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Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

1 Sep

      Occasionally, I will become obsessed with a recipe, able to think of nothing else until I finally attempt it. This has resulted in the spontaneous purchase of Oreos at a gas station, the relentless exploitation of the Farmers’ Market for roma tomatoes last fall, the (perhaps unwise) incorporation of a phenomenal set of brownies into my repertoire, and a brief, surprisingly underwhelming flirtation with the use of faux-cookie dough in a variety of culinary incarnations. However, rarely have I been so smitten with a concept as when I stumbled upon this, David Lebovitz’s famed salted butter caramel ice cream. With those five words, Lebovitz had me mesmerized.

I spent the two weeks between the end of my summer travels and the return home (to my ice cream maker, and, you know, loved ones and such) fantasizing about how soon I could make this recipe and whether it would work.

And oh, did it work!

I had only attempted caramel a few times before, but the addition of fleur de sel and the idea that your caramel could immediately be employed as a custard base in homemade ice cream had me hooked. As a caveat, this did not go entirely as planned. I can count the number of times I have made ice cream on one hand, and I was still unclear about the desired thickness of the  custard base. I aimed for an exceedingly thick custard when making this (INcorrect, it turns out), and the ice cream did not freeze properly, which has left me with something the consistency of a thick, frozen custard. I’d be more upset if it wasn’t so delicious, but unfortunately (ha!) it just means I’ll have to make another batch in the near future to remedy the error of my ways. The next day, when I made some coffee ice cream for a friend, I only allowed the custard base to thicken slightly (basically allowing for ten minutes on medium/medium-high heat after adding the warmed egg yolks back into the custard mixture, as recommended by Elise at Simply Recipes here), I was worried that the resulting concoction was too viscous, but it froze beautifully, and achieved perfect ice cream consistency that actually requires some thawing after removal from the freezer. Lesson learned – don’t overcook the custard! Without further ado:


  • 2 cups whole milk (one will be used in the custard base, the other will be mixed in later, so separate them)
  • 1 & 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 4 tbsp salted butter (Lebovitz advises that the best butter produces the best flavour in the ice cream – as soon as I can get my hands on some Lurpak I plan to test this theory)
  • 1/2 tsp fleur de sel
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 5 egg yolks, very lightly beaten
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp espresso powder

the usual suspects: egg yolks, cream & milk

Instructions *

1. Fill a large bowl partway with ice and around one cup of water. Place a medium bowl atop this ‘chilling bath’ and pour in one cup of the milk. Set a fine mesh strainer atop the stacked cooling bowls. I like to keep this whole apparatus in the fridge, as it further cools the milk and allows me  to maintain valuable open counter space.

2. Spread the cup and a half of sugar evenly in a heavy bottomed sauce pan and heat over medium/medium-high heat (use your discretion) until the edges begin to melt, and then stir it with a heat proof spatula until the sugar dissolves evenly. Equipment made by Oxo or Le Creuset will likely be heat proof, but otherwise I would verify so as to not unwittingly incorporate melted rubber into your caramel. My caramel contained a large number of  lumps of hardened sugar for the first three steps of the recipe, and while I was initially perturbed, these clumps dissolved fully after the addition of the dairy products while making the custard. As Douglas Adams would advise, DON’T PANIC if this happens to you.

2. Once the sugars have fully dissolved and achieved the colour of dark copper, remove from heat and stir in the butter and salt until melted, then whisk in the cream. While I stirred furiously at this point, my caramel still seized and hardened (as Lebovitz indicated it might). This led to an abominable mess on my stovetop, but it turned out fine in the end, and as promised  the caramel melted into its former viscous state once it was returned to the burner and stirred over medium heat.

Note the mess that I have made of my saucepan. Strive to avoid this.

3. Add 1 cup of the whole milk to the mixture and stir to incorporate.

4. Slowly pour a small amount of the warm caramel over the egg yolks, whisking constantly so that they do not scramble. Once you have ensured that the eggs are not actually cooking, but have simply been tempered by the addition of the warm sauce, pour this mixture back into the rest of the warmed caramel in the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a spatula or wooden spoon.

Your custard base should be somewhat less gloppy than this. As always, let my failings be a lesson to you!

5. Once the custard base has thickened to the point where it coats the back of a wooden spoon (see above for an example of a custard base that was allowed to thicken too much), pour the mixture through the strainer into the chilled milk. Stir as the mixture cools.

caramel custard, the next morning

6. After the mixture has cooled stir in the vanilla, then allow to chill for eight hours or overnight in the fridge.

7. If that’s what you’re into, a teaspoon of instant espresso powder can be stirred into the custard immediately before it is poured into the ice cream maker. I have the ever-popular small Cuisinart that so many seem to favour, and I churned mine for around 25 minutes. While the consistency was, as previously indicated, that of a thick custard rather than traditional ice cream, I attribute this to over-cooking the custard rather than a flaw in the recipe itself. If this turns out to be a specious assertion I will update after making the next batch!

last minute addition

* I realized after the fact that I had included an overwhelming amount of descriptive verbiage into the first few steps. Essential instructions are therefore bolded, so my nattering commentary can be ignored if need be.