Caramel refers of course to cooked sugar, specifically sugar that has been cooked to the 320°-350°F range so it is an amber to golden colour.
The word caramel was first recorded in 1725, it comes from the Spanish caramelo. The source of caramelo is unknown, but some believe it is related to the Latin calamellus, a form of calamus, meaning reed or cane—a reference to sugar cane, we think.
Soft caramel candy is an American invention, though no one is sure when. All that is known is someone added butter and dairy to caramelised sugar and created creme caramels, by the mid 1800s they were featured in recipe books.
All the flavour in this ice cream comes from the caramelised sugar, the aim is to get it as close to black jack (410°F where the sugar turns black and then decomposes) without burning it. A lot of dairy is being added which will weaken the flavour, so a caramel at 320°F which is barely amber won’t be noticeable in the finished product. This lead to me declaring a new stage of sugar, “heart in the throat,” where you’re so afraid to turn away or even blink for fear of it being burnt and ruined before you can add the cream.
This is actually just a standard vanilla ice cream recipe, it’s just the process that’s different. Rather than whisking the eggs and sugar you caramelise the sugar (with a hint of water if you’re not a fan of dry caramel), adding the cream and milk when it hits that “heart in throat” stage, then once it’s whisked together and smooth temper it into the yolks. This takes a little more care as the caramel with cream added will be much hotter than scalded cream that you would usually temper the yolks with. Plus the sugar is usually whisked with the yolks to help stabilise them and prevent them from curdling. So temper slowly and carefully. Then heat gently until it’s coating consistency.
I’m afraid the caramel and tempering happened so fast no photos were forthcoming. This is the mix right before it was chilled though.
This ice cream came out fantastically, definitely one of the winners for the month. The deep bitter undertones reminded some of the tasters of coffee, even some non caramel fans found it pleasing. It’s not super sweet and that’s the key, getting the caramel dark enough so the bitterness counters the sweetness and balances perfectly.