salted caramel ice cream

This summer, a bloggy friend who is now a real friend came to visit. We ate waffles with spinach-bacon-and-egg gravy and then sat on the porch in the Saturday morning sun and visited while the children played. It was nice, but that’s not why I’m telling you this. The reason I’m bringing this up is because of the gift she brought me: Jeni’s Ice Cream Book.

An aside about hostess gifts: I was not trained in the art of hostess gifting. My family was forever hosting and being hosted, it seemed, but no one bothered with the formality of gifts—the hanging out together was gift enough. Plus, the guests took their turn playing hostess, so it all evened out in the end. Then when I grew up and started hosting, I found myself continually being surprised when guests came bearing gifts. In fact, it still catches me off guard every single time it happens, and it never ceases to tickle me pink. (The converse of this is that I have never mastered the art of giving hostess gifts. Upon receiving an invitation, I get so excited to be A Guest In A Different House that a gift never crosses my mind. Instead, I prance in the door, shuck my shoes, ooh and ahh over every little thing, ask a million questions, and then plunk my butt on the softest chair like I mean to never get up. I’m a-feared that others must think me a most ungracious guest indeed.)

But back to my friend and her gift. Truth is, I wasn’t completely surprised that this friend came bearing that book. A week or so prior, she had posted about some ice creams she had been making and when I asked her if she might please post the recipes, she responded with, “I’ll give you your answer this weekend. smirk.” So I kind of knew.

I read the cookbook from cover to cover while sitting backstage during Kiss the Moon. And then I made a four recipes in quick succession: salty caramel, sweet corn and blackberry, coffee, and lemon frozen yogurt. They were all a hit. Well, all except for the salty caramel which I scorched. (It also had bits of melted rubber spatula in it, but I didn’t tell anyone that.)  I made it again and then it was a hit.

For the making of the caramel, the recipe requires the dry method. Translation: cook the sugar into a syrup without the addition of liquid. I had never done this before. It made me nervous. Turns out, it wasn’t hard at all. Sure, the first batch scorched and I had to toss it, but then I got a handle on the situation. Sometimes you have to go too far to learn when to stop.

Salted Caramel Ice Cream
Adapted from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home Cookbook.

On the one hand, it’s tricky because the sugar can go from dry to burnt in seconds. But on the other hand, once you figure out how your kettle and stove work, it’s a piece of cake.

The process moves quickly, so have all your ingredients measured and ready to go.

2/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons (1½ ounces) cream cheese
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon, cornstarch
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons (approximately 1 glug) corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla

Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. In a large bowl, mash the cream cheese with the salt. Measure the milk into a separate container. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of the already-measured milk. Into yet another container, measure the whipping cream and add the glug of corn syrup. Have at the ready a heat-proof spatula, a wooden spoon, or a whisk.

Now, pay attention. Put the kettle with the sugar over medium high heat. When the sugar gets syrupy around the edges, gently nudge it around with a spoon or lightly swirl the pan. The goal is to get a golden brown syrup about the color of a copper penny. However, my syrup always darkens faster than my sugar melts, so once the melting has started, I let it finish off-heat. Once it’s melted, sniff it good to make sure it hasn’t scorched.

Put the kettle back on the heat and add the cream with corn syrup. The caramel will burble and splatter, so be careful. Also, my caramel always seizes up into a rock-hard lump. If this happens to you, pretend it didn’t and move on. Add the milk.

Bring the mixture to a full boil and simmer-boil for 4 minutes. It will froth up really high, so keep an eye on it, lifting it off the heat as needed and stirring frequently. By the time the four minutes is up, all the lumpy caramel should be dissolved. Whisk in the cornstarch slurry and boil for another minute. Remove from the heat.

Add the hot milk to the bowl of cream cheese a little at a time, whisking vigorously after each addition to incorporate the cream cheese. (Don’t worry if little specks of undissolved cheese remain—they eventually disappear.) Add the vanilla.

Chill the ice cream base in the fridge for 8 hours or overnight. Freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. Transfer the ice cream to another container, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze until solid.

Serve in cones or with warm brownies and more caramel sauce or with a wedge of fresh apple pie.

The half-naked dishwasher boy gets the plate-licking privileges. 

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (10.8.12), green tomato curry, pie pastry with lard and egg, and a fundamental lapse in judgement.


  • Becky

    I too forget about hostess gifts. I've gotten better in recent years, although it's usually a jar of something I've canned, usually pickles. I'm not sure everyone appreciates them, but oh well.

    I'm going to have to try this. We got a new ice cream maker this summer and so far, have only made lots of vanilla and a batch of peach.

  • Starr

    I've made the same ice cream with a slightly different recipe–it was a tad on the burned side, but we ate it anyway! It was such a mess to make I'm not sure I'll do it again.

  • Rebecca

    Oh, shucks! Never mind. My Reading for Comprehension skills want improving. I just read your description and skipped the actual, you know, recipe. But I'll study your perfectly clear instructions and have another whack at my cake. Thanks!

  • Margo

    This is a flavor I haven't tried yet – I think commercial salted caramel ice cream scared me off. But I desperately want a scoop next to apple pie, like you suggest!!

    So pleased you are using and loving the book 🙂 I only found out about hostess gifts as an adult, too, but I always consider an interested guest who makes herself at home a gift.

  • Rebecca

    I wish you would post EXACTLY how you did the caramelizing bit. I tried to make a Burnt Sugar Cake that had you starting with a dry skillet and sugar. What an unholy mess! I gave up and wrote a rude note in the margins of the cookbook.

    • Jennifer Jo

      Ha, this is funny. I thought I HAD given specific instructions! Here, to quote from Jeni's book directly:

      "Stand over the pan of sugar with a heatproof spatula ready, but do not touch the sugar until there is a full layer of melted and browning liquid sugar on the bottom with a smaller layer of unmelted white sugar on the top. When the edges of the melted sugar begin to darken, use the spatula to bring them into the center to help melt the unmelted sugar. Continue stirring and pushing the sugar around until it is all melted and evenly amber in color—like an old penny. When little bubbles begin to explode with dark smoke, give the sugar another moment and then remove from the heat. Immediately but slowly pour about 1/4 cup of the cream and corn syrup mixture into the burning-hot sugar. Be careful! It will pop and spit! Stir until it is incorporated, then add a bit more cream and stir, then continue until it is all in."

      Except I learned that if I waited as long as she suggested, my caramel burned. So what I recommend is a series of practice batches with just sugar and milk. Do everything wrong intentionally so you get a feeling for what Wrong feels like. It will help you understand what Right is. Make sense?

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