As Labor Day has come and gone, and the temperatures have been dipping
into the chilly zone come nightfall around these parts, it seems that
summer's on its last legs. Don't tell that to my ice cream maker. I
know there's been a lot of ice cream around here, but I hope you'll bear
with me for one more before season's end. This one's worth it.
Peanut butter was never my favorite thing as a kid - in fact, I don't
think I actually touched the stuff until I was in 6th grade. Something about it
just freaked me out, and my parents were never the peanut butter and
jelly-pushing sorts. I wasn't a picky kid, so I don't think they had
to utilize the pb&j crutch on which so many parents rely just to make sure
their kids get some calories in them. (While calories weren't a problem, calcium was - I was not one for milk, and my parents finally just gave in and allowed me to eat ice cream for breakfast, sometimes even without the proper-breakfast-validating waffles. Major win.) When I finally did get into peanut butter, it wasn't the cloyingly sweet, oil-slicky smooth commercial varieties, but the chunky, grittier "natural" stuff. The texture is more substantial, the flavor more reminiscent of actual, real-life peanuts and less of sugared-up legumes.
I can't really explain then why this ice cream pulled me in, considering it calls for that processed, not-so-natural stuff. It wasn't about nostalgia, since I had sat on the sidelines, quietly enjoying my tuna sandwiches, watching my friends lap feverishly to get those smooshy soft sandwiches unstuck from the roof of their mouths; this peanut butter was never a feature of my childhood. It has to be, then, that what drew me in was the inkling I had to take the ice cream and throw a whole slew of salty stuff in there. And I think by now we know how I feel about sweet plus salty. Throw a toasty, crunchy, nutty aspect in there as well, and it's pretty much a done deal.
While this ice cream falls somewhere between a custard-based ice cream and the frozen greek yogurt in terms of complexity and involvement, it is definitely much closer to the almost-too-easy-to-be-true frozen yogurt end of the range. And that's just because of all the extras I chose with which to bedazzle my ice cream. Had I not had to chop these mix-ins (and I threw a LOT of stuff in there), there'd have been little more to this recipe than a couple of measurements and a quick buzz in the blender.
I toyed a bit with doing a peanut butter and jelly version instead, but clearly the siren song of salty-sweet was simply too much for me to resist. And I don't regret it for an instant. Neither will you.
Sweet and Salty Super Loaded Peanut Butter Ice Cream
Ice cream base recipe adapted from The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter*
2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 2/3 cups half-and-half
Pinch of salt
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup salted, blanched peanuts, chopped coarsely
1 cup dark (or milk, if you prefer, but I like the bitterness of dark) chocolate, chopped coarsely or semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup salted pretzels, chopped (note: I used standard, salted pretzels, but would probably use chocolate-covered pretzels next time, since the pretzels got a little bit soggy after a while)
* Don't be tempted to use natural peanut butter, as the oils will separate and this will not make you happy.
Combine the peanut butter, sugar, half and half and salt in a blender and blend until combined and the sugar has dissolved. Place the mixture in the refrigerator until cold. Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. In the last two minutes of the churn cycle, add in the various mix-ins until combined. Transfer the finished ice cream to a container and freeze until you're ready to enjoy. I enjoyed a little additional sprinkling of coarse sea salt over my bowls of this ice cream.