Right before Christmas I added Thomas Keller’s newest book, Ad Hoc at Home, to my wish list. Unfortunately, it was backordered until mid-February everywhere so I didn’t receive it. A few of my friends already had copies, though, and last weekend when they tweeted about trying the caramel ice cream from the book, I jumped in too! The recipe was available online via the Wall Street Journal, which made it easy to bake along, plus it allowed me to preview at least one of the recipes in the book before I purchased it. I generally try to preview cookbooks before buying them, and my library has been a terrific resource, but there are quite a few holds on this book so it may be awhile before I get my hands on a copy.
This recipe forced me to face my fear of making caramel head-on! I’m pretty confident with a lot of things in the kitchen now, but caramel still terrifies me for some reason. It was actually going fairly well until I added the warm cream and milk and my caramel seized. Fortunately, the recipe explicitly stated that it might seize, so I wasn’t too freaked out. I also had the benefit of Nancy, Di and Leslie encouraging me, as they had all made theirs just a bit before me. I stirred and stirred over the heat and the caramel did eventually melt. I also knew that the custard would eventually be strained so any of the little caramel rocks that didn’t melt wouldn’t wind up in my ice cream.
Just a few quick notes before the recipe – You do want to take the caramel to a nice, deep amber color when you make it or else the ice cream won’t develop much flavor. Don’t be scared – if I can successfully do this, you can too! Also, don’t be terribly concerned if the ice cream is soft after churning. It will get a bit harder after some time in the freezer, but this is definitely an ice cream with a softer texture than many I’ve made in the past (which also made photographing it pretty tough). The ice cream has a very intense caramel flavor – it’s delicious! I’m not a huge caramel fan so for me this wouldn’t be the kind of ice cream I’d eat in a bowl by itself. More likely, I’d serve it on the side of a slice of pie or a piece of cake. Di, Nancy and Leslie all raved about this one so it’s a definite winner!
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
2 cups whole milk, warm
2 cups heavy cream, warm
10 large egg yolks
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Put 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a deep heavy saucepan and stir in the water to moisten the sugar and make a mixture that resembles wet sand. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then simmer, without stirring, for 15 minutes, or until the sugar melts into a rich amber caramel. If any sugar crystallizes on the sides of the pan, brush with a wet pastry brush.
Remove the pan from the heat and slowly (to prevent bubbling up) stir in a dash of the milk and cream. Stir until bubbling subsides and carefully add more, until all is used. Should the caramel seize and harden, return the mixture to the heat and stir to dissolve the caramel, then remove from the heat. Whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and yolks in a medium bowl until slightly thickened and the whisk leaves a trail. Slowly, while whisking, add about 1/2 cup of the hot liquid to the yolks, then whisk in the remaining liquid. Set a ﬁne-mesh basket strainer over the saucepan and strain the liquid back into the pan.
Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. Set a medium bowl in the ice bath; have a strainer ready.
Place the saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom and sides often with a wooden spoon, until steam begins to rise from the surface and the custard thickens enough to coat the spoon (the custard should be about 170 F). Strain into the bowl, add the salt, and let cool, stirring from time to time.
Refrigerate the custard until cold or, preferably, overnight.
Pour the custard into an ice cream machine and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When the texture is “soft serve,” transfer to a storage container and freeze to harden.