Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

I don't remember when I first stumbled upon this recipe, but I do know that I've been wanting to make it ever since I first heard of it. I guess it was the whole making caramel thing that scared me off--one second too long on the stove and you end up with burnt sugar (although the burnt caramel ice cream flavor from Toscanini's is actually one of my favorites). But after I ran out of my last pint of Haagen-Dazs Sticky Toffee Pudding ice cream, I needed something equally as decadent so I decided to finally try to make this, and I am so glad I did!

Let not the caramel making process scare you off, although I would shy away from it if you only have an electric stove as you really need to be able to control the heat. Just make sure you pay attention with your eyes and your nose. As soon as you start to smell something like burnt sugar, take it off the heat. As I read somewhere else, it is better to err on the side of burnt than to have only slightly browned sugar.

I didn't have any fleur de sel so I just used kosher salt, but whatever you do, do not use regular table salt; you need something refined and flaky here. I also didn't have any salted butter so I just used unsalted and added a pinch more salt, even though I still can't taste the salt in the finished product, so perhaps next time I will add a little extra. (Yes, it may sound gross, but I'm the girl that adds a sprinkle of sea salt to my chocolate ice cream; it's so good, you must try it!) The most drastic substitution I had to make was half and half for the heavy cream, but I think the ice cream turned out just fine and in fact maybe hardens a little more because of the greater water to fat ratio. This is a good thing because the large amount of sugar in the recipe keeps the texture very creamy and not as hard as I usually like my ice cream.

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream (based on David Lebovitz's recipe)
Makes one generous quart*

For the caramel praline (mix-in):

½ cup (100 gr) sugar
¾ teaspoon kosher or sea salt, such as fleur de sel

For the ice cream custard:

2 cups (500 ml) whole milk, divided
1½ cups (300 gr) sugar
4 tablespoons (60 gr) butter
scant ½ teaspoon sea salt
1 cups (250 ml) heavy cream (or half and half)
5 large egg yolks
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. To make the caramel praline, spread the ½ cup (100 gr) of sugar in an even layer in a medium-sized, unlined heavy duty saucepan. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or brush it sparingly with unflavored oil.

2. Heat the sugar over moderate heat until the edges begin to melt. Use a heatproof utensil to gently stir the liquefied sugar from the bottom and edges towards the center, stirring, until all the sugar is dissolved. (Or most of it—there may be some lumps, which will melt later.)
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.

3. Without hesitation, sprinkle in the ¾ teaspoon salt without stirring (don't even pause to scratch your nose), then pour the caramel onto the prepared baking sheet and lift up the baking sheet immediately, tilting and swirling it almost vertically to encourage the caramel to form as thin a layer as possible. Set aside to harden and cool.

4. To make the ice cream, make an ice bath by filling a large bowl about a third full with ice cubes and adding a cup or so of water so they're floating. Nest a smaller metal bowl (at least 2 quarts/liters) over the ice, pour 1 cup (250 ml) of the milk into the inner bowl, and rest a mesh strainer on top of it.

5. Spread 1½ cups (300 gr) sugar in the saucepan in an even layer. Cook over moderate heat, until caramelized, using the same method described in Step #2.

6. Once caramelized, remove from heat and stir in the butter and salt, until butter is melted, then gradually whisk in the cream, stirring as you go. This is one of the most dramatic reactions in the kitchen so please be careful and go slowly!

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. Stir in 1 cup (250 ml) of the milk.

7. Whisk the yolks in a small bowl and gradually pour some of the warm caramel mixture over the yolks, stirring constantly. Scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan and cook the custard using a heatproof utensil, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture thickens. If using an instant-read thermometer, it should read 160-170 F (71-77 C).

8. Pour the custard through the strainer into the milk set over the ice bath, add the vanilla, then stir frequently until the mixture is cooled down. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or until thoroughly chilled.

9. Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

10. While the ice cream is churning, crumble the hardened caramel praline into very little bits, about the size of very large confetti (about ½-inch, or 1 cm).

11. Once your caramel ice cream is churned, quickly stir in the crushed caramel, then chill in the freezer until firm.

Note: As the ice cream sits, the little bits of caramel may liquefy and get runny and gooey, which is what they're intended to do. One day after I had made the ice cream, the caramel was still quite hard, but I'm hoping that will change as it continues to sit, although I'm not sure how long it will last!

*One of hardest parts of making ice cream is the patience factor. Not only do you have to wait for the mixture to chill in the fridge before you start churning (can take up to 8 hours!) but you have to wait again after you churn it for it to harden up. However, I've found that after transferring the just-churned ice cream to a container to freeze, the leftover ice cream stuck to the sides of the ice cream maker cannister is already hard enough to eat! This recipe is perfect because after filling up a quart-sized container there is enough left in the cannister for a full serving of the yummiest ice cream you may ever make. Thanks so much for the recipe, David!

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