You know how dogs sometimes resemble their owners? Well, regional foods have similarly been known to take on the qualities of the people who gave life to them. Today we're talking about Grape-Nuts ice cream, which if you think about it, is the result of marrying New England's trademark austerity (Grape-Nuts) with one its most beloved foods (ice cream).
If you've ever even heard of Grape-Nuts ice cream, you're already a step ahead, and chances are you're from New England, too. If this is the first you're hearing of it, don't be scared -- it's not the kind of thing newcomers receive warmly. But it'll win your heart after you give it a shot. It's like the bad blind date you never wanted to meet, who ends up charming your pants off and becoming your husband. It's not so much the idea of putting cereal in ice cream that scares away customers, as proven by the immense popularity of Momofuku Milk Bar's cereal milk-flavored soft serve, but it's more the concept of adding a perceived "health food" to one of the world's most perfect foods that elicits winces.
But really, it can be insanely delicious. The concept takes a basic vanilla frozen custard and blends it with Grape-Nuts, which are the malt-flavored remnants of wheat-and-barley loaves that've been baked, dried and crushed. The pellets soften slightly in the custard, much akin to the way they do in a bowl of cereal milk, creating a balance of creamy, sweet, crunchy, salty and malty. Adding Grape-Nuts to ice cream is basically injecting whole grains, vitamins and fiber into one of America's favorite junk foods, which is the perfect juxtaposition of everything we love.
While it's tough to find outside of New England in the United States, the actual origins of Grape-Nuts ice cream are murky. The fact that it's also a popular flavor in Canada and Jamaica makes it even murkier. We do know that another popular New England dessert is Grape-Nuts pudding, a simple egg custard that's baked with Grape-Nuts for an added crunch. But in terms of which dessert came first, that remains a mystery.
To get a taste of Grape-Nuts ice cream outside of New England, your best bet is making it in your own kitchen. Here's the recipe we use, adapted from the wonderful David Lebovitz's brown bread ice cream recipe:
Grape-Nuts Ice Cream
Makes about 1 quart
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
8 ounces (1 package) cream cheese, cubed
5 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup Grape-Nuts cereal
- Heat the milk, only 1/2 cup of heavy cream, sugar and salt in a saucepan until it starts to give off a little steam.
- In a separate, medium-sized bowl, combine the remaining 1 cup heavy cream and the cubes of cream cheese. Set a mesh strainer over the top and set the bowl in an ice bath.
- In yet another medium-sized bowl, whisk up the egg yolks. Gradually pour some of the warm milk mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly as you pour. Scrape the warmed yolks and milk back into the saucepan.
- Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heat-resistant spatula, until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula. Make sure not to overcook or cook too quickly, or you'll get scrambled eggs.
- When ready, strain the custard into the bowl of heavy cream and cream cheese and stir until smooth. Stir in the vanilla.
- Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 3-4 hours, then freeze in your ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once churned, quickly fold in the Grape-Nuts, then store the ice cream in the freezer until firm and ready to serve.
If you're in the mood for a road trip to scout out some of the best Grape-Nuts ice cream in New England, Gifford's locations are your best bet. The locals have also mapped out some additional suggestions online. And if you're feeling a little lazy, try this tip from user jackattack on Chow:
"I soften some Grape-Nuts cereal in a 1:1 ratio with whole milk, let it soak for a couple of hours, and then smoosh it into some Trader Joe's Vanilla Ice Cream. Not the real thing but it'll do in a pinch!"
Let us know your thoughts about Grape-Nuts ice cream below!