This recipe will use the science behind ice cream making to show you how to make extremely smooth and creamy homemade salted caramel ice cream. It will produce extremely smooth, dense, and creamy ice cream with a dark and intense caramel flavour complimented by the sea salt. It will be split into three sections: SECTION 1: The Science of Ice Cream Making and Preparation Tips; SECTION 2: Full Recipe; and SECTION 3: Quick-Read Recipe.
Please click here to read SECTION 1: The Science of Ice Cream Making and Preparation Tips. I strongly recommend starting with this section.
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SECTION 2: FULL RECIPE
About 15 minutes
About 35 minutes for the mix
About 15 minutes for the caramel
Full-fat, semi-skimmed, or skimmed milk
Skimmed milk powder
3g (1/4 tsp) fine sea salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
Produces just under 900 ml (0.95 quarts) of ice cream mix
1. THE IMPORTANCE OF MILK FAT
Milk fat contributes significantly to the rich, full, and creamy flavour and to the smooth texture of ice cream (Goff & Hartel, 2013). Not enough milk fat is likely to produce ice cream that is coarse or sandy, whereas too much will likely result in a heavy buttery texture. Above is the spreadsheet I use to calculate my mixes and I’ve included it for you guys to accurately calculate the quantities of milk and cream that you’ll need. It’s based on the mix formulation calculations in Ice Cream (7th ed) (2013) by Goff & Hartel, which I highly recommend reading.
It’s important that you check the fat content percentage of the milk and cream that you’ll be using. Here in the U.K, our double cream and skimmed milk contain between 47.5% and 50.5% and less than 0.5% of milk fat respectively. You can use full-fat, semi-skimmed, or skimmed milk.
To start, enter the fat percentage of your cream in the yellow Cream Fat % cell located on the top left of the spreadsheet. Do the same for the milk fat percentage in the yellow Milk Fat (%) cell. PRESS ENTER, OR CLICK ON A DIFFERENT CELL, FOR THE SPREADSHEET TO UPDATE. The spreadsheet will then display the quantities of milk, cream, sugar, egg yolks, and skimmed milk powder needed (in grams) in the cells in blue.
2. THE CARAMEL
2.1. THE WET VS THE DRY METHOD
There are two ways of heating sugar to make caramel: 1. the wet method, which involves covering the sugar with water and heating it, and 2. the dry method, where sugar is heated on its own without water. For this recipe, we’ll be using the wet method to make our caramel because of its advantages over the dry method. The wet method gives you greater control over the sugar as heat is evenly distributed, meaning that it’s less likely to burn and develop an unpleasantly bitter note. Sugar also caramelises a lot quicker when heated using the dry method, increasing the risk of it burning. The wet method also allows you to heat the sugar on a high heat from the beginning, resulting in greater flavour development.
The caramel’s colour will give you a good indication of the flavour profile. Caramel that is a light honey colour will generate a simple sweet flavour lacking in any aromatic notes. Taking the sugar so it’s a bit darker in colour will generate different flavour molecules, ranging from fruity, nutty, buttery, to dark, bitter, and roasted notes.
Because the high water content, along with the vanilla extract, in the ice cream mix will temper the bitter notes, it’s important to heat the sugar until it’s very dark, almost black, to develop a pronounced flavour. A caramel that is light in colour will produce an overly sweet ice cream, lacking any depth of flavour.
2.3. HEATING THE SUGAR
Weigh your pan and record its weight. We will use this weight to check whether we’ve achieved the desired 13% reduction after 25 minutes of heating.
To your pan, add the un-refined sugar, making sure that it’s evenly distributed, followed by enough water to cover the sugar. Heat the sugar over a medium-to-high heat until the water starts to bubble. At this point, you will notice large bubbles rising from the sugar.
Gently shake the pan to make sure that the sugar is evenly distributed. Be very very careful when making caramel as the temperature of the sugar gets very high and can easily burn through skin.
Allow the water to boil off and do not stir the sugar; you will notice a lot of steam evaporating off the pan. A good indication that the caramel is nearly ready is when you see that there is no more steam rising out of the pan, which means that the water has nearly evaporated. At this point, you will need to be very attentive as the sugar will start to come into direct contact with the pan, meaning that it will burn very quickly.
As the caramel gets darker in colour, it will become less sweet and develop a more intense caramel flavour. Because the large bubbles that start to form will prevent you from clearly gaging the colour of the caramel, take the pan off the heat if necessary and set it aside on a cold surface to allow the bubbles to settle and give you a clearer view of the colour. If the colour of the caramel isn’t dark enough, place it back on the heat.
I also recommend sniffing the caramel during the heating stage but be very careful not to get too close to the pan. You will notice a sweet smell when you first start heating the sugar, which will develop into a stronger nutty smell as the sugar darkens. You will also be able to smell when the caramel starts to burn.
When you notice, and smell, that all the water has evaporated and smoke starts rising from the pan, gently stir the mix and leave it on the heat for just a few seconds longer to generate a more intense flavour. Because the milk, cream, eggs, and vanilla will temper the bitter notes, your caramel will lack depth and be too sweet if you don’t let it briefly smoke.
Allow the caramel to smoke for just a few seconds until it reaches the colour of a copper penny. In the picture below showing four different caramels, the colour should be similar, if not slightly darker, than the second one from the right. The bitter notes will, however, overpower the sweet notes if you let the caramel reach the darkest shade on the right.
When you’re happy with the colour and smell of your caramel, quickly take the pan off the heat and immediately add the cream whilst stirring. Be extremely careful when you add the cream as the caramel will bubble vigorously. It’s a good idea to stand well back to limit the risk of hot sugar coming into contact with your skin.
It’s likely that the caramel will clump into large bits when you add the cream but keep stirring until these have dissolved a little. Don’t worry if you cannot get them to completely dissolve as this will be achieved when we heat our mix for 25 minutes. Keep stirring the mixture for 5 minutes or so to dissolve as much of the caramel into the cream.
Set the pan to one side and allow it to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally to help prevent the sugar from clumping.
Don’t worry if it takes several attempts before you make a caramel that you’re happy with. All you’ll lose is a bit of sugar and cream. Don’t be afraid to taste your caramel, after it’s cooled of course, and make a new batch if you’re not happy with the flavour.
3. PREPARING AN ICE BATH
Before you start preparing your mix, take a large bowl and fill it with enough ice to make an ice bath. Have a large zip-lock freezer bag ready next to the bowl, along with some table salt. We’ll be using the zip lock bag and ice bath to ensure that the mix is cooled as quickly as possible after heating. This minimises the time the mix spends in the ‘danger zone’, between 5°C (41°F) and 65°C (149°F), where bacteria likes to multiply. The longer your mix spends in this temperature range, the more bacteria is likely to multiply and impart an undesirable taste and smell.
4. HEATING THE MIX
Once you’ve prepared an ice batch and allowed your caramel to cool to room temperature, whisk together the egg yolks and the milk and add to the pan containing the caramel, followed by the skim milk powder and sea salt. Spend a good minute or so mixing all the ingredients before you switch on the heat.
Over a medium heat, heat the mixture until the temperature reaches 71°C (160°F), making sure that you’re constantly stirring. You’ll risk burning the milk proteins and curdling the egg yolks if you do not constantly stir the mix. It takes me 10 minutes to get my mix up to 71°C (160°F).
Once the temperature reaches 71°C (160°F), turn the heat down to low, move your pan slightly off the heat, and continue heating and stirring until the temperature reaches 72°C (162°F). Use a food thermometer to keep your mix at 72°C (162°F) for 15 minutes, adjusting the position of your pan to help regulate the temperature. Don’t worry if you go slightly over 72°C (162°F); just try and keep the temperature as close to 72°C (162°F) as you can.
After 15 minutes at 72°C (162°F), add the vanilla pods and sticky material containing the beans and continue heating for another 10 minutes at 72°C (162°F) to pasteurise the pods.
5. COOLING THE MIX
After 25 minutes of heating at 72°C (162°F), take the pan off the heat and weigh it. If the weight is greater than 1044g plus the weight of your pan, place it back on the heat and continue heating for another 2-3 minutes or until you get the weight down to 1044g plus the weight of your pan.
Carefully pour the mix into the zip-lock bag and seal. Place the sealed bag in the ice bath and pour about a tablespoon of salt onto the ice to lower the temperature and cool the mix faster.
Once the mix has cooled to below 5°C (41°F), place the zip-lock bag in the fridge and leave overnight to age.
6. CHURNING THE MIX
Once you’ve aged your mix overnight, pour the mix into your machine followed by the vanilla extract.
TIP#1 – FREEZER BOWL WALL TEMPERATURE
If you’re using an ice cream machine with an in-built compressor, with the bowl in the machine, switch on the compressor and leave it running for 15 minutes before adding the mix. This will ensure that the freezer bowl is as cold as possible when the mix is added, which increases the rate of nucleation and reduces residence time.
TIP#2 – EFFICIENT HEAT TRANSFER
If you’re using the Cuisinart ICE 30BC, use your thumb to push the dasher against the side of the bowl as soon as you pour in the mix. This will ensure that the dasher scrapes off the layer of ice that freezes to the side of the bowl. Any ice that is frozen to the side of the bowl will act as an insulator, slowing the release of heat from the ice cream to the bowl and increasing the residence time. Goff & Hartel (2013) note that even a very thin layer of ice remaining on the bowl wall can cause a dramatic reduction in heat transfer.
Use a spoon to push along any static lumps of ice cream and ensure that the mix is constantly moving whilst in the machine. Static lumps will likely take longer to freeze, resulting in greater ice crystal growth.
7. DRAW TEMPERATURE
Your ice cream will be ready when it develops a nice dry, stiff texture, and starts forming ribbon-like swirls. It should have a draw temperature (the temperature at which the partially frozen ice cream is removed from the machine) of between -9°C and -12°C (15.8°F and 10.4°F) with a lower draw temperature usually resulting in smaller ice crystals (Arbuckle, 1986).
Below are the residence times and draw temperatures for the domestic machines I’ve tried:
- Lello Musso Pola 5030 Dessert Maker: 900 ml (0.95 quarts) mix – 13 minutes, -11°C (12.2°F).
- Lello 4080 Musso Lussino 1.5-Quart Ice Cream Maker: 600 ml (0.63 quarts) – 16 minutes, -11°C (12.2°F).
- Cuisinart ICE-100 Ice Cream and Gelato Maker: 900 ml (0.95 quarts) mix – 35 minutes, -10°C (14°F).
- Breville BCI600XL Smart Scoop Ice Cream Maker: 700 ml (0.74 quarts) – 34 minutes, -9°C (15.8°F).
- Whynter ICM-200LS: 900 ml (0.95 quarts) mix – 28 minutes, -10°C (14°F).
- Cuisinart ICE 30-BC: 900 ml (0.95 quarts) mix – 34 minutes, -11°C (12.2°F).
8. EXTRACTION TIME
The extraction time (the time it takes to get your partially frozen ice cream out of your machine and into the freezer) has a considerable effect on ice crystal size. This is because as you extract your ice cream from the bowl and into a plastic container, it spends time at room temperature. At this relatively warm room temperature, some of the ice melts from the large ice crystals and the crystals that were initially small melt completely. When you then get your ice cream into your freezer for the static freezing stage, the melted ice re-freezes onto the large ice crystals that survived. The result is that the total number of ice crystals is reduced and their size increases, resulting in coarse or grainy texture.
TIP#3 – QUICK EXTRACTION
Just holding ice cream at a relatively warm room temperature as you extract it from your machine results in an increase in mean ice crystal size and a decrease in the number of ice crystals present. It’s therefore important that you extract the ice cream from the freezer bowl and get it into your freezer as quickly as possible.
9. THE STATIC FREEZING STAGE
At a draw temperature of between -9°C and -12°C (15.8°F and 10.4°F), your ice cream will have a consistency very similar to that of soft serve ice cream and will need to be placed in your freezer to harden. After about 4 hours, depending on your freezer, your ice cream will have a nice firm scoopable consistency, somewhere around -15°C (5°F), and be ready to serve.
10. SERVING YOUR ICE CREAM
Serve your ice cream at around -15°C (5°F). As the serving temperature is increased from -14.4 (6.1) to -7.8°C (18°F), flavour and sweetness become more pronounced.
If you do give the recipe a go, I’d love to hear your thoughts so please do get in touch. Please help other chefs by using the stars at the top of the page to rate the recipe and please spread the love on facebook with the buttons below. Ruben 🙂
SECTION 3: QUICK-READ RECIPE
- To your pan, add the un-refined sugar, making sure that it’s evenly distributed, followed by enough water to cover the sugar. Heat the sugar over a medium-to-high heat. Allow all the water to boil off and do not stir. A good indication that the caramel is nearly ready is when you see that there is no more steam rising out of the pan.
- When you notice, and smell, smoke rising from the pan, gently stir the mix and leave it on the heat for just a few seconds longer to generate a more intense flavour. Allow the caramel to smoke for just a few seconds until it reaches the colour of a copper penny.
- Once you’ve allowed the caramel to smoke for just a few seconds, quickly take the pan off the heat and immediately add the cream whilst stirring. Be extremely careful when you add the cream as the caramel will bubble vigorously. Stir the mix for about 5 minutes to dissolve the caramel. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Once the caramel has cooled to room temperature, fill a large bowl with some ice. Place some table salt and a zip-lock bag next to the bowl ready for later.
- Whisk together the egg yolks and milk and add to the pan containing the caramel, followed by the skimmed milk powder and sea salt. Heat over a medium heat until the temperature reaches 71°C (160°F), making sure that you’re constantly stirring.
- When the mix reaches 71°C (160°F), quickly turn the heat down to low and position your pan slightly off the heat. Continue heating and stirring until the temperature reaches 72°C (162°F).
- Once the mix reaches 72°C (162°F), continue heating for 25 minutes whilst constantly stirring. Keep the temperature as close to 72°C (162°F) as you can throughout this 25 minute heating period.
- After 25 minutes of heating, carefully pour the mix into the zip lock bag and seal. Place the zip-lock bag in the bowl and pour about a tablespoon of salt over the ice.
- Once the mix has cooled to below 5°C (41°F), place in the fridge and leave overnight.
- The next day, pour the mix into your ice cream machine, followed by the vanilla extract.
- After about 30 minutes of churning, depending on your machine, quickly empty the ice cream into a plastic container and place in the freezer for about 4 hours to harden.
- After about 4 hours, your ice cream will have a nice firm consistency and will be ready to serve.
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