The salted caramel ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery is one of the best I've ever tasted. It's wildly complex, a tad smoky, and just salty enough. Just as important, it's ridiculously creamy thanks to an especially high proportion of cream that takes all the rough edges off the caramel.
What Worked: All of Bi-Rite's ice creams are, first and foremost, incredibly creamy. Look at the recipe for their standard base and it's easy to see why: they use a higher ratio of cream to other ingredients than most other recipes out there, 1 3/4 cups cream to 3/4 cups of milk for not-quite-a-quart. It's best not to think about the caloric impact of it, and focus on the flavor instead, which rings clear and true in a superbly creamy, almost fluffy ice cream.
What Didn't: This recipe calls for making a dry caramel, in which you caramelize a small amount of sugar in a pan with no water to kickstart the process, then slowly add more sugar as you go until everything is evenly cooked. Honestly, I don't care for this method, and my tests here confirmed why: it works, but it means you're constantly worried about over-burning your sugar before integrating the full amount.
Suggested Tweaks: I prefer a wet caramel method: add the sugar for the caramel all at once, then slurp in just enough water to moisten it. Cook the the whole syrup at once until the water evaporates and a caramel forms, no stirring required.
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- 1 3/4 cups heavy cream, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup 1% or 2% milk
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 5 large egg yolks
For the Caremel: Set the measured cream by the stove so it's at hand when you need it. Measure out 1/2 cup of the sugar and keep near the stove; you'll use this for the caramel (the rest will go in with the yolks). Put 2 tablespoons of the sugar for the caramel in a heavy stainless steel pan over medium-high heat. When the sugar is melted around the edges and starts to turn amber in places (about 2 minutes), stir the mixture gently and add another 2 tablespoons sugar to the pan.
Continue to add the rest of the 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, stirring frequently and allowing most of the sugar to melt before you add more. Watch carefully as the sugar darkens, stirring gently to help it melt evenly.
When the caramel becomes a dark mahogany color, remove the pan from the heat and immediately pour the cream slowly into the pan. (It will steam and bubble up, so wear oven mitts and be very careful to avoid splatters and steam burns.) When the bubbling subsides, gently stir to blend the cream completely into the caramel. If you have lumps of hardened caramel in your pan, simply put the pan over low heat and stir until the caramel is melted.
For the Base: Once the caramel is completely smooth, stir in the milk along with the salt and put the pan over medium-high heat. When the mixture approaches a bare simmer, reduce the heat to medium.
In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the yolks just to break them up, then whisk in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Set aside.
Carefully scoop out about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture and, whisking the eggs constantly, add the cream to the bowl with the egg yolks. Repeat, adding another 1/2 cup of the hot cream to the bowl with the yolks. Returning to the pan of cream on the stove, use a heatproof spatula to stir the cream as you slowly pour the egg and cream mixture from the bowl back into the pan.
Continue to cook the mixture carefully over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thickened, coats the back of a spatula, and leaves a clear mark when you run your finger across it, 1 to 2 minutes longer.
Strain the base through a fine-mesh strainer and into a clean container. Set the container into an ice bath, wash your spatula, and use it to stir the base occasionally until it is cool. Then cover base with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Freeze the Ice Cream: When the base is completely chilled, freeze in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. While the ice cream is churning, put the container you'll use to store the ice cream into the freezer. Enjoy right away, or for a firmer ice cream, freeze for at least 4 hours.