So let me tell you how this is all going to go down. First we're going to make one heck of a cinnamon ice cream. Awesome, right? I know it's cold out. I know I'm completely out of line. Just hear me out.
Okay. Then we're going to caramelize some breakfast cereal.
Wait, wait, hang--I know, just wait.
Then we're gonna mix the caramelized cereal into the ice cream.
Oh, c'mon! It's Christmastime!
Stick with me, here, people.
Before I go any further, I need to take you back a bit. Like, way back to when I was probably four or so, maybe. I know it was definitely before my little sister came along and dethroned me, so for certain younger than five. Anyway, back in the little suburban town in Illinois where I grew up, there was a Swensen's ice cream parlor that I was obsessed with. It didn't stick around for too long into my childhood; I think many of the Midwestern locations closed up shop at some point. But I do very clearly remember a certain cinnamon ice cream they had that just about made my whole life, even though I probably really only had it a couple of times. Funny how a small child can savor such fleeting moments so vividly. Like when you promise them a cookie, like, seven hours ago.
Anyway, fast forward many years later and I'm cruising the highly dangerous, hilly streets of my new hometown of San Francisco. Stopping abruptly to avoid being killed by a racing streetcar full of Alcatraz sweatshirt-wearing tourists, I look up to see a flippin' Swensen's ice cream parlor! What?! Childhood memories came flooding back, filling my eyes with tears. Cinnamon Ice Cream Tears. So I had to pull over and check it out. And wouldn't you know it, those jerks don't even have cinnamon ice cream anymore? Geez.
So for quite some time I've been dreaming up my own cinnamon ice cream, one with all the spice and creaminess that I remember from the days of yore. But because I've become cranky and particular about my ice cream in my old age, I needed more than just plain cinnamon ice cream. I needed to add some dimension and texture. I needed to mix in some Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. Obvi.
I opted to up the crazy further by caramelizing the cereal to a satisfying sweet-salty crunch with salted butter and brown sugar, which also keeps it from getting all soft when mixed into the ice cream.
(Sidenote: this part of the recipe can be consumed by the handful in an addicitive frenzy, so just watch your back--it creeps up on you like that.)
Can you just imagine a scoop of this stuff on your holiday pies instead of plain old vanilla? Hoooo, boy. All mixed together--the spicy, creamy ice cream dotted with bits of what amounts to sweet-salty, candied bits of crunch--this ice cream gives the ghost of Swensen's cinnamon ice cream a run for its money. It will make you do questionable things. Like finding a shameless way to justify eating ice cream for breakfast.
Cinnamon Toast Crunch Ice Cream
If you can get your hands on it, I highly, highly suggest getting some Vietnamese cinnamon for this recipe (sometimes sold as Saigon cinnamon in supermarkets these days). It is so much more potent, so much more alive in flavor than your standard ground cinnamon. It also has a more intense color. The amounts listed below are the result of testing this recipe with it, so you may need to add more of regular ground cinnamon to get a noticably cinnamon-y flavor. Remember that the unfrozen custard needs to be sweeter and more intense in flavor than you might want in the end, because these things become muted when frozen.
I used salted butter for the caramelized cereal, but if you have unsalted butter on hand, add a good pinch of salt to get that great sweet-salty balance.
Makes just shy of 1 quart
For the ice cream base:
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon ground Vietnamese cinnamon (see note)
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
For the caramelized cereal:
1 1/2 cups Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal
3 tablespoons salted butter (or unsalted--see note)
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the milk, cream, sugar, egg yolks, cinnamon and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard thickens and coats the back of a spoon (when you run your finger across the back of the spoon through the custard, a track should remain and not run back into itself). Do not let the custard come to a bubble or boil while cooking. Stir in the vanilla extract.
Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a metal bowl set over an ice-water bath. Stir often to cool the custard down quickly. Cover the bowl of custard with aluminum foil and chill thoroughly in the refrigerator, overnight, or at least a few hours.
While the custard is chilling, prepare the caramelized cereal. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Place the cereal in a large zip top bag and coarsely crush it with the back of a measuring cup or wooden spoon. You don't want to grind it very fine--just breaking each piece of cereal into a few smaller pieces is good.
Place the butter and brown sugar in microwave-safe bowl and microwave until the butter is melted and hot, about 45-60 seconds on high. Whisk to blend well. Pour over the crushed cereal and toss to coat. Pat the mixture in a tight, but even, layer on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, until the sugar has visibly melted together the cereal and caramelized it. Let cool completely before breaking into about 1/2 inch pieces.
When the custard is cold, freeze it in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. During the last few minutes of churning, add the caramelized cereal bits. Scrape the soft ice cream into a sealed container and freeze until firm.