Pretzel Ice Cream – Yeah, You Heard Me, It Tastes Like Pretzels – Recipe

Pretzel Ice Cream
Pretzel Ice Cream

My wife ordered vanilla ice cream with pretzel pieces mixed in, and caramel sauce on top, and was enraptured. It made perfect sense; we all know salt and caramel go great together. The pretzels provide the salt along with a beautiful crunch and that warm, toasted flavor.

So I thought, why not go one better? Let’s make the ice cream itself taste like pretzels. I remembered that Alex and Aki had made pumpernickel ice cream, so I was pretty sure it would be possible.

The results have been great! The pretzel flavor is very present and satisfying. We like to eat it as a simple sundae, with a few pretzel pieces and a dark caramel sauce. (I love the caramel sauce recipe in the the Tartine cookbook but with the sugar cooked darker, almost to burned.)

I decided to go with a Philadelphia-style ice cream that uses no eggs. My thought was that this would allow the pretzel flavor to shine through even more, and also it simplifies the process because I can infuse the pretzels in cold milk and then go directly to the ice-cream machine.

On my first try, I used salted pretzels because that was all I had around. Worried that they would contribute too much salt, I rinsed them first. The salt level was ok, but too uniform. So for my more recent batch, I used unsalted pretzels and then added Maldon (aka the world’s greatest salt) after the ice cream was made. This allows the flaky salt crystals to stay undissolved so you hit them more randomly, which is pleasing.

I would not recommend adding vanilla to this mix, even though it might seem tempting. It has a tendency to overpower the pretzel.

The soaked pretzels are interesting in themselves. I’ve tried rebaking them to crisp and adding salt; it gives you this oddly rich pretzel which is ok but not earth shattering so far. So for now, I compost them but I’d love to hear other ideas.

I also considered making my own pretzel crackers for this recipe to maximize surface area, especially since Harold McGee had this incredible piece about how to make a strong enough alkali to get a real pretzel flavor. But in the end, I concluded that if you use mini-pretzels, the surface-to-interior ratio is pretty high anyhow so it doesn’t seem worth the extra fuss.

I’d also be curious to see what happens if you actually puree some of the soaked pretzels into the base; not sure what effect the cooked starch would have on ice cream.

Here’s how I’m currently making it:

Pretzel Ice Cream
Yields about 3 cups

  • 2 cups whole milk, divided
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 8 ounces unsalted mini pretzels
  • flaky sea salt
  • for serving: salted pretzels, dark caramel sauce
  1. In a microwavable bowl, stir together 1 cup of whole milk with the sugar. Microwave on high for 2 minutes or until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. In a large container with a lid, combine the sugared milk, remaining cup of milk, cream, and pretzels. Refrigerate for at least two hours, shaking occasionally. Taste and confirm that the cream has absorbed enough pretzel flavor; if not, infuse longer.
  3. In a colander, strain the cream mixture, pressing down on the pretzels to extract as much liquid as possible. Then pass the cream again through a fine sieve to remove little bits of pretzel.
  4. Process according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. When it is done but not frozen hard, fold in flaky sea salt to taste.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Wednesday, October 6th, 2010 in Desserts, Experiments, Recipes.

18 Responses to “Pretzel Ice Cream – Yeah, You Heard Me, It Tastes Like Pretzels – Recipe”

  1. October 6, 2010 at 9:44 am #

    This sounds like a science experiment. My first question was wouldn’t it taste salty? (Who would want salty ice cream). But it sounds like you avoided that problem. I’ve never had any ice cream that inventive, but it sounds intriguing.

  2. October 6, 2010 at 9:47 am #

    Mmm, pretzel flavored ice cream. You could bake the extras to dry them out, smash them and use them to bread something, eggplant, salsify?

  3. October 6, 2010 at 12:17 pm #

    This sounds fascinating, Michael. I bet the sweet n’ savory mix is delightful. Wish I had an ice cream maker!

  4. Michael Natkin
    October 6, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

    @Xiaolu – with all the beautiful food you make, you don't have an ice cream maker? This is terrible!  I'd love to see what you would make. This is the one I have; it works great and is pretty inexpensive. link to amzn.to

  5. Sarina
    October 6, 2010 at 2:59 pm #

    Best dessert ever. seriously! Please make it again!!

  6. leighannet
    October 6, 2010 at 6:53 pm #

    very cool! can you sub anything (coconut milk?) to make it dairy free?? my little girl is allergic – much to my milk and cheese-loving dismay :(

  7. October 6, 2010 at 11:26 pm #

    I am not sure that I could eat this, I only love pretzels with beer… ;-)

  8. October 7, 2010 at 8:53 am #

    Salty and sweet. Crunchy and creamy. It’s every taste sensation in one lovely decadent glass. ;)

  9. October 7, 2010 at 2:54 pm #

    Recipes like this are why I love making ice cream, there are just so many awesome flavour possibilities. This looks great!

  10. October 7, 2010 at 2:57 pm #

    Wow, pretzel ice cream sounds like a dream, a really delicious dream!

  11. October 7, 2010 at 6:22 pm #

    I inadvertently came upon the pretzel/ice cream combination myself a few weeks ago. We were on a long drive, and after a bathroom break at a gas station, bought our daughters a bag of butter flavored pretzels, and a pint of vanilla ice cream to be shared. Curious, my husband added a pretzel to his ice cream. It was really, really good. The fake butter flavor really was excellent with the vanilla as well. I suppose maybe the caramel would be the natural analogue to that.

  12. Michael Natkin
    October 7, 2010 at 8:48 pm #

    That's an interesting idea! There is definitely some flavor left in them.

  13. Michael Natkin
    October 7, 2010 at 8:50 pm #

    I've had some delicious coconut-milk based ice creams but haven't ventured to make one yet. It is possible the coconut flavor might overpower the pretzel though. If you try it, let us know how it turns out!

  14. October 8, 2010 at 4:24 am #

    This sounds so interesting because I honestly had never thought of doing something like infusing pretzels. But really I bet it’s something to try!

  15. October 11, 2010 at 5:50 pm #

    oh my goodness this looks amazing!! My all time favorite Ben and Jerry’s flavor is Chubby Hubby and I don’t even think they make it anymore but it had pretzels mixed in. DELISH! I want to make this!

  16. December 3, 2011 at 6:07 am #

    The flaky sea salt is key! Oh, this sounds heavenly.

  17. Judy G
    January 18, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    Gave this a try today and it is heavenly! I’m about to finish the entire container! :D

    The soaked pretzels were made into a [bread] pudding. I served it with grated aged cheddar (Kerrygold). Really good :)

    • January 18, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

      Nice! I love the use for the leftover pretzels too, very cool.

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