When I was finalizing the recipes in The Perfect Scoop, I was conflicted about something sweet. Even more so than I usually am. Some might call it a character flaw, but for me it’s normale.
I wrote too many recipes and I needed to make room for all the sumptuous photography. I’ll admit once I got started I got a bit too eager and couldn’t stop myself from churning up all sorts of great flavors. Although I did include a fabulous recipe for Pear Caramel Ice Cream, which gets its smooth richness from caramelized pears rather than boatloads of cream and egg yolks, I decided since my first book had a killer-good recipe for Caramel Ice Cream, that would suffice for ice cream fans.
Before I go on, here’s a tip from someone who’s pretty in-the-know around these parts: True Caramel Ice Cream fans, like me, go for Berthillon’s normal glace Caramel rather than their glace Caramel-Buerre-Salé, which to me has a slightly peculiar flavor. As someone who’s spent more than his fair-share of time standing on the Pont Marie lapping up ice cream, I know.
Believe me. Boy, do I know.
So here I’m presenting my very own recipe for Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream which I guarantee is better than anything you can get anywhere, including…gasp…the glace Caramel at the venerable Berthillon: It’s so good, I can unconditionally make that claim. So there. And after the feedback I got from local friends who took a taste, they wholeheartedly agreed. Still not convinced? Then be prepared to miss out.
It’s not difficult to make good caramel but the secret is to cook it far enough so it’s very-slightly burnt; otherwise it just tastes like syrupy sugar. There’s complete guidelines for caramelizing sugar in my book Room For Dessert and my post Making the Perfect Caramel. You want to take it to the edge of darkness, then stop it there with the addition of a few pads of salted butter. It’ll melt into a buttery caramel that’s so irresistible, you’ll be tempted to stick your finger in for a taste.
But please don’t…it’s extremely hot. You’ll just have to wait.
But I assure you—it’ll be worth it.
Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream
One generous quart (liter)
I know I’m sounding like a broken record, but be sure to use good salt. I use fleur de sel, but if you don’t have it, a mild-tasting sea salt will do in a pinch, such as Maldon, fine gray salt, or kosher salt. Don’t use ordinary fine table salt; it’s far too harsh.
Because of the caramel in this ice cream, once churned and frozen, it’ll remain nice & creamy (as shown in the photo.) To make it firmer, crank up your freezer a bit or store it in a shallow pan.
For the caramel praline (mix-in)
½ cup (100 gr) sugar
¾ teaspoon 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) salted butter
- scant ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 cups (250 ml) heavy cream
- 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: I use a 6 quart/liter pan. 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.
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). I use a mortar and pestle, although you can make your own kind of music using your hands or a rolling pin.
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.
Variations: Add some strong liquid espresso (or instant espresso powder) to the custard to taste, prior to churning the ice cream to make Coffee-Caramel Ice Cream.
Other options might be some of the mix-ins in The Perfect Scoop, like gooey Dark Chocolate Truffles, crackly chocolate Straciatella, or Oatmeal Praline folded in at the last minute.
This is also excellent served with warm Mocha Sauce (page 166), although it’s also excellent melting over sautéed apples or alongside a wedge of apple pie or tarte Tatin for a caramel double-whammy.
If you don’t have an ice cream maker, check out Making Ice Cream Without a Machine.