was there for the no-churn ice cream, but not needed for the churned version. Don't skip the brittle. The whole thing is dreamy. I made the 3-ingredient pecan cake to use as a platform for this masterpiece. Go Emma!
KaitFaraghan May 19, 2022
We love a salt and pepper ice cream moment! My favorite flavor of ice cream I have EVER had is Morgenstern's Salt & Pepper Pine Nut. So simple, so perfect. Also, for those that are in Philly and know of 1-900-Ice-Cream - Ryan is rumored to have a small batch of Salt & Pink Peppercorn Ice Cream in production. So excited to try this recipe. Thanks, Emma! #saltandpepperpeople
Michele May 19, 2022
Could you use pink peppercorns for this?
Liz May 18, 2022
I listened to a LOT of Cibo Matto in college and culinary school. When it came time to make ice cream in baking and pastry, I chose to make my ice cream white pepper, like one of my favorite songs from the "Viva! La Woman" album. My classmates scoffed, or were confused (or both); like the lyrics say, "ça m'est égal". My chef loved it, and I got an A.
M May 18, 2022
Which is the first word? Sweet or spicy?

It's all the same to me.

(You should share the recipe. I could go for a series of Cibo Matto recipes.)
Ruth A. May 17, 2022
I used to be the night baker at a restaurant in NYC. We made all our ice creams and sorbets in house, and I made all the bases for them. Black pepper ice cream was usually on the menu, and it was my favorite. I can’t remember if our recipe included salt, but I will definitely be making this.
annaclarice1 May 17, 2022
I’ve been making Black Pepper ice cream (and serving with roasted balsamic strawberries) for years. I’m looking forward to trying this new iteration.
missymaam May 17, 2022
I'm wondering about adding the caramel to the ice cream and also making caramel shards? Kind of a spicy salted caramel ice cream.
katemcd June 24, 2022
I wouldn't add caramel. For some reason, this recipe yields a caramel-like flavor of its own for some odd reason. Try without first. You WILL want to make it again, regardless!
Patricia L. May 17, 2022
Hi. This sounds yummy but I'm sober and unable to use vodka. Is there a possible non-alcoholic substitute?
nightdoings May 17, 2022
I believe they use it to keep the ice cream from getting super firm. I've never tried any of these methods, but here's a few options from David Lebovitz.
Patricia L. May 17, 2022
katemcd June 24, 2022
I used vodka, but I also used an ice-cream machine. The vodka made it almost too soft. Next time I will try without.
Jeffrey K. May 17, 2022
Thanks for this -- it sounds terrific. One question: in the video, we never see the peppercorns going into the brittle. But we do, I think, see them in the mix in one of the last shots of the caramel bubbling away in the pan. The written recipe makes it sound like you should do this when the mixture is fully caramelized, which is to say basically right before spreading it out to harden. Is that right? There's no sort of cooking/infusing them in the caramel like there was with the ice cream itself, right?
M May 17, 2022
There used to be a shop near me that sold pepper ice cream. It was super tasty.

But I'd definitely pull out the more fun peppercorns for this. Cubeb, maybe kampot...