OK, I don't know how to spell this. This is the sound Homer Simpson makes when he thinks of pancakes and donuts and sacred waffles ("I know I should not eat Thee...mmmmm....sacrilicious"). And that's the sound I make when I eat this caramel ice cream. It's enough to turn me into a drooling pile of hopeless gluttony.
Homemade ice cream is one of those things that I rarely do and then wonder why I rarely do it. It's so easy and fun, and the payoff is usually much greater than the effort put into it. I guess one reason I don't do it so often is that I would then eat it, and even Häagen-Däzs doesn't put as much butterfat into their ice cream as this recipe does. Also it involves thinking ahead. Because I have a Donvier, I have to remember to put the canister in the freezer the day before. And then the custard also needs to chill ahead of time. But still...not that hard.
I had to smile when I read the title of this recipe: Spago's Sensational Caramel Ice Cream. Does anything say 80s food more than Spago? (Well, The Silver Palate. RIP Shiela Lukins.) It's such a cliché now, but Spago was hot stuff back in 1985, and Nancy Silverton, who developed this recipe, is still a force in the dessert world. Deservedly so, I would say!
David Lebovitz, the ice cream god, has a recipe for caramelized white chocolate ice cream in which he suggests that you sprinkle smoked salt on top. When I served this last night to our French guest, I was afraid of scarring her for life, so I didn't try it. I'm going to as soon as I finish posting here. (20 minutes later: OMG, that is the Right Thing To Do. Just a tiny pinch--but the crunch and the hit of salt with the rich caramel...mmmwhaahhcchh...) I believe salt and caramel go together. That's why I highly recommend you add a good pinch of salt to this recipe, even though Maida leaves it out. It cuts the sweetness and balances the flavor, I think. I also used half a vanilla bean instead of vanilla extract. I had one, and I'm running out of vanilla and can't decide whether or not to order more from Penzey's. All this baking takes a toll on the baking supplies. Good thing I'll be able to stock up at Trader Joe's in DC! (Yes, that's on my tourism list: Lincoln Memorial, National Gallery, Smithsonian, Trader Joe's. I have my priorities...)
So here's the recipe I made. I cut Maida's recipe down by a third because my Donvier only does a quart of ice cream. That's probably a good thing..
Spago's Sensational Caramel Ice Cream
Should serve about 4 people with a certain amount of self-restraint.
1-1/3 c. milk
1-1/3 c. cream
half a vanilla bean, scraped
5 egg yolks
scant 1/2 c. (3 oz.) sugar
Put the milk, cream, vanilla bean (and scrapings), and salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and scald over medium heat. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks and sugar with an electric mixer (I think a handheld one is best here) for 2 minutes--until they're very pale and thick. Take the vanilla bean out of the milk (rinse and dry it and grind it with your coffee beans--yum!) and gradually add the milk to the egg yolks, mixing at low speed. The mixture will be pretty frothy. Then pour the whole thing back into the saucepan and heat it carefully at medium heat, stirring and scraping with a silicon "rubber scraper" until the mixture thickens enough to coat a spoon or registers 168-170 on a thermometer. I just waited until I could see a good bit of steam. Remove from the heat and strain into a large bowl. Now, get the caramel ready:
Scant 1/2 c. (3.5 oz.) cream
2/3 c. sugar
Put the cream in a glass measuring cup and microwave on high for about 45 seconds, until really hot. In the meantime, in a small pot or frying pan, heat and stir the sugar over medium heat until it's melted, then continue to heat and stir until it's caramelized. This happens pretty suddenly, so keep your eye on it. Take the caramel off the heat, then VERY CAREFULLY and from as much distance as possible, pour in the cream and stir. It will bubble ferociously, but keep trying to stir. A long-handled spoon is a good thing here. If you still have unmelted caramel after the bubbles have subsided, you can put it back on the heat for a bit until it's all smooth, but I didn't have that problem. Now mix the caramel gradually into the custard and then cover and chill it. At the same time, consider freezing your ice cream canister, if you need to. Then, probably the next day, freeze the ice cream however you're supposed to, scoop it out, and serve in smallish portions. And prepare to become a puddle of drooling gluttony. But in a good way.