This past summer I decided to try my hand at making a couple of liqueurs and had varied success with those projects, but after some time steeping, filtering, bottling, and a little more aging I ended up with two liqueurs that I bottled up and gave away as gifts this year. One was nocino and the other one I called Cherry Almond (slightly sweetened sour cherry and sour cherry pit flavored), which tasted a little too much like almond extract for my taste. Nocino showed up on a few blogs over the past year (notably Simply Recipes).
What is nocino? Nocino is a liqueur made from unripe walnuts (shells and all) that are quartered and allowed to steep in a strong, clear liquor, such as vodka, along with some sugar, cloves, cinnamon, vanilla bean, and lemon zest. The result is a dark, slightly sweet liqueur with a complex flavor. I ordered some bottles online, decanted my larger containers into the bottles, added some corks, and homemade labels (note the handwritting style typeface which garnered several compliments) and had some fun gifts for people. My sister thought the nocino tasted a little like an unusual root beer float when tried over vanilla ice cream.
When I got back after the holidays I decided to use some of my stock to try it in some ice cream, rather than over ice cream. I turned to David Lebovitz’s Perfect Scoop for guidance about how much alcohol I could safely add to the ice cream before it wouldn’t set up. I used his eggnog ice cream recipe as a model and pushed against the limit. I served the result to some friends on New Year’s Eve and they seemed very enthusiastic about it. My father got the chance to try it the next day and also liked it.
I was out of regular sugar when making this, so I used evaporated cane syrup (available in bulk at our local coop) and it turned out just fine. When I meaured out the sugar I knew the liqueur was sweet so I used a little less in each of the scoops of sugar than a full 1/3 cup (maybe a teaspoon or two less from each). The ice cream will be very soft when it’s done churning and it will take longer to ripen in the freezer than a recipe with less alcohol. Also, it will soften quite quickly, so serve it immediately from the freezer and don’t let it sit out. If you don’t have homemade nocino on hand you can find it at well stocked liquor stores.
Nocino Ice Cream
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups cream
A scant 2/3 cup evaporated cane syrup (or granular sugar)
6 egg yolks
2 Tbs nocino and 3 Tbs nocino, separated
Place the milk in a heavy bottomed pan and turn heat to medium. Place the cream in a bowl and set a strainer over the cream. Whisk the yolks together with the sugar and then wait until the milk is steaming. Ladle a small amount of hot milk into the yolks while whisking gently. When you’ve added about almost a cup of milk to the egg yolks pour the mixture back into the pot and whisk together briskly for a few seconds. Add 2 tbs of nocino.
Turn down the heat to medium low and switch to a scrapper or a flat edged wooden spoon and stir until the custard starts to thicken (it won’t thicken much, just enough so that its about the texture of cream). Don’t let the mixture boil!!! Pour the mixture through the strainer into the cream (this helps to cool it down quickly). With a clean spoon stir the cream/milk/egg mixture and add the last 3 tbs of nocino. Place in the refrigerator for at least three hours (you want it very cold). Churn in your favorite ice maker. Scrape into a container that has a good seal and place in freezer to ripen for at least 4 hours.