Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Salted Caramel Ice Cream (With or Without Smoke)

I am obsessed with salted caramel these days. I don’t see anything wrong with that, for I can think of far worse things to have on my brain.

Caramel can be cloying on its own, due to its high sugar content, but I love the way a healthy pinch of sea salt tempers the sweetness and enhances the flavor. I’m gearing up for a Thanksgiving round of CocoaRoar truffles featuring my Caramel & Sea Salt truffle, and I’m excited for an excuse to make these again. These bittersweet salty caramel delights are a major favorite among my CocoaRoar customers, and already this truffle is the best seller among the flavors I’m offering this round. I wrote about this divine little bonbon in my first month of Kitchen Fiddler and this salted caramel truffle post still makes me salivate, even two years later.

I made a Salted Caramel Ice Cream earlier this fall, in which I used an alderwood-smoked salt. It seemed like a really good idea at the time, but it was mighty powerful and not for the faint of heart. My little vial of smoked salt was a gift from someone whose presence in my life is exciting but somewhat perplexing, so I suppose it’s highly appropriate that this smoky salt’s effect in the ice cream was equally intense and bewildering.

This crazy salt took hold of the caramel, transforming and deepening it to a whole new level of crazy. When I tasted my first bite of the ice cream, it literally grabbed me by the throat, forcing me to sit up and pay attention. While I loved it, I could only handle a few spoonfuls. I nicknamed this Dunhill Caramel Ice Cream for it was sophisticated, smoky and complex, but probably not something I should make a regular habit of doing.

The next time I make this, I'll decrease the amount of smoked salt so that it adds just a hint of that bonfire-on-the-beach quality. But the recipe works beautifully with regular sea salt, and that is the recipe I’d like to share with you tonight. I have made this version multiple times and have found it utterly beguiling, so much so that I have completely forgotten to take a photo of it each time. With Thanksgiving on the horizon, I think you need to have this ice cream in your repertoire. It would be beautiful with pumpkin or apple pies, and I am excited to enjoy it again with the pear tart I’m planning to make for my holiday feast.

And if you happen to have access to some smoked salt and are feeling a bit daring, I think you should definitely make this ice cream with it at least once, just to see what happens.

One Year Ago: The Ten Bells

The recipe for the Smoked-Salt Caramel Ice Cream came from Gluten-Free Girl and The Chef by Shauna James Ahern & Daniel Ahern, but originally the recipe was one by David Lebovitz.

Be vigilant when making the caramel, for it can quickly go from a beautiful deep amber color to a burnt sugary mess. Please make sure to use good salt for this recipe, for the quality of the ice cream depends on it. I use fleur de sel, but you can also use fine grey salt or even kosher salt. Just don’t use ordinary table salt. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to make this with smoked salt, I would only use a ½ teaspoon of it, for its flavor is potent.

2 cups whole milk, divided
1-½ cups sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ teaspoon sea salt, such as fleur de sel
1 cup heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
additional flaky sea salt, such as Maldon Salt, for garnishing

Prepare an ice bath in a large metal bowl, filling it a third of the way with ice cubes and adding enough water to make the ice cubes float. Nestle a smaller metal bowl in the ice bath, and add 1 cup of the whole milk to this bowl. Have a small fine-mesh strainer nearby.

Make the caramel by pouring the sugar into a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir gently but constantly with a wooden spoon or other heatproof utensil. The sugar will gradually turn clear as it melts and clumps together, resembling crunchy snow. Be patient and keep stirring. As it dissolves, the color will darken and turn a deep caramel color. Watch it closely, taking the saucepan off the heat the moment it reaches a deep amber color.

Stir in the butter and sea salt until the butter melts. Carefully whisk in the cream. The caramel will probably sputter and seize up, but return the pan to the low heat and stir until the hard caramel bits melt. Stir in the remaining cup of milk.


Whisk the egg yolks together in a small bowl. Slowly pour about a cup of the warm caramel mixture into the egg yolks, stirring constantly. Scrape the warmed yolk mixture back into the milky caramel and cook this custard over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. If you have an instant-read thermometer, it should reach between 160° and 170°F.

Pour the caramel custard through the strainer into the milk set over the ice bath. Add the vanilla and stir gently until the mixture cools down. Refrigerate the custard at least 8 hours or until it is thoroughly chilled.

Freeze the salted caramel custard in your ice cream maker according the manufacturer’s directions. The finished ice cream will be soft as the salt prevents it from freezing hard. Transfer to a plastic container and let it chill in the freezer until firm. Serve with a good pinch of flaky sea salt on top. Makes 1 generous quart.

1 comment:

patty said...

Thanks for the caramel ice cream recipe. I'll have to add it to my recipe file.