Warm, rich caramel tones and creamy deliciousness, dotted with spiked, sugar-plumped dried apples, make caramel apple ice cream a luxurious dessert. The caramel in this ice cream is the real thing..Not the faux stuff made with brown sugar, nor with store bought caramel sauce (which often does not contain caramelized sugar). But the recipe is still easy.
Okay, caramelizing sugar to the desired flavor and color requires some skill…But just a little. Follow my advice (see “Tips” below) and practice caramelizing a bit of sugar in a small pan, and you’ll get it quickly.
What makes the recipe so easy is that caramelized sugar, I’ve found, prevents gritty crystals from precipitating out of the ice cream. I’m guessing – but not certain – that this is because the breakdown products (there are over 100 of them) of cooked table sugar (sucrose) tend to bind water better than sucrose. The result is an ultra smooth ice cream without any need for a cooked custard or cornstarch base. I have found this to be the case, whether the caramel is cooked to a light, medium, or dark color. The resultant ice cream remains extremely smooth, and is easily scooped, even after freezer storage.
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For best results, read through the entire recipe and review these tips prior to making the ice cream.
- If you’ve never before caramelized sugar, give it a trial run (or two) with 1-2 tbsp of sugar in a small saucepan.
- Always use a pan that’s large enough so that all of the sugar will be a thin layer at the bottom of the pan. This allows most of the sugar to caramelize at roughly the same time. Many recipes say to add the sugar a little at a time to a smaller pan. The problem there is that the sugar that caramelizes first might become burnt and bitter by the time the last of the sugar caramelizes.
- For safety, use a saucepan, not a frying pan, to contain the splatter when you pour in the cream.
- Use oven mitts and/or keep a bowl of ice water near the stove, in case it does splatter out of the pot (but for all the warnings, I have never had it splatter on me)
- There is no “right” color of caramel. It’s a matter of taste. Some like it light, others like it dark, and I like it medium. Few, however, like it very dark and bitter.
- The sugar can go from a mild-flavored, light gold color, to a bitter, burnt-tasting, dark brown very quickly. Getting the color you want is an art.
- Some recipes suggest letting the melted sugar turn “dark mahogany” before removing from heat and adding the cream. I strongly urge you not to do that, because it continues to darken after you remove it from heat, due to the stored heat in the pan. When it’s really dark brown, the flavor is burnt and bitter. Remove from heat when it’s no darker than a deep gold to light brown.
- It might be tempting to prevent excessive cooking by placing the pan in cold water, when the sugar has reached the desired color. But don’t do it, because the sugar tends to solidify at the bottom of the pan.
- Warm cream blends better than cold cream with the caramelized sugar, so do not skip that first step of the ice cream base!
- The reason for adding extra sugar to taste to the ice cream base, is that caramelization reduces sweetness. The darker it is, the less sweet it is.
Nerds like me appreciate this great summary of caramelization, with photos of the different stages.
Caramel Apple Ice Cream
Both the spiked, plumped dried apples and the ice cream base need several hours to cool, so make them at least several hours before you want to serve caramel apple ice cream.
Of course, you may substitute other dried fruit for the apples. And I’m sure the ice cream would be wonderful with chocolate chips and/or nuts, instead of fruit.
Make the spiked, sugar plumped dried apples
Plumped dried apples remain soft even when frozen in ice cream. You can use plain dried apples, but it’s okay if they’re sweetened or spiced. Most of the spice will end up in the liquid which you drain off. I’ve used my honey spiced dried apples with fine results.
- 2/3 cup chopped, dried apples
- 7 tbsp water
- 2 tbsp dark or spiced rum
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Add all ingredients to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring, for about a minute.
- Remove from heat, and let sit, covered, until it reaches room temperature.
- Cool in refrigerator. Let it reach refrigerator temperature before using.
Make the caramel ice cream base
3/4 cup sugar
- 2 and 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup whole or low fat milk
- Pinch of salt (or up to 1 tsp, if you like salted caramel ice cream)
- Up to an additional 4 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Measure out the cream, heat it until very warm but not boiling, and have it ready by the stove for when you need it.
- Sprinkle the 3/4 cup of sugar evenly in an 8 quart heavy, non-reactive saucepan.
- Put the pan of sugar on medium-high, and, without stirring, watch carefully as the sugar begins to melt, usually around the edges first.
- Gently drag the unmelted sugar towards the melted areas with a heat proof spatula or wooden spoon. Be sure to stir only by dragging. If you agitate it, melted sugar will precipitate and stick to the pan.
Continue to drag gently as needed, to melt all the sugar.
- When it is all melted and golden to light brown, remove from heat, and immediately pour the warm cream into the pan, slowly and carefully. Wear oven mitts, as it may splatter.
- Gently stir to blend the cream with the melted sugar.
- If you have lumps of hardened caramel in the cream, place over low heat and stir until it dissolves.
- Add the milk and salt, and taste it. Add up to 1/4 cup of sugar, if needed, 1 tbsp at a time, tasting after each addition, until desired sweetness is reached. Stir to dissolve the additional sugar. You may also add more salt, if desired.
- Cool completely in refrigerator (at least 3 hours).
Make caramel apple ice cream
- Stir the vanilla into the completely cooled ice cream base, and churn it in an ice cream machine, according to manufacturer’s directions.
- While the ice cream is churning, strain the liquid from the apples, and use it for something else or discard it.
- When ice cream is ready, stir the apples into it as you transfer to a freezer container.
- Store in freezer until ready to eat.
Corriher, S. O. Cookwise: The Hows & Whys of Successful Cooking with Over 230 Great-Tasting Recipes. 1997. William Morrow and Company, Inc. New York.