Strawberries and Balsamic à la Mode: not your average ice cream sundae

Move over hot fudge and butterscotch, we’re breaking the rules and giving you a run for your money. Sprinkles and whipped cream need not apply.

You must dare to try this unlikely combination of sweet and savory: a delicate drizzle of dark, tangy balsamic reduction with sweet, ripe, local strawberries mellowed by the cool, creamy, rich constant of vanilla ice cream and just the right jump from a few cracks of black pepper.

My instructor in culinary school called this concoction Heaven and Hell, and if I remember correctly, my classmates and I were all a little hesitant to try it.

The best way to showcase this dynamic fusion of flavors is with a well-rounded, custard-rich vanilla ice cream, freckled with real vanilla bean seeds. I’m using our recipe for Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, which features a combination of vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste to offer a full flavor effect and the speckly visual appeal.

For best results, the ice cream base should be refrigerated overnight; so planning to make it a day ahead will ensure more success when it’s turned in the machine. Place your maker’s bowl into the freezer at least a day or two ahead of time so that it’s deeply frozen.

Ice cream only needs to be turned in the machine until it’s a soft-serve consistency, as it will set up the rest of the way in the freezer; however, if the bowl isn’t fully frozen, you run the risk of fats separating from the water before the custard comes to the proper consistency. This would result in a very unpleasant mouthful of ice crystals and butter.  The colder the ice cream base and maker, the happier the emulsion.

Over a burner at medium-high heat, bring 2 cups milk to a simmer.

Add 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste, and let stand off the heat for about 30 minutes.

In a separate saucepan or bowl, whisk 4 large egg yolks, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon King Arthur Pure Vanilla Extract.

Beat briskly until you see the yellow of the yolks lighten in color and thicken to a ribbon consistency.

Stir the slightly cooled milk mixture into the yolks…

…and return to low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or heat-resistant spatula until the mixture thickens enough to coat your utensil. Remove the pan from the heat immediately.

I always strain my custard base, since there may be a trace of coagulated egg yolk here and there. You never know.

Cool the ice cream base to room temperature and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours, though overnight is ideal.

Stir 2 cups heavy cream into the base, then pour into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When the ice cream reaches soft-serve consistency, it’s ready to go into the freezer.

To make the balsamic reduction, bring 1 cup balsamic vinegar to a boil over medium-high heat.

The longer the vinegar boils, the larger the bubbles become. This is due to there being more resistance as the vinegar reaches a higher viscosity.  At 216°, the bubbles are close to the size of pencil-eraser heads. Bring the vinegar to a temperature of about 225°.

The best way to tell if you have a good syrupy consistency is to spoon some onto a tilted plate…

…and run your finger through the center. If the line is undisturbed by flowing vinegar, then you’re in good shape!

On the other hand, if you reduce the vinegar too much, it will become taffy when it hits the shocking chill of the ice cream.

About four good cranks on the pepper grinder are just enough to balance the reduction for a perfect accompaniment to ice cream and strawberries.

Immediately spoon about a tablespoon of this hot, lightly spiced reduction onto a few scoops of ice cream topped with 1/2 cup halved strawberries. Not only will you have an amazing experience of flavors, but you’ll also have my favorite dessert contrast of hot and cold.

Ice cream and bread pudding, anglaise and souffle, warm pie with whipped cream, and this rather unorthodox combination. Love it all.

Our Vanilla Bean Ice Cream is the perfect base for this splendid dessert.

Amy Trage

Amy Trage is a native of Vermont where she spent much of her childhood skiing and training for the equestrian event circuit. With a strong desire to pursue food writing, Amy took her English degree from Saint Anselm College to the New England Culinary Institute ...


  1. Emily

    Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

    Made this ice cream last night. Didn’t use xanthan gum as I didn’t have any and when I went to look for it, I couldn’t find it anywhere (I live in Ireland). As others have mentioned, the vanilla flavour wasn’t strong enough for me so I added an extra 1/2 tbsp of vanilla bean paste. Also, I used a candy thermometer when I was cooking the custard but, oddly enough, even after 15min plus at medium heat, the temperature didn’t increase beyond 90C. I wonder was it because I didn’t use a digital thermometer. Anyway, the flavour of the ice cream is superb. I added two tbsp of dark rum shortly before taking it out of the ice cream machine. Totes delish!

  2. cwolfpack3

    Question, please: I almost never remember to make my custard base the day before, so I have used an ice bath to quickly chill custard. I usually put the custard in one stainless steel bowl, that I set inside a large stainless steel bowl that is filled about 2/3 with ice. Then, I occasionally stir the custard with my whisk as it is cooling. Is there any reason for me NOT to use an ice bath to chill the ice cream base before putting in the ice cream maker? I just never see this listed as an option in any ice cream recipes, so I wondered if there was a reason why. Thanks!

    Great question. Nope, no reason not to chill the custard base. I always do. Beginning with a pre-chilled base helps prevent excessive overrun (too much air in the finished ice cream). Frank @ KAF.

  3. ssuch535558

    I absolutely adore balsamic vinegar on my strawberries I usually quarter or halve my berries add a tbsp of sugar then my vinegar and pepper. Just before serving the ice cream I add freshly grated lime zest. Yummy!

  4. sheilac31

    I’m going to have to try this. One of the best restaurant desserts I’ve ever had was sauteed strawberries in a merlot sauce. I’ve tried to recreate it at home but haven’t managed it yet. This should be a nice break from my other attempts.

  5. Amanda H

    Like amgbooth, I LOVE dark chocolate balsamic vinegar on strawberries! Last summer I bought a bottle of the stuff at my local farmer’s market. It’s been on my to-do list to make a balsamic vinegar strawberry ice cream–I’ll have to pick up anther bottle to make sure I’m well stocked.

  6. amgbooth

    Will definitely have to try the balsamic reduction and homemade ice cream. I usually just drizzle Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar on my strawberries and eat like that.

  7. "Paul from Ohio"

    Perfect “excuse” to finally purchase an ice cream making machine! Unique. Interesting. A definite challenge to the taste buddies! Way to go Amy! Love the finger test on the balsamic reduction. Perhaps one could also use that when ‘testing’ hot fudge sauce? Have a great summer and keep up with the great blogs!
    Yes, get the machine- you will never regret it! Thanks for reading and entertaining new ideas, Paul. Hot fudge sauce should “hug” the plate too! ~Amy 🙂


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