Caramelized Cacao Nib Ice Cream

Cocoa nibs, bits of roasted and shelled cocoa beans, have a tannic, smoky flavor with a hint of the chocolate they will become after chocolate makers treat them to a long, slow mixing with cocoa butter and sugar. Caramelizing softens them and adds texture and flavor complexity to this custard-like ice cream. 

Yields: 1 Quart   Time: 2 Days


Caramelized Cacao Nib Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon (1/3 ounces) unsalted butter with 82% butterfat
  • Scant 1 ½ cups (6 ounces) cocoa nibs
  • ½ cup (3 ½ ounces) granulated cane sugar
Ice Cream Ingredients

  • 1 2/3 cups (13 ounces) whole milk
  • ½ cup plus 1/3 cup (6 ounces) granulated cane sugar, divided
  • ¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons (1 ¾ ounces) cocoa nibs
  • ½ Tahitian vanilla bean, split horizontally
  • 5 (3 ¾ ounces) extra-large egg yolks
  • ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (7 ounces) heavy whipping cream
  • ¾ cup (3 ounces) caramelized cocoa nibs


        Make the Caramelized Cacao Nibs

        1. Put a piece of parchment paper or a nonstick baking liner on a work surface. Measure the butter and put it next to the stove.

        2. Put the nibs and sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed pot. Use an unlined copper pot if you have one. Place the pot over high heat and vigorously stir the mixture with a wooden spoon. As the sugar cooks, the mixture will smoke. When only a few specks of sugar remain unmelted, remove from the heat and stir in the butter. The nibs will glisten and separate into small clumps.

        3. Scrape the nibs onto the parchment paper or liner and spread out the individual clumps. Let cool to room temperature and then break into ¼ inch pieces. Store them in a zippered plastic bag at room temperature.

        Make the Ice Cream

        1. Stir the milk, ½ cup (3 ½ ounces) of the sugar, and the cocoa nibs (non-caramelized) together in a small saucepan. Scrape the vanilla seeds from the bean into the pan and then add the bean. Bring the milk to a boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat, cover the top of the pan with plastic wrap, and let steep for 30 minutes.

        2. Strain the milk through a fine-mesh sieve and return to the saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.

        3. While the milk is reheating, combine the egg yolks and the remaining 1/3 cup (2 ½ ounces) sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until the mixture is pale and thick and forms a ribbon when the whip is lifted from the bowl, 3 to 5 minutes.

        4. Switch the mixer to low speed. Slowly pour the hot milk mixture into the bowl and beat just until combined. Do not beat to a froth.

        5. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the custard coats a spoon and registers 160F on an instant-read thermometer, about 5 minutes.

        6. Pour through the fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and stir in the cream. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the custard overnight.

        7. The next day, churn the custard in an ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Fold the caramelized cocoa nibs into the ice cream by hand.