Thursday, July 24, 2014

Caramel Ice Cream

As I have stated before (in my Brown Sugar Peach Ice Cream post), ice creams are something that I love to make in the summer.  Once you have learned the techniques, it is very easy, and usually, a lot better than the store bought stuff (which is saying bought ice creams have really come a long way!!).  Another really fun part of making ice cream at home, is you get to make whatever flavor you want!!  You can take a base flavor and add in different mix-ins, and have a whole new family favorite that you would never see in the store! 
For example, this caramel ice cream would be a wonderful base for whatever mix-ins you wanted to add as your ice cream machine was churning it.  I meant to add in mini chocolate chips, but I forgot....oh well, I can sprinkle them on top!  No worries!  Another good mix-in, would be mini marshmallows, some crushed up graham crackers, ooohhhh or how about some diced up brownies??  I dare you to think of something that caramel doesn't go with!  Maybe onions.....anyway, lets get to making some ice cream!
Here's the grocery list for this ice cream:
1 1/2 C heavy cream
1 1/2 C whole milk
6 egg yolks
Pinch of Kosher salt (roughly 1/4 tsp)
2/3 C of sugar
Splash of water (about 2 TBS)

That's it!  So, to start, add the sugar and splash of water into a deep sided pot, so we can start making a caramel.  Yep, we're making caramel today.  Don't worry, there are a lot of pictures of this step, and it is very easy.  You just have to watch the sugar, and remember, the caramel will continue to darken after you remove it from the heat; if you get it to the perfect color while it is cooking on the heat, it will end up being burnt.  So, with that in mind, lets get started!

Nothing special in these pictures, in the above left, is just the plain sugar, above right, is the sugar with the water.  Now, don't stir the water into the sugar; in fact, you won't be using anything to stir this caramel for quite some time.  Caramel can be pretty fussy, so once you start to see the caramel changing color, then you just want to gently swirl the pan, to make sure that the caramel is developing evenly.  You'll see later.  For now, I have just gently swirled the water into the sugar, and placed the pot down onto the stove top, over medium heat to develop the caramel.

While the caramel develops, lets get the rest of the ice cream base together.  Put the six egg yolks into a large mixing bowl, and beat lightly, to break up the yolks.  I always like to put them in the bowl like this....looks kind of like a flower, huh?  
Once the yolks have been lightly beaten, add in the whole milk and salt, and mix them together well.  

Once this is finished, set the mixture aside, and measure out the heavy cream.  Set this aside also, and turn your focus back to your developing caramel.  It should be starting to simmer at this point, as the sugar melts into the water.  Don't walk away from your soon-to-be caramel at this point.  One second you have sugar water, the next, you have a black burnt mess stuck to the bottom of your pot*.  This phase really doesn't take long, just a couple of minutes, so hang in there!

Here, the caramel is just barely starting to turn...this is so early, you think your eyes may be playing tricks on you.  Go on and start swirling your pot at this point, very gently, to make sure that this is cooking evenly.  
Yep!  It is definitely starting to brown, so if you haven't started swirling yet, you should absolutely start at this point!

I tried to get an action shot of the swirling process, just ended up a little blurry.  Oh well!  You get the idea!  The picture below is about five minutes into the cooking process, over medium heat.  
This is as brave as I could get with my caramel...if you're feeling braver, feel free to let it go darker!  At this point, I dumped my heavy cream into my pot.

Be careful when you add the cream to the caramel base, since it will be between 320-350 degrees!  Your caramel will be very angry when you add the cream to it, and froth like crazy, building up on itself, until it nearly overflows your pot.  Don't worry this is supposed to happen.
However, it didn't happen for me.  Instead, my caramel seized and nearly instantly turned into hard candy.  I think its because I turned off the heat and stepped away for a second to deal with a toddler crisis (I think my daughter was upset because the tower she was building with her blocks kept falling over...), and the caramel started to set up.  Anyhoo, if this happens to you, no worries, here is what you do:
If your caramel froths up like it is supposed to, it will look curdled and separated, or if your caramel seizes like mine did, just keep it over medium heat, and stir until everything melts in together.  The sugar will melt into the cream either way, and everything will be okay!  
Now that everything has come together nicely, it is time to introduce the hot sugar and cream mixture, to the whole milk and egg yolk mixture.  This can be somewhat tricky, but there are ways to avoid having scrambled eggs in your ice cream!  Now, very, very (did I mention VERY) slowly pour your hot caramel liquid into the milk and yolk mixture, while whisking very quickly. 

Once all of the caramel base has been added to the egg yolk mixture, put everything back into the pot that you made the caramel in.  You don't want to waste any of amazing flavor you spent time creating!  You'll also want to put the whisk in the sink, and pull out a wooden spoon, since you'll be stirring this constantly, to make sure that your egg yolks aren't cooking on the bottom of the pan.  A lot of air got incorporated into my ice cream base while I was whisking, but that's okay, that will calm down in a minute, with the stirring.  
As your egg yolks cook, you will notice your ice cream base start to thicken up.  When you first put everything back into your pot, your mixture will be very runny, after about 3-5 minutes of cooking, over medium heat, your mixture will have the thickness of a pudding, before you put it in the fridge to set up.  Once you reach this consistency, pull it off of the heat, and pour it through a fine mesh strainer, set up over a medium bowl. 

Even with careful stirring, you could easily have some little lumps in your base.  Thankfully, the fine mesh strainer will catch them!

Don't forget to scrape off the bottom of the strainer before you put it in the sink.  You don't want to toss out all of that!  

Now then, give the base one last stir, and cover it well with plastic, and stick in the fridge to cool overnight.  While this is chilling, make sure that the bowl of your ice cream machine is in the freezer, to freeze overnight as well.  The next morning, pour your base into the machine, and churn as per your machines directions!  Once your machine has been running for a few minutes, feel free to mix in whatever additions you would like!  

Once your ice cream has reached the soft serve stage, scrape it out of your machine, and put into a freezer safe container, with a layer of plastic wrap pressed against it.  Set it in your freezer, to freeze for at least 8 hours, then dig in!  This ice cream really tastes like frozen, creamy caramel, and would be amazing with some sea salt sprinkled over the top of it!  If you make this, let me know how it turned out for you! 

*If your caramel does end up burning, and you end up with a sticky, black mess stuck to the bottom of your pan, don't worry.  Simply let it cool, add about 1 inch of water, and bring up to a boil.  The water will melt the sugar, and pour everything down the drain.  Easy peasy!