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A scoop alongside

I’ve never been much for Thanksgiving desserts. This admission may be sufficient cause, I know, for calling Homeland Security, but I’m not afraid to say it. Friends, pumpkin pie just doesn’t do it for me. I feel sort of iffy, too, about sweet potato pie, and apple pie is okay, but eh. Likewise, I hold that pecan pie is only worth eating under certain conditions: namely, when it’s light on the gloopy stuff and either a) spiked with bourbon, or b) spiffed up with chocolate. I don’t know. Thanksgiving desserts just seem like a handy excuse to use that stale jar of pumpkin pie spice – what is that stuff, anyway? – and indulge a half-bottle of corn syrup. But a few days ago, I stumbled upon something that could make even me perk up this Thursday, come dessert time. Heck, I would happily eat an apple pie from McDonald’s – you know, the kind that comes in those cardboard sleeves? – if it came with a melty dollop of this salted caramel ice cream.

Like many great discoveries in my life, I owe this one to Brandon. Back in September 2005, less than five months after we met, he bought me an ice cream maker – or, more precisely, Lello Junior gelato machine – for my birthday. When it arrived at my apartment, the delivery driver parked it outside the front door of the building – all 35 unwieldy pounds of it – and I came down, unsuspecting, to carry it upstairs. I read the print on the side of the box and let rip a ladylike snort: I had never declared any desire for an ice cream maker, but on more than one occasion, Brandon had. So here it was, at my door in Seattle. It was quite clear whose present this really was. But I did what any love-struck, butterfat-hungry girl would do: I hauled it upstairs and heaved it into place on the kitchen counter. And when Brandon came for his next visit, he made no fewer than three ice creams and sorbets – two types, in fact, on his first day in town. In the year or so since, I too have become quite attached to our little Lello Junior. It has pretty lines and curves, not to mention that fancy internal compressor, and it purrs like a fat, white cat. And it made possible this lovely stuff, which I cannot urge upon you strongly enough.

Salted caramel has been all the rage in recent years, traveling from its humble origins in the north of France to pastry menus around the world. The presence of salt works a subtle magic on caramel, deepening and brightening its flavor, making it taste somehow more like itself. Here in Seattle, I’m rather partial to local chocolatier Fran Bigelow’s grey salt caramels, dipped in dark chocolate and freckled with a few nubbly crystals. But my new favorite incarnation of the salt-and-caramel duo is this ice cream, from a recipe that recently ran in The New York Times. I have sampled my share of caramel ice creams over the years – whenever I see them on a menu, I can’t resist; caramel churned with cream just sounds so right – but no restaurant or ice cream parlor has ever really wowed me with their rendition. This one, however, did, and by god, it came from my own kitchen.

It starts with a very dark caramel, which, when churned with milk, cream, egg yolks, and the fancy French salt fleur de sel, makes for a very sophisticated, subtly sweet flavor that rumbles slowly around the mouth. And despite its rich ingredients, it doesn’t coat the spoon in that sickening – nay, scary – way that some homemade ice creams do. Instead, it feels almost ethereally light – or, at least, as light as a puddle of egg-enriched cream can possibly be. Finished with a bit of crunchy fleur de sel, it strikes me as a perfect way to dress up and make special the familiar, spiced flavors so typical of Thanksgiving desserts, from apples to pecans and pumpkin. In fact, it would be an ideal topper for any warming, wintry dessert: a gooey-centered square of brownie, maybe, or a pear crisp with toasted hazelnuts. Just last weekend, I served some in a ramekin alongside a slice of tarte Tatin, and we all sat around the table and swooned. It also made a nice snack the next afternoon, eaten from a teacup, with a book on the side. And for those of us who will spend this Thursday in the kitchen, that might be an awfully good plan for Friday.

Salted Caramel Ice Cream
Adapted from The New York Times and Nicole Kaplan of Eleven Madison Park, NYC

Before freezing, the base of this ice cream is surprisingly thin. Brandon and I – suspicious souls that we are – feared that it wouldn’t freeze properly and, if you’ll believe it, almost threw! the! stuff! away! But thank goodness we didn’t, because once frozen, it was silky-smooth. Note, however, that it will likely take longer to freeze than a thicker, more traditional, cooked custard base. We let ours churn for a good 50 minutes – much longer than the norm for other recipes – and even when we spooned it out into a container for the freezer, it was still quite soft. It firmed up like a charm, though, after a few hours in the deep freeze. One final to the wise: the caramel here should be allowed to reach a very dark amber color, darker than you might think. If your stove is good and hot, it won’t take long.

1 ¼ cup granulated sugar, divided
2 tsp light corn syrup
2 cups cream, preferably organic
2 cups whole milk
10 large egg yolks*
½ tsp fleur de sel, plus more for serving

Place ¾ cup sugar and the corn syrup in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Do not stir. Place the pan over medium-high heat, and cook the mixture to a dark caramel, swirling the pan as it begins to brown to distribute the sugar. Add the cream; then slowly add the milk. The caramel will seize and harden, but don’t be afraid. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then simmer it, stirring, just until the caramel has dissolved.

Meanwhile, place the yolks in a large bowl with the remaining ½ cup sugar and the fleur de sel. Whisk to combine. When the caramel cream is ready, pour a splash of it into the egg mixture to temper, whisking constantly, and then another splash or two for good measure. Then pour the tempered egg mixture into the caramel cream. Whisk thoroughly.

Pour the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve into a medium metal bowl. Place the bowl in an ice bath to cool the mixture completely. Remove the bowl from the ice bath, cover it with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Serve with additional fleur de sel sprinkled on top.

* Technically, Kaplan’s method - as with many other homemade ice creams - may not cook the eggs to an adequate temperature to kill Salmonella bacteria. The New York Times didn’t make a fuss about it, so I decided not to either, but if you are concerned, click here.

Yield: about 1 quart


And last but not least, if you’re still putting the finishing touches your Thankgiving menu, here are a few ideas from the archives:

Apple and Butternut Squash Soup
Braised Fennel
Braised Green Cabbage with Onions and Carrots
Braised Red Cabbage with Apples and Caraway Seeds
Butternut Purée with Maple Syrup
Butternut Squash Soup with Pear, Cider, and Vanilla Bean
Caramelized Cauliflower
Cranberry Linzer Tart
Dreamy White Beans
Fresh Ginger Cake with Caramelized Pears
Ginger Pear Upside-Down Cake
Hashed Brussels Sprouts with Poppy Seeds and Lemon
Sweet Potato Biscuits
Tarte Tatin
Touch of Grace Biscuits
The Winning-Hearts-and-Minds Cake

And come back tomorrow, when I will post my family’s favorite take on the cranberry theme, a cranberry chutney with crystallized ginger and dried cherries. It’s so good that Brandon had to hug me after his first bite. That’s what I call Thanksgiving.


Anonymous Leah said...

Well. You know how I feel about caramel in general and salted caramel in particular. So I just want you to know I am absolutely dying over here right now, bemoaning my lack of ice cream maker (and damn KitchenAid for ending their free attachment special just days before I was able to buy my mixer!)...

7:32 PM, November 19, 2006  
Blogger pomegranate said...

gah. wow! delicious.

8:09 PM, November 19, 2006  
Blogger Culinarily Curious said...

Sounds yummy! If you ever get the opportunity, I highly recommend Fiorello's Caramel Balsamic Gelato. Truly worthy of licking off (the fingers of) someone you love. :)

8:19 PM, November 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh I so adore salted caramel-- but I can't really eat ice cream-- What else can I do with it? Can it be made into a filling for tartlettes? I love it so much I once drunkenly ordered sauteed calamari thinking the waitress said salted caramel.
Anyway so gorgeous!

8:50 PM, November 19, 2006  
Anonymous Andy said...

I saw this recipe in the Times magazine a bit ago, along with the accompanying nod to Fran's- and then promptly misplaced it. Thanks for bringing it back onto my radar! I'm famous for buying my wife presents that are (ahem) really for me, so perhaps I'll take a nod from Brandon this holiday season and get my special someone an ice cream maker.

9:36 PM, November 19, 2006  
Blogger Anali said...

Happy Thanksgiving Molly! I have to admit, I'm a fan of fall deserts - pumpkin and all things similar.

This ice cream looks really good, and would be a nice treat. I have an ice cream maker too. Do you think there would be any way to use less eggs?

9:47 PM, November 19, 2006  
Blogger Pille said...

Molly - salted caramel is truly delicious, and I'll be trying to make this ice cream (sans Lello Junior or any of its fellows though). Probably for Christmas.. I've had a pleasure of trying some Smoked Salt Caramels from Fran's chocolates, which are possibly the best chocolates I've ever had!

11:03 PM, November 19, 2006  
Blogger Honeybee said...

Oooh, I want some of that NOW!! I never thought I needed an ice-cream maker but now I can see that I do! Btw, I think your blog is fantastic, I love browsing it!

12:14 AM, November 20, 2006  
Blogger wheresmymind said...

I like homemade desserts, I can't stand plastic store bought stuff some people try to pass off :Z

6:12 AM, November 20, 2006  
Anonymous deb said...

Alex and I fell head-over-heels for this ice cream at Berthillon in Paris last spring - we've talked about it almost nonstop since. I nearly fell off my chair when I saw the recipe a few weeks ago, but it just hasn't felt like ice cream weather yet. I'm so glad you made it, just seeing it assures me this is going to be a great day, and I suspect I'll be trying my hand at it long before spring thaw.

6:32 AM, November 20, 2006  
Blogger s@bd said...

almost enough to make me wish we hadn't already had Thanksgiving ...

6:58 AM, November 20, 2006  
Anonymous ann said...

I'm totally with you on most T-day desserts; pumpkin and sweet potato and pecan pies are simply LOST on me!
but i do love me an apple pie, especially since if there's leftovers i can eat a slice for breakfast!

your ice cream sounds delicious, but having only just this weekend mastered one step in the art of baking, the ice cream making may well have to wait another 30 years!
thanks Molly!

8:01 AM, November 20, 2006  
Anonymous Luisa said...

Since I don't have an ice-cream maker and I feel ridiculous hoarding ice-cream recipes for the day that I MIGHT have an ice-cream maker (though I did do this for a while), I let this go by the wayside... I am Soooooo happy to see that you tried this and with such spectacular results! And now it's on your blog, so when that day does come that an ice-cream maker finds a home in my house, I'll be able to whip this up in no time ;) Thanks!

8:27 AM, November 20, 2006  
Blogger hannah said...

ok, short of running out and buying an ice cream maker, what is a girl to do here? i love the idea of this and of course have splurged on many a caramel with fleur de sel from my favorite

molly you are on a holiday roll and i am very very thankful for that!

9:48 AM, November 20, 2006  
Anonymous Maya said...

I love salted caramels and never thought about an ICE CREAM. I may never buy Chubby Hubby again!

10:07 AM, November 20, 2006  
Anonymous Melissa said...

Oooooh, oooooooH! You beat me to it. After becoming smitten with Berthillon's version last year, I've been collecting recipes to try myself, but got bogged down by indecision: should I try the version from Pierre Herme, Michael Recchiuti, or David Lebovitz? And now you've thrown yet another contender into the mix. I could almost lick the screen...

11:01 AM, November 20, 2006  
Anonymous Melissa said...

Ha! We already had made plans to make this very ice cream on Thanksgiving. Now I'm even more excited! Mmmm!

11:51 AM, November 20, 2006  
Blogger Lia said...

I got Daniel an ice cream maker for his birthday in June and so far we've made mint and pink peppercorn (not mixed together). He said he'd like to make a more normal flavor next time and I personally think that salted caramel so qualifies! Right? :)

2:45 PM, November 20, 2006  
Blogger kickpleat said...

oooh, i'm envious of your modern ice cream maker but i'm just as pleased with my turquoise "ice queen" vintage one with all the churning. salted caramels are my favourite and i've been known to sprinkle ice creams with fleur de sel on occassion. i think your recipe will definitely go into my recipe file. it looks amazing!

10:26 AM, November 21, 2006  
Anonymous Brett said...

Mmmmm. I just finished the base and I'll freeze the ice cream tomorrow morning. It will go perfectly with our apple pie. Nicole Kaplan's recipes have never let me down (we'll be serving an adaptation of her recipe for gougeres as an appetizer). I wish you, Brandon, and your families a happy thanksgiving (and the best of luck cooking your first turkey solo).

3:00 PM, November 22, 2006  
Anonymous jo said...

We bought an ice-cream maker the other day - I made cinnamon ice-cream and felt like I'd died and gone to heaven (but this is going to be next on my list - sounds wonderful!!).

2:51 AM, November 24, 2006  
Blogger Tony said...

I will have to try your salted caramel icecream and also your own family's recipe for the spiced cranberries. It will go very well with christmas ham in a few weeks. These recipes sound delicious.

Here is another caramel flavoured icecream: a crema catalana icecream that has dark praline in it.

500ml simple cream
1 cinammon stick
grated lemon peel

bring these to a simmer and allow to cool and infuse. Add a couple of drops or orange blossom water.

beat 3 egg yolks with 65g sugar until pale and cook over low heat until coats a spoon.

caramelize 100g sugar until dark brown (or to taste). Allow to cool and smash into a praline.

Add half of the praline (or less if you wish a less intense caramel taste) to the custard and freeze in an icecream maker. Mix in the remaining praline at the end.

Not the same texture, but it does remind me or real crema catalana.

happy thanksgiving, Molly

3:02 PM, November 25, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

So, this is what happens when I put up a post and then leave town for Thanksgiving less than 48 hours later - it takes me two weeks to get around to replying to your wonderful comments! My sincerest apologies. I swear, I'm going to get back on track one day. One day.

But to answer the pressing questions:

Isabel, no ice cream, huh? Let's see. You could drizzle salted caramel over a pecan tart, or you could swirl it into some brownies, I'll bet, like David Lebovitz's dulce de leche. You could also use it as a filling for a sandwich cookie, or just smear it on a slice of baguette - yu-umm!

Anali, I know, ten yolks is a LOT. I have only tried this recipe as written here, though, so I unfortunately can't really speak to how it would be if you tweaked it to use fewer yolks. If you play with it and have good results, please do let me know.

Thanks so much, guys. You're so good to me.

10:54 PM, December 04, 2006  
Blogger Walter said...

Dear Orangette,
What a perfect end to Valentine's Day! It was easy to quarter the recipe and the result was electric when paired with extra-sweet whipped cream and melted barely-sweet ganache.

Two tweaks that I tried: 1. Cooking the caramel longer, so the result was 50% or so darker (remind me to write down a temperature in the future). 2. Cooking the custard. There's nothing wrong with using the eggs only for flavor, but I find lightly cooked custard (to the point where the first wisps of steam are coming off) improves both flavor and texture.

Thank you for relaying this gem of a recipe, probably the best ice cream I've ever made, and for your enthusiasm about it.

P.S. Have enjoyed your Bon Appétit columns as well.

8:53 AM, February 18, 2008  
Anonymous jessiev said...

molly - let here by doug of hugging the coast (love his site, too!). THIS is awesome. we WILL be making it this week! thanks so much!!

12:26 PM, July 19, 2009  
Blogger Laura said...

I tried this recipe last night and it didn't freeze properly, despite your warning. The batter was too thin. So, I checked out some other recipes on the 'net and I think that the batter does need to be cooked after adding the yolks to thicken it up first.

I cooked it last night and I will try the freezing again tonight

3:44 PM, September 17, 2009  
Anonymous Grace said...

Molly, thanks so much for the recipe. I tried it yesterday and it went over really well. Thanks again.

9:10 AM, October 11, 2009  
Blogger Walter said...

This is a staple at my house, especially for Valentine's Day. Yesterday I won a dessert contest at work with it, so thank you. I can confirm that even with half the yolks, the flavor and most of the texture is still there.

7:58 AM, December 08, 2010  
Blogger claire said...

molly! i just made this and it BLEW MY MIND! well, more specifically, my mouth. but that just sounds dirty. SO SO GOOD. already planning the next batch. if nathan had his way, we would never run out. xx

12:42 PM, September 02, 2014  

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