France, as it turns out, is not the most vegetarian-friendly nation on our little blue planet. On honeymoon there last month, Amaury and I often found ourselves scanning the menus at two, three, zut alors, sometimes four restaurants before finding one where I could eat.
Thankfully, crêperies are 1) très commun en France and 2) always have fromage-filled, viande-free options for non-carnivores. We ate crêpes almost every other day! After a savory galette au sarrasin (buckwheat crêpe) washed down with un kir or cidre, we'd turn our attention to the dessert menu. And nearly every time, I found myself ordering un crêpe au caramel beurre salé—a crêpe with homemade salted butter caramel.
(Amaury, by contrast, almost always chose Nutella or some other form of chocolate for his sweet crêpes.)
Brittany is justly famous for its salted caramels, and the other regions of France we visited have helped spread the word. Salty-sweet and sticky-chewy or pourable (hot and saucy?), I couldn't get enough of them. Still can't, though now that we're back home in California, it's harder to feed my addiction.
Chocolate-dipped salted caramels would certainly satisfy, of course. But while delicious, they are rather a lot of work to make. Enter my new favorite cookbook: Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home (if your local bookshop doesn't carry it, try here). It's stocked with recipes for baked rhubarb frozen yogurt, sweet basil and honeyed pine nut ice cream, riesling-poached pear sorbet, and innumerable other unexpected flavors. Best of all—to my mind—is the page on salted caramel ice cream, here called "salty caramel."
Obviously you're going to need an ice cream maker for this one. If you've been thinking about buying one, take my advice and take the plunge. Nothing tops homemade ice cream.
First you're going to want to get your ingredients prepped and ready to go. Don't try to measure the cream, burn the sugar, and read the next step in the recipe all at once. Ain't gonna fly.
In a medium mixing bowl (enough to hold 1 quart of liquid with room to spare), use a fork to mix together 1 1/2 oz. (3 Tbsp) cream cheese and 1/2 tsp salt. This will be easier if you give the cream cheese time to soften up a bit on the counter first.
Measure 1 1/4 cup heavy cream (whipping cream) and stir in 2 Tbsp light corn syrup.
In another trusty Pyrex cup, measure out 2 cups whole milk. Not skim. Not 2%. Whole milk.
In a small bowl, use a fork to whisk 2 Tbsp of the milk with 1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp cornstarch.
Put the milk next to the burner you'll be using, and put the cream and cornstarch mixtures on the counter on the opposite side of your chosen burner. Put the cream cheese bowl next to a trivet on the counter. Trust me, this arrangement will make your life easier and potentially avert tragedy.
Now for the fun part: Pour 2/3 cup white sugar in a large stockpot (4 qt.) and give it a shake to evenly distribute it on the bottom of the pan. Turn on the burner to medium heat (slightly lower if your stockpot is a dark metal like the one below).
Resist the urge to stir until the sugar is amber-colored and melting all around the outsides and only a small circle of white sugar remains in the center. At this point, start stirring with a heatproof spatula, pushing the melted sugar towards its solid brethren in the middle. Keep at it until all that sucrose is a beautiful copper brown and starting to bubble and pop.
Remove from heat and caaaarefulllly pour in a bit of the cream, about 1/4 cup. It's gonna sizzle like crazy—picture how baking soda and vinegar react, only imagine the vinegar is boiling hot—so don't put your face over the pan! Stir well as you slowly pour in the rest of the cream a bit at a time.
Put the pot back on the burner and add the milk. Bump the heat up to medium high and bring it to a roiling boil. As soon as it starts to bubble, set the timer for 4 minutes. Now, the eponymous Jeni of this cookbook doesn't say to stir at this step, but she doesn't specify not to either, so I give it a whirl every minute or so just to be safe.
When the timer goes "Ding!", move the pot off the burner again and stir in the milk/cornstarch mix. Return to heat and cook for another minute.
This next step is easiest if you have a kitchen helper but can be done all by your lonesome. Slowly pour the caramel mixture into the bowl with the cream cheese, whisking as you do so. If you're on your own, alternate whisking and pouring.
Add 2 tsp pure vanilla extract—none of that cheap imitation crap–and put the bowl in the fridge until cold. If you're feeling impatient, nestle the bowl inside a larger bowl full of ice.
Fire up your ice cream maker, pour the cold ice cream mixture into the pre-frozen canister, and let it run just until the sides begin to freeze (about 25 minutes in my machine). If there are clumps of caramel or cream cheese in your mixture, strain it through a sieve as you pour it into the machine. When it's ready, scoop the ice cream into a container and allow to freeze for several hours before serving. Makes 1 quart.
Oh, and do your dishes.
Salted Caramel Ice Cream
Lightly adapted from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer
Makes 1 quart
1 1/2 oz. (3 Tbsp) cream cheese
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2 Tbsp light corn syrup
2 cups whole milk (2 Tbsp reserved)
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp cornstarch
2/3 cup white sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1. Whisk together the cream cheese and salt with a fork in a medium bowl.
2. Stir the corn syrup into the cream.
3. Whisk 2 Tbsp of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl.
4. Burn the sugar in a large (4 qt.) stockpot over medium heat, stirring only after most of the sugar has melted. Keep stirring until the sugar is golden brown and starting to bubble and pop.
5. Remove from heat and slowly, slowly, carefully pour in the cream.
6. Return to heat and add the milk. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then boil for 4 minutes, (possibly) stirring occasionally.
7. Remove from heat and stir in the cornstarch mixture. Cook for 1 more minute, then remove from heat.
8. Slowly whisk the caramel mixture into the cream cheese (easiest with two people). Refrigerate until cold; doing this over ice will speed up the process.
9. Pour the cooled mixture into your ice cream machine (strain if necessary) and run it until it begins to freeze, about 25 minutes. Scoop the ice cream into a container and freeze for several hours before serving. Blame Jeni, not me, if you can't wait that long.