The same week I was testing my brioche crumb cake doughnuts recipe, my friend Emily loaned me her super fancy Breville ice cream maker and well, you can guess what happened. Yep, that's right. I ended up making crumb cake ice cream. It's so so so good served in a cone or on top of a slice of real crumb cake.
What is crumb cake ice cream? Glad you asked. It's a creme anglaise ice cream base infused with cinnamon and nutmeg, two classic crumb cake flavors, and then it has real crumb cake topping stirred right in for lots of crunchy textural goodness.
The crumb cake topping that gets mixed in is literally the exact same as the topping on my crumb cake brioche doughnuts. I've scaled it down to make just enough to use as a mix in, plus a little more for a crunchy topping. Because the crumbs get baked before they get mixed in the raw flour is heat-treated and safe to eat, and the crumbs hold up really nicely inside the ice cream.
how to make a creme anglaise ice cream base
Creme anglaise was one of my favorite things to make in pastry school. Wait— come back! Just because it's something I made in pastry school and has a fancy french name doesn't mean you can't make it too. Creme anglaise is just simple custard base that can be used to make ice cream, dessert sauces, and so much more. My favorite way to use it, of course, is as ice cream.
There's a 6-step process that basically every custard follows: scald, ribbon, temper; cook, strain, chill. Depending on what kind of custard you're making there are a lot of variations in each of those steps, but creme anglaise is one of the easiest ones to pull off at home.
"scalding" the milk and cream
The most important thing to know about creme anglaise is that you NEVER want to boil it.
The term "scalding" really only applies to raw or unpasteurized milk and cream and is a holdover from the days when that was the norm. Since you won't be using that kind of milk or cream here, all you really need to know is that scalding means heating the milk up to just below boiling. Remember: You NEVER want to boil creme anglaise.
Scalding is also when you steep any flavors you want in the ice cream base — in this case, we're using cinnamon and nutmeg — so that your ice cream is infused with a nice strong flavor.
How to tell when your milk is scalded: Tilt the pot forward when you see tiny bubbles forming around the edge of the surface of the milk; look at the bottom of the pot — if you see lots of active bubbles, your milk is scalded. Reduce the heat (or turn the heat off) and let the cinnamon continue steeping for 10 minutes while you prep the eggs and sugar. You might need to tilt the pot a few times before you see the bubbles on the bottom. That's okay!
ribboning the eggs and sugar
This is simple, it basically just means whisking the eggs and sugar together until slightly pale and frothy. The sugar will actually start to cook the egg a little bit, so don't add the eggs to the sugar until you're ready to start whisking. Once they're whisked together you can let them hang out for a bit while the milk finishes steeping, just give them a good whisking before you add the milk.
How to tell when your eggs and sugar have ribboned: If you pick the whisk up out of the bowl you should be able to draw a figure 8 with a "ribbon" of the mixture falling off the whisk. But honestly, don't worry about it if you can't don't see it fully ribboned — just give it a really good vigorous whisking by hand for about 1-2 minutes and you'll be fine.
tempering the milk and eggs
Tempering prevents the hot milk from turning the eggs into scrambled eggs. No one wants scrambled egg ice cream. Very slowly drizzle the hot milk into the ribboned egg and sugar mixture, whisking vigorously the whole time. Adding the milk slowly brings the temperature of the eggs up slowly, preventing them from scrambling. Once you've added about half the hot cream at a slow speed, you can add the rest more quickly — just keep whisking the whole time!
I like using a metal mixing bowl with a rubber bottom for this step so that I can pour with one hand and whisk with the other without the bowl sliding all over the place. If you don't have a bowl with a gripper bottom, just fold a kitchen towel under the bowl to anchor it in place.
what is "nappe" consistency
Once you temper the milk and eggs together you still need to cook the eggs to make them safe to eat and to make your ice cream base silky smooth and creamy. That means you'll pour the egg and cream mixture back into the pot you used to scald the cream and cook over a low-to-low-medium heat until it thickens up slightly, aka it reaches "nappe" consistency.
This can take a few minutes and you'll want to make sure you're stirring constantly so the egg doesn't cook on the bottom of the pan. Again, you do NOT want to boil creme anglaise.
You've reached nappe consistency when: The mixture evenly coats the back of a spoon. If you draw a line through it with your finger, it makes a clean line and the mixture doesn't shrink back or pull away from the gap.
It's easiest to see if you've reached nappe consistency using a wooden spoon — the creme anglaise sticks to wooden utensils better than silicone ones.
crumb cake in a pinch
I love serving up a scoop of crumb cake ice cream on top of a slice of crumb or coffee cake. It is just such a stellar combo. The cold melty ice cream with the crunchy crumbs and the tender cake soaking up all that cinnamon-y ice cream flavor is super yummy.
I didn't have time to do a whole coffee cake from scratch for the photos so I made an extra triple batch of the crumbs and used them on top of a — brace yourself — Duncan Hines boxed white cake mix. I know!!! You'd think I'd be ashamed to admit to using boxed cake mix, but I don't believe in shaming convenience food products and it's a great cake! Duncan Hines knows what they're doing.
I added some cinnamon and nutmeg and vanilla to the cake batter to give it that coffee cake flavor, but otherwise it's just the box mix topped with crumb cake topping.
Oh, and, you don't need to bake the crumbs before using them as cake topping — they'll bake along with the cake.
a few quick recipe notes
- If you don't have cinnamon sticks, use 2x the amount of ground cinnamon. To get a nice intense crumb cake flavored ice cream, I really like using Vietnamese cinnamon (sometimes called Saigon cinnamon) for its strong flavor.
- Heavy whipping cream and heavy cream are the same thing.
- My fave whisk for ribboning the eggs and sugar is this 8-inch balloon whisk from GIR. (I wrote more about my fave whisks and my particular love for this whisk here).
- The reason you pour the mixture through a wire mesh strainer at the end is to remove any small lumps that may have formed while cooking. You don't want those lumps in your ice cream!
- Baking the crumb cake topping is important because you need to heat treat the flour to make it safe to eat. It also helps dry out the crumbs so that they stay crunchy once you mix them into the ice cream.
- Freezing the crumb topping before you mix it in helps it disperse evenly in the ice cream. If the crumbs are room temperature or even just refrigerator cold, they will melt the still-soft ice cream and sink to the bottom as it sets up.
- I did all my testing for this using the Breville Smart Scoop Ice Cream Maker which is an incredible albeit pricey home ice cream maker. It has a self-chilling feature and keeps the ice cream cold for up to 3 hours after it finishes churning. For this recipe, you can use any ice cream maker you want, or even use the good ol' ice cream in a bag technique. The Breville makes a smaller amount of ice cream (a little more than 1 pint) than some of the more budget-friendly machines like the KitchenAid mixer attachment or the Nostalgia bucket-style ice cream makers, so you may want to double the recipe if you have an ice cream maker that can handle a larger amount!
- You can churn your ice cream base as soon as it's fully chilled (about 3 hours), but it's best if you can let it sit overnight in the fridge. This gives the mixture a chance to mature overnight so the flavors fully mingle together and intensify, and will give you a smoother, creamier churned ice cream.
crumb cake ice cream
Ice cream base
- 240 grams heavy cream (1 cup)
- 120 grams whole milk (½ cup)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- ½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon (use 2x if you don't have cinnamon sticks)
- ⅛ teaspoon whole nutmeg (freshly grated)
- pinch salt
- 3 egg yolks (OR: 1 whole egg + 1 egg yolk)
- 75 grams sugar
- 60 grams all-purpose flour (½ cup, loosely packed and leveled off)
- 50 grams brown sugar (¼ cup, light or dark)
- 15 grams powdered sugar (2 TBSP)
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 40 grams unsalted butter (3 TBSP, melted)
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a sheet pan with a silicone mat or parchment paper.
- Combine dry ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Break up any lumps of brown sugar with your fingers. Mix melted butter into the dry ingredients with a fork until the mixture forms large crumbs.
- Pour the crumbs onto the prepared sheet pan in an even layer. Bake for 10 minutes, rotating halfway through. Remove from the oven and let cool completely, then use a food processor to pulse the crumbs several times until the largest crumbs are about the size of peas.(If you want to be finicky about it, you can sift the crumbs through a wire spider so you're only putting the really big crumbs in the food processor. It's up to you!)
- Store crumbs in an airtight container in the freezer until ready to use.
Creme Anglaise Ice Cream Base
- Scald the milk and heavy cream. Combine milk, heavy cream, cinnamon stick, vanilla bean paste, ground cinnamon, grated nutmeg, and salt in a small sauce pot over medium heat, stirring constantly. When you start to see bubbles around the edges of the milk, tilt the pot forward. When you see lots of bubbles on the bottom of the pot, turn the heat off and let the mixture continue steeping for an additional 10 minutes. If you tilt the pot forward and don't see lots of bubbles, keep stirring over medium heat and repeat until you do. Do NOT boil.
- Ribbon egg yolks and sugar together. In a heat-safe bowl, vigorously whisk together egg yolks and sugar until slightly pale and creamy.
- Temper milk into egg mixture. Remove the cinnamon stick from the milk mixture. Place the bowl on top of a folded kitchen towel to hold it in place. With the whisk in your dominant hand, slowly drizzle the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so the eggs don't scramble.
- Cook to thicken. Once all the milk has been added, whisk for about 20-30 seconds, then transfer the mixture back to the pot over low-medium heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture reaches "nappe" consistency, meaning it coats the back of the wooden spoon. Do NOT boil. Keep it at a gentle heat and be patient, it will thicken after a few minutes.
- Strain out any lumps. Pour the creme anglaise through a wire mesh strainer into a heat-safe container.
- Chill. Immediately place the container in an ice bath to bring the temperature down enough that you can put a lid on it (stir it occasionally to speed up this process), then place it in the fridge for at least 3 hours, or overnight, before churning.
- Churn. According to your ice cream maker's instructions.
- Add crumbs. When the ice cream is almost finished churning, add the frozen crumbs. If this isn't possible with your ice cream maker, stir the crumbs in by hand when it finishes churning. Then transfer ice cream to freezer to firm up for at least 2 hours before scooping.