black pepper ice cream

black pepper vanilla ice cream

I remember the first time I had vanilla ice cream infused with peppercorns. I was in France for the first time, backpacking for nearly four weeks as a prelude to moving to New York to start work for a big investment bank. My friend and I have been making our way down from Paris all the way down to the French riviera and were spending a few days in Nice. My first impressions of Nice were less than favorable. I found the city disagreeable especially after traipsing around Nantes, La Rochelle, the Bordeaux region (St. Emilion, be still my heart), Avignon and many others in between. Nice was chalk full of tourists, like a tightly packed can of sardines, and I suddenly felt as if we were no longer in France. I was also a little on the tense side, nearing the end of my traveling funds, every franc carefully considered and measured.

crushing the peppercornsinfusing the custard

A combination of heat, poverty and an overabundance of Russian tourists made me slightly cranky towards Nice. Also, it was hot, humid, our hotel room didn’t have any air conditioning and when we inquired about a fan, the hotel proprietor yawned and recommended we take frequent showers and sleep au naturel. Yes, he actually said that. So, poor and sweaty, I was in quite a state. Nothing helped – not even the salade Niçoise which was sheer perfection, but it was going to take more to draw me out of my misery. (Even as I write this, I can’t help but roll eyes at myself. My goodness, miserable while on vacation in France? What a spoiled brat I must sound like!) My poor traveling companion had to make do with my grumpy mood and put up with my sulking.

yolks!whisking the yolks

On the third day of skulking about, I decided enough is enough and ventured to check out Vieux Nice, a beautiful, older part of the city with brightly colored buildings and tiny weaving streets. It was there that I discovered this ice cream cafe in the middle of the plaza – now realizing it was the famous Fennochio’s ice cream parlor, which apparently makes over 200 different flavors. If memory serves me right, and I hope I’m not making this up, but the proprietor of the store told me they made around 70 different ice cream flavors on that day alone. I had choice overload. I was smitten with all the flavors available. There is that moment when too much choice makes your decision-making difficult. My travel buddy selected a boule of pistachio and a boule of orange flower. I went with lavender, and also pink-peppercorn vanilla. I know it’s a bit cliche to use Julia Child’s sole meuniere experience as an example here, what with the movie opening in a few days, but that’s sort of the closest I can come to in giving an example that mirrored my own experience. The flavors were magnificent; it was like nothing I expected. I still remember swirling that first spoonful in my mouth, my eyes closed as I tried to take everything in. And in a few moments, and a few spoonfuls later, I was happy, smiling, completely blissful and my misery evaporated instantly.

press the pepper down to extract flavor

I realize that the recipe below is for black peppercorn ice cream and what I had in Nice was pink peppercorn, which are totally different flavors. But the point is that the infusions of peppercorns in my vanilla ice cream, woke up my palate. At 22, I hadn’t thought of combining flavors like pepper with a sweet one of ice cream. Even after sampling chili-infused dark chocolate, I hadn’t made the link. That afternoon at the plaza made me reconsider the whole flavor palete and how unexpected notes combine to create something lovely and elegant. While plain vanilla ice cream, done well, is nothing short of spectacular, vanilla ice cream with infused with pepper (black or pink or white) takes vanilla to a whole new level. Think of it as vanilla in fourth dimension. Notes and depth comes out that otherwise you might not have been aware of before. And the nice warm sensation in the back of your throat is an added bonus.

smooth and creamy

I had filed that experience into the archives of my mind and hadn’t given it much thought until I spied the recipe in David Lebovitz’ ice cream book, The Perfect Scoop. And just like that, the memory came rushing back, and the flavors I remembered tasting returned. Luckily, I managed to find the missing part to my ice cream maker, and felt it my duty to relive the experience that so many years ago changed the way I taste. I prefer the black pepper to the pink pepper flavor, personally, as the latter gives a more flowery aspect to vanilla, whereas the former has an earthier, spicier note.

And I assure you, if you have a case of the grumpies, try this rather holistic remedy. I guarantee smiles and bliss within minutes of consumption, and to save you the trouble of learning the hard way, you might want to make a double batch, in case your guests don’t understand your unwillingness to share.

Black Pepper Ice Cream
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop

1/2 cup (125 ml) whole milk
1/3 cup (65 grams) sugar
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, coarsely cracked
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
pinch of salt
1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream
3 large egg yolks


1. Warm the milk, sugar, peppercorns, vanilla, salt, and 1/2 cup of the cream in a medium saucepan. Cover, remove from the heat, and let steep at room temperature for one hour.

2. Rewarm the peppercorn-infused mixture. Pour the remaining 1/2 cup cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks (I would even advise drizzling it at first as not to cook the yolks), whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

3. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stire, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer, pressing the peppercorns gently to extract as much flavor as possible. Discard the peppercorns and stir the custard into the cream. Stir until cool over an ice bath.

4. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Makes about 4 servings, or if you’re me, 1 serving for an ice cream lover with zero self-control.


  • The Gardener's Eden

    This sounds like the perfect thing on a hot summer day. Hopefully we will get a few this year! Do you need an ice cream maker to do this, (I don’t have one), or is there another way?

  • radish

    I made mine according to the recipe instructions in an ice cream maker – I imagine if it calls for one, it’s required. But it’s always easy to get a cheapie one and start churning ice cream out! :-)

  • Kristin

    I LOVE this idea. I’ve been meaning to get the ice cream maker attachment for my stand mixer ever since my stand alone ice cream maker kicked the bucket… as soon as I do, I’m making this

  • Amy

    Whoa. I just had my own black pepper-mixed-with-sweet/vanilla revelation, only it was black pepper combined with apples. It did the same thing: took the flavor (in this case a sweet-tart apple) to a whole new level.
    I’m glad you found something to enjoy in Nice. :) I was going to comment on Nice myself, but then I remembered we skipped past Nice – too touristy, as I recall – and went to Cannes, which weirdly enough was less touristy. The beaches were just as nice though!

  • Lisa's Cocina

    I have never heard of mixing peppercorns with ice cream, but I love the idea! Some of the best ice cream that I’ve had have been flavors that at first seemed odd (avocado, corn, etc).
    I am also lacking an ice cream maker, but I seriously need to get one. this sounds great!

  • Nikki Soppelsa

    Very Nice! Had thoughts about ice cream when eating Lindt red pepper chocolate…a very nice sweet savory!
    I have to tell you that I could not read part of what you’ve written because there is an oversized Mrs. Dash’s ad that will not close and cannot be moved. …perhaps you can tell to her…dash off!

  • Carol

    I made this ice cream after getting the book. It was excellent. I did as he suggested and had it over cantaloupe with lime syrup. I have also tried the parsley ice cream and it was wonderful. I had parsley ice cream with strawberries soaked with triple sec. All were delicious.

  • radish

    david – it was perfection. thanks god i had guests, i would have eaten it all myself.
    nikki – i’m sorry, i need to fix the layout – BADLY. i think ad is gone now.
    carol – were i not allergic to melon/canteloupe, i would have attempted that. parsley ice cream sounds fantastic – love stuff like that.
    lisa’s cocina – if you have a kitchen aid mixer, just get the ice cream addition to it, fewer appliances, less clutter. :)
    amy – am not generally a fan of Nice. It’s a bit much for me – too touristy. Though I do love Grasse and Eze which are nearby. St. Tropez used to be lovely, but now overrun by the glitterati and tourists.

  • Alejandra

    I love black pepper ice cream! I once made a pepper-mint ice cream…it was black pepper and fresh mint. A pretty intriguing combination for sure. Yours came out perfectly!

  • Kasey

    What an interesting flavor combination! My recent obsession is olive oil ice cream, and I just made a burnt sugar ice cream that I can’t get enough of. Ice cream maker = one of the best $40 you could spend!

  • Patty

    Incredible! I am blown away by the flavor combination discussed in your post. Thanks for sharing your story! If you ever want to guest blog on our website (which is primarily about stories regarding/related to food), please let me know! We’d be honored given we can’t get enough of your blog!

  • Maia

    AMAZING! Thank you so much for sharing this recipe, I found it via I was looking for vanilla bean ideas and this is it. Vanilla Bean is meant to go with pepper who woulda thought…I don’t think I can go back to traditional VB icecream, no ma’am. I think what I like most about this recipe is the super creamy texture that results. Really special that.
    Now I am off to try your Pelmeni recipe!

  • M.O.

    You list 1/2 c. sugar (65 grams) in the ingredients, but in the book David Lebovitz calls for 1/3 c. sugar (65 grams). Since 65 grams is closer to 1/3 c., I’m guessing 1/3 c. is correct?

  • Radish

    M.O. – thank you for pointing that out – it’s a typo on my end. yes. 1/3 cup is 65 grams. 1/2 cup is about 100 grams.

  • Chris

    What do you do with the vanilla bean? Do you remove this at the same time you remove the cracked peppercorns?

  • FirstIsis

    I have noticed you don’t monetize your page, don’t waste your traffic, you can earn additional bucks every month
    because you’ve got hi quality content. If you want to know how to make extra money,
    search for: Mrdalekjd methods for $$$

Leave a Comment