Kitchen Hacks

How to Hack Butter Pecan Ice Cream

December 19, 2013

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: Your new favorite last-minute dessert.

Butter pecan from Food52

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A common problem I have around the holidays is craving foods from the South, where I’m from. And since I live on the West Coast, it’s nearly impossible to find them. 

One of those foods is butter pecan ice cream. Yes, Baskin Robbins sells it and there are a few places up north that carry it, but I’m talking about the fresh-churned kind my grandmother would make on special holidays and birthdays for me growing up in Mississippi. It was soft, rich, and loaded with way more buttered pecans than any store-bought version can give me. The taste of the actual ice cream wasn’t even all that important -- it was all those pecans!

Butter pecan from Food52

My solution is to make my own buttered and candied pecans -- a relatively easy task -- and then mix them into store-bought vanilla ice cream when I get the craving for it. It lets me add as many pecans as I want, guarantees the ice cream will be soft, and if there are leftover pecans, well, who doesn’t love a candied nut at the holidays?

And best of all, there’s no recipe here, you can just eyeball everything. To start, toss enough pecans into your largest skillet to cover the bottom in a single layer, and place it over medium-high heat. Cook the pecans, tossing occasionally, until they smell nutty and are lightly toasted. Then spoon in a few hearty dollops of butter, enough to coat the pecans and have a little pooling around them in the skillet.

 butter pecan from Food52

Let that bubble away, stirring here and there, until the butter begins to brown, and then sprinkle over some sugar, enough to blanket the pecans in an even snow-dusting.

butter pecan from Food52

Add a pinch of salt, a splash of bourbon, and stir the whole mass together until it’s evenly combined and there’s no more dry sugar.

Butter pecan from Food52

When the syrup around the pecans begins to thicken and bubble up, pour the pecans onto a sheet of foil, and spread out evenly. Let cool completely, and then store in a plastic bag until you’re ready for dessert.

Butter pecan from Food52

When it’s time to indulge, let your store-bought ice cream soften at room temperature for about 10 minutes, and then stir in pecans to your taste and serve up the treat in bowls. I like to serve each scoop with the smallest sprinkling of sea salt, but a drizzle of caramel sauce also helps things out tremendously. 

What are your favorite last-minute desserts? Let us know in the comments!

Brown butter pecan from Food52

Photos by James Ransom

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Ben Mims

Written by: Ben Mims

Ben Mims is the author of three cookbooks: Air Fry Every Day: 75 Recipes to Fry, Roast, and Bake Using Your Air Fryer (Clarkson Potter, 2018), Coconut (Short Stacks Editions, 2017), and Sweet and Southern: Classic Desserts with a Twist (Rizzoli; 2014).


Jheath August 2, 2022
Kia ora from New Zealand! I made this hack a few years ago and everyone loved it. It just came to mind this morning...I'm going to make up a batch of candied pecans today using our pro-active (cholesterol lowering!), butter flavored margarine and Ziltch vanilla ice cream (reduced fat, no added sugar) for a (hopefully) "relatively" guilt free dessert. I shall report back soon!
Michael April 13, 2014
This is absolute genius! I can't wait to try it!!!
taxidog April 10, 2014
pecans+bourbon+brown butter=perfection. Now if I could find a decent peach this far north I could die a happy woman...
meg April 9, 2014
I think I would eat all the pecans before the ice cream was ready. I love me some butter pecan though.
Sydney B. April 9, 2014
Since moving away from the US, pecans are either difficult to find or terribly dear. A trick I learned years ago is to use green tea to flavor ice cream for a butter pecan taste. It doesn't give you the texture you want, but it'll provide the flavor in a homemade-away-from-home pinch!
Angela B. December 19, 2013
Thanks for sharing this recipe! Butter Pecan was one of my favorites as a kid, though I've never tried whipping up my own batch. Looking forward to trying this one out.
AntoniaJames December 19, 2013
Love it that the photo shows this particular ice cream in a flat bottomed cone. When I was a teenager working at Baskin Robbins (in Virginia), we sold an enormous amount of butter pecan ice cream. Customers had a choice of pointy sugar cones or the "flat bottomed cup cone"; interestingly, people who asked for butter pecan ice cream almost always asked for the latter. The vast majority of the other flavors were requested on sugar cones.
To answer the question about last minute desserts: my husband is from the South, too, and loves everything pecan, especially butter pecan ice cream. I recently made a pecan praline caramel sauce (mrslarkin's, from her pumpkin pie ice cream recipe) served over vanilla ice cream, which was a huge hit. You've inspired me to stir into vanilla ice cream some of the maple olive oil toasted pecans I've been using since last year for my nut crescents - . They won't be buttery, but the olive oil + maple + very light salt is magical. My hack for pumpkin pie ice cream is to use the deeply-flavored pumpkin butter from Paul Virant's "Preservation Kitchen" (roasted with butter, intensely evocative of a superior pumpkin pie filling) into vanilla ice cream.
When ice cream is not involved, my go-to last minute dessert is a crisp. Every year, I put up all kinds of fruits, especially blueberries from the bushes lining my front walkway, in light syrup. My pantry never lets me down. ;o)