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.
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.
Measure out heavy cream and set aside.
Whisk together half and half, yolks, and salt. Set aside.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.