Before there was salted caramel everything, there was Bi-Rite's salted caramel ice cream. It's by far the scoop shop's most popular flavor, and with good reason. This stuff is aces. The caramel is bitter, smoky, and intensely complex, but sweet cream has a way of rounding out all its nastiness for a scoop that you really just can't stop eating. And now you don't have to, thanks to this recipe from Bi-Rite's new ice cream cookbook, Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones.
As I've learned from developing my own caramel recipes and participating in taste tests, individual preferences for salted caramel vary wildly. There's a different balance of salty, smoky, sweet, and bitter for every palate, and it takes some experimentation to find what's best for you. But this recipe is a great place to start, and since it's sweetened by a separate measurement of sugar from the caramel, it's easy to adjust to your tastes.
Why I picked this recipe: If you're going to make one Bi-Rite ice cream, it's this one. Salted caramel is a winning flavor whether you're an ice cream daredevil or a vanilla purist.
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 of finished ice cream. 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 kick-start 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 whole syrup at once until the water evaporates and a caramel forms, no stirring required.