Caramel Ice Cream

May 20, 2014
2 Ratings
  • Prep time 24 hours
  • Cook time 15 minutes
  • Serves 6
Author Notes

I developed this recipe three years ago. At the time, I was obsessed with making caramel sauce. And my staple ice cream was vanilla. So I combined the two (with many errors along the way) into a caramel ice cream. It’s a detailed recipe but it's not complex. Make sure you read through the recipe several times before making it. And have everything prepped so that you have no surprises. Caramel waits for no one.

The caramelization of sugar is one of those transformations that astonishes every time. The smell, the heat, the color. But be warned, it can go from golden brown to black within a minute. If you've never made caramel before, take it off the heat when it's getting close to the desired color. This will slow down the caramelizing process and give you a bit more control.

It's not very sweet so feel free to ramp up the sugar by 1/3 of a cup if you like. Or serve it with chocolate, caramel, or butterscotch sauce.
Phyllis Grant

What You'll Need
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  1. This recipe requires an ice cream machine. So make sure it's in working order. And if an insert is required, freeze it for 24 hours.
  2. Measure out heavy cream and set aside.
  3. Whisk together half and half, yolks, and salt. Set aside.
  4. At this point, you should prep the water bath so that all is in place when the ice cream custard is done. Do this by placing a fine strainer over a medium bowl. Rest bottom of the medium bowl in a large bowl. Add about an ice tray's worth of ice cubes to the large bowl. Set aside.
  5. In a deep pot, coat the sugar with a big splash of water (the liquid gives you a bit more control). Swirl (by the pot handle) over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Let it boil away for a few minutes. Once it starts to darken in patches, swirl the pan to make sure it's caramelizing evenly. The burning sugar will smell smoky and sweet. It's ready when it's the shade of Grade B maple syrup. Or be brave and go even darker! (Think the color of an old copper penny.) It will continue to darken even after you remove it from the heat.
  6. Carefully pour the the heavy cream into the caramel. Hitting caramelized sugar with heavy cream brings about quite a reaction. The mixture will rise up, almost overflowing. And then (big relief) it will start to settle back down into a calmer (but still confused) ocean of sugar, curds, and whey. Whisk it over low heat and it will unite into a creamy golden syrup.
  7. SLOWLY pour the caramel cream mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. This allows the eggs to adjust to the change in temperature without getting stressed out.
  8. Pour the mixture back into the original caramel pot (so as not to waste any little drips or drops). Set aside your whisk and bring out a wooden spoon. Place back on medium heat. And start stirring. Don't walk away. Or you will have caramel-flavored scrambled eggs. Watch and feel for the shift in viscosity. As you stir, the thin custard will slap against the sides of the pot like waves against the side of a boat. As it thickens, the gliding spoon will cause the custard to rise up and settle back down without much of a splash. This takes anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes. But don't time it. Just watch. To confirm that it's done, do the drag-your-finger-across-the-back-of-the-wooden-spoon test. It's ready when your finger leaves a lovely lingering trail.
  9. Pour mixture through the fine strainer into the medium bowl that's resting in the large bowl. Pour just enough water in with the ice cubes so that the ice water is at least half way up the side of the bowl filled with the ice cream custard. Leave bowl over the ice bath until it's cool. Stir every 10 minutes or so. Refrigerate custard for a few hours or overnight. Churn in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. Freeze for a few hours before serving.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • QueenOfGreen
  • Karen Bateman
    Karen Bateman
  • borntobeworn
  • LakeladyP
  • Marjorie Gelin Goodwin
    Marjorie Gelin Goodwin
Phyllis Grant is an IACP finalist for Personal Essays/Memoir Writing and a three-time Saveur Food Blog Awards finalist for her blog, Dash and Bella. Her essays and recipes have been published in a dozen anthologies and cookbooks including Best Food Writing 2015 and 2016. Her work has been featured both in print and online for various outlets, including Oprah, The New York Times, Food52, Saveur, The Huffington Post, Time Magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle, Tasting Table and Salon. Her memoir with recipes, Everything Is Out of Control, is coming out April 2020 from Farrar Straus & Giroux. She lives in Berkeley, California with her husband and two children.

31 Reviews

QueenOfGreen November 26, 2021
This was wonderful! Thank you for all the descriptive instructions. When I brought it to my Bosnian friends' home for Friendsgiving, they swore it was just like something from back in their country (Egypt ice cream?), so it brought out lots of ooh's and aah's!
Phyllis G. November 26, 2021
Love hearing this! Let me know if you learn more. So curious about this ice cream they are referring to.
QueenOfGreen November 27, 2021
Apparently (after more questioning) it’s a shop in Sarajevo called Egipat, and anyone from there will know the ice cream.
Phyllis G. November 27, 2021
Well maybe I can go there someday! Thanks for getting the details.
Susie S. November 29, 2018
I’ve just bought an ice cream machine, made my very first ever batch of ice cream and it’s just churned and gone into the freezer. I think this is a great recipe, well-written with clear directions and the resulting ice cream has wonderful caramel flavour and smooth texture. I’ve often had a bit of trouble with caramel, but thanks to this recipe, I now feel I understand it and have the confidence to work with it. Thank you!
Claudia September 18, 2016
Too bad about all the spam on this discussion of yummy ice cream. Can Food52 clean it up?

Anyway -- I made this for a family dinner tonight and it was amazing. The disconcerting part is adding the cream to the super-hot carmelized sugar mixture. The curds and whey description wasn't quite it -- it was more of a big sticky caramel blob floating around. However, on low heat if you keep stirring it reincorporates into all it's caramely goodness. It was so smooth and creamy. A definite keeper. In my ice cream experience -- don't ever skip the ice bath step -- sure, you have to get out some bowls and the strainer -- but it makes a big difference.
Karen B. October 4, 2015
Wooow!! So good, I have never made caramel before. 1st. time around I had trouble w/sugar turning into crystal mass as well. However 2nd try perfection. I didn't add any water. Just turned stove on low added sugar evenly to pot and left it alone; when it started to bubble all over, then it turned a beautiful copper color then I took spoon and from side Of sugar pulled it in center all the way around, PERFECTION!!! I read the DIY FOOD Making a perfect caramel sauce :)
Andrea R. March 6, 2015
This is, hands down, the best ice cream I've ever made. The darker you can get your caramel, the more intense and complex the flavor. I've made it now probably 5 times, and it's my husbands favorite.
borntobeworn June 11, 2014
I have made a lot of ice creams and this one gave me trouble. The sugar never caramelized - just turned into a crystal mass on the bottom of the pan. I added water 2 more times but still never got it to turn. The resulting mixture is very much a custard (with all those egg yokes). I'm going to chill it overnight before sending it through my ice cream maker. Luckily, I have some salted caramel syrup that my son brought me from France - I might add some after it goes through the machine, before it hardens in the freezer. I'm hoping for ribbons of caramel. I just don't understand why the sugar wouldn't turn anything darker than a honey color.
Phyllis G. June 12, 2014
so sorry this happened! caramel can bet tricky. it will work fine for me 30 times in a row and then BAM i'll have a disastrous batch. here's is a caramel primer from kenzi wilbur. i hope it helps!
borntobeworn June 12, 2014
This looks like awesome instruction :) Thanks! What I did in the mean time is to whip up a big batch of what we called "hard sauce" that we put on blackberry cobbler in the summer: 2c brown sugar, 4 Tbs butter, 1c water. I poured that syrup into the custard before putting it in the ice cream maker. Not matter what, it's going to be good :)
LakeladyP May 27, 2014
Some of these people should not be allowed near a kitchen, based on their questions!
bookjunky June 11, 2014
Yep! :-)
Audrey May 26, 2014
This was my first experience with caramel. I removed the hot melted caramel-colored sugar from the stove and added the cream, and the reaction I got was instantly hardened glassy caramel! I put it back on the stove and it melted fine. I drizzled this liquid into my egg mixture using the whisk on my stand mixer, pouring in a stream the size I use to keep my pipes from freezing, and never got any lumps that needed straining. Cooked that to custard, which took at least 10 minutes. It's cooling in the refrigerator now and already tastes delicious!
caryl May 26, 2014
Phyllis, can you really tell me you didn't realize that Marjorie meant Ice Cream Maker when she wrote Ice Maker. For that reason alone, I can't trust your recipe plus you never answered her question which I found confusing as well. For those of us who make ice cream, it seems the ice bath is an unnecessary step when one has an Ice Cream Maker. Therefore, it would have been helpful if you clarified this as I believe Marjorie was also asking confused about this in your directions.
Phyllis G. May 26, 2014
I even googled "ice maker" because I thought it might be something I didn't know about. i'm always excited to learn about something new. as for skipping steps, you want to cool the custard right away in an ice bath so that it doesn't continue to cook. and you don't want to pour hot custard into the ice cream maker because it will never firm up. hope that's helps!
Leslie R. May 24, 2014
I don't understand when to put it in the ice cream maker. Is that when you say "freeze according to manufactures directions"?
Phyllis G. May 24, 2014
yes! i clarified in the recipe. thanks for the question!
eatlikeachef May 22, 2014
I'm thinking this ice cream in between the blondies recipe posted here a few days ago = most amazing ice cream sandwich! Thanks!
Phyllis G. May 24, 2014
yes yes yes yum
Marjorie G. May 21, 2014
Is there a way to modify the recipe to use it with an ice maker? I already have one by Cuisinart. I'm wondering if it allows me to consolidate a step or two in the recipe.
Phyllis G. May 22, 2014
i've never used a ice maker. what is it? i can't think of any ways to consolidate this particular recipe. i'm so sorry.
Marjorie G. May 22, 2014
Oops. I meant to say ice CREAM maker not ice maker.
Phyllis G. May 22, 2014
i have a cuisinart ice cream maker as well. it works great!
Jim May 21, 2014
Memorial Day Weekend AND it's supposed to be hot here. Can't wait to make this - thanks Phyllis!
ravenskylark May 21, 2014
Video please!!!
Phyllis G. May 22, 2014
nice idea!
ChefJune May 21, 2014
There's something missing from the first step in your very detailed recipe. WHAT water bath? You say prep THE water bath. But you haven't mentioned any water bath before. How and where do you mean it to be prepped, and for what? I'm looking forward to making this recipe this weekend, but since you're insistent upon the need to have everything clear, I'd love it if you could clarify this one. And thanks in advance.
Phyllis G. May 21, 2014
in step 3, placing the medium bowl inside the larger bowl is the prep for the water bath. you add the water in step 8. but i'll see if i can make the instructions clearer. thanks!
nannydeb May 21, 2014
Perfect for this weekend, thanks!
Phyllis G. May 21, 2014
you're welcome!