Ice Cream Sunday: Salted Caramel Ice Cream

Caramel hates me. It mocks me. Totally mocks me. It burns. It hardens. It doesn’t harden. It’s too soft.

It harbors animosity toward me.

And I don’t really understand why. I mean, we got along the first time we encountered each other when I made flan.

But then came the caramel candy two holiday seasons ago. Disaster. Not once. Twice. And I soooooooo wanted to have buttery caramel candies releasing their sweet chewy goodness in my mouth. I had to just dream about them instead.

Finally, it decided to get along with me as I successfully cooked up a batch of toffee. Then more success as I made Coffee Toffee Crunch ice cream.

But then back to its mocking madness. Probably because of my cocky bragging. You see, last summer hubby and I discovered Starbucks Frappuchinos as we traversed the city streets of Washington D.C. in the intensely humid heat of summer. I bragged that I could make caramel at home and recreate the caramel fraps that he loved so much.

No go. The sugar seized and wouldn’t melt. I gave up. I threw my hands up in the air in frustration.

Caramel had me beat. It broke me. Too many failures over the past couple of years.

But then a couple weeks ago I had Pinkberry’s Salted Caramel yogurt.

Oh. My. God.

I get it now. I get the rage about the salted caramel–salted caramel cookies, candies, brownies, cakes, cupcakes…and ice cream. All over the food blogging world. I  had just passed them all over, not interested. I’ve never been a big fan of caramel anyway. Give me chocolate instead.

But this Pinkberry. Oh my. Sweet and salty. Buttery. Ultralicious delicious yummilicious.

I converted. I craved. I caved in to the goodness.

So the Salted Caramel Ice Cream shot to the top of my must-try list.

And guess what?

F-A-I-L-U-R-E ! ! !

Argh! Ugh! Errrrrrr!

I burned the sugar. Oh, I burned it bad. Gross. Burned caramel is bitter. Disgusting. And I had the heat low, nursing the pan, watching it oh-so-carefully.

I’m determined to break the ill will, though, and get on good terms with caramel.

I waited a week and tried again. I intensely and insanely yearned for homemade Salted Caramel ice cream.

And this time I finally got through to caramel. My persistence paid off. Not with perfection, though. It seized. I patiently let it melt again. Well, somewhat patiently. I stopped while it still had a few lumps, knowing they would get held back when I strained the custard base.

Something funky happened when I let the ice cream base cool in the fridge overnight: it formed a “crust” on top which didn’t totally break down when I mixed it. I churned it anyway. At least this batch didn’t burn; it was still usable.

So, I finally managed to make Salted Caramel ice cream. And it is goooooooooooood. Sweet. Salty. Buttery. Heavenly.

Now, let’s see if I can make it with success each time. Because I will keep trying.

At Pinkberry’s I had brownie crumble topping. I might try mixing brownie chunks into the ice cream one day.

I can also envision salted chopped almonds in the ice cream.

And fudge ripple.

Or toffee crunch.

Maybe even crumbled oatmeal cookies.

Uh, I think the sweet tooth is on a roll right now.

Let me just suffice it to say that this ice cream was worth all the headaches and frustration of trying to make caramel. I’ll only get better with practice, so I’m glad I didn’t give up.

Caramel, you certainly provide a challenge, but I will persist. And conquer. And learn.

Salted Caramel Ice Cream

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INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups whole milk, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 tbsp. salted butter
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 3/4 tsp. vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS

  1. Make an ice bath by filling a large bowl about 1/3 full with ice cubes and adding a cup of water so the cubes are floating. Nest a smaller bowl (at least 2 quarts) over the ice; pour one cup of the milk into the inner bowl. Rest a mesh strainer on top of it.
  2. Spread the sugar in a saucepan in an even layer. Cook over medium heat until the edges begin to melt (this took 22 minutes for me). Use a heatproof utensil to gently stir the liquified sugar from the bottom and edges toward the center, stirring, until all the sugar is dissolved–or most of it; there may be some lumps which will melt later (took 8 more minutes for the sugar to dissolve but it was still a bit clumpy looking). Continue to cook, stirring infrequently, until the caramel starts smoking and begins to smell like it’s just about to burn. It won’t take long (in 2 more minutes, the sugar began to smooth out, then in another 3-5 minutes it began to turn an amber color, meaning it was ready).
  3. Once caramelized, remove from heat and stir in the butter and salt.
  4. When the butter is melted, gradually whisk in the cream, stirring as you pour. The caramel may harden and seize, but return it to the heat and continue to stir over low heat until any hard caramel is melted.
  5. Stir in the remaining 1 cup of milk.
  6. Whisk the yolks in a small bowl; gradually pour about 1 cup of the warm caramel mixture over the yolks, whisking constantly.
  7. Scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan and cook the custard over moderately low heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof utensil, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (if using a thermometer, it should register 160-170 degrees F). This should take about 5 minutes. Do not let it boil or you will have scrambled eggs in the mixture.
  8. Pour the custard through the strainer into the milk set over the ice bath; stir until it has cooled. Add vanilla. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or until thoroughly chilled.
  9. Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Yield: one quart

SOURCE: adapted from Brown-Eyed Baker (who includes a caramel praline mix-in) via David Lebovitz (who links to How to Make the Perfect Caramel, his very informative post with many pictures)