It's a well known fact, that if you overcook caramel, even just for 2 seconds, the once sweet candy will turn unpleasently bitter. With great caution we avoid this, testing testing testing the caramelizing sugar's color on a white background.
For any that have stood in angst over a pot of caramel that has gone from amber to black, you may have noticed a perfumed aroma lingering in the air that was quite pleasant. I myself have burned a fair amount of caramel in my day (I blame multitasking), making this fragrant scent a strong memory for me.
So three weeks ago while flipping through Fran Biggelow's book, Pure Chocoate, I stumbled into a recipe for "Almost Burnt Sugar Icecream." The recipe requires you to bring the sugar past caramel, letting it get darker and darker, pulling it moments before the blackening begins. With the aroma of a batch of burnt caramel fresh in my nose, I couldn't wait to try it.
If you consider other bittersweet flavors, the burnt sugar icecream makes perfect sense. Coffee, and chocolate are unpleasant alone. Would you ever eat a spoonful of cocoa powder? Or chew on coffee grinds? (Please don't say yes) But dressed up with cream and sugar, the bitterness transforms near inedible flavors into two of the most adored flavors in the dessert world. Nay, the entire world.
After 3 weeks of making this ice cream, I declare the results fantastic. The icecream isn't sweet the way caramel is. The darker caramel gets, the more the sweet flavor disapates, leaving an aromatic bitterness in it's place. To taste this soothes the palate with memories of chocolate, and awakens the senses with a new and exciting flavor not often tasted.
In my version I really darken the sugar. Not just take it a little past dark, but let the sugar start to foam a little, singe almost. I wanted the aromatic quality to perservere after being added to the custard. Because it's cooked so far, hardly a trace of sweetness remains, so I add a little sugar and vanilla bean to the scalded cream.
Burnt Sugar Ice cream
½ vanilla bean
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
½ cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
- In a heavy saucepan combine the vanilla, milk, cream, and 2 tbsp of sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring a few times to distribute the sugar and vanilla. Keep this over the lowest heat possible, it needs to be hot when added to the burnt sugar in the next step
- Have a white plate ready. Using the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, place 2 tbsp in a heavy bottomed pan and cook over a medium high heat until it starts to melt. When the sugar has melted and started to take on a bit of color, stir (with a wooden spoon) in another 2 tbsp sugar. When this has melted and taken on color, add another 2 tbsp of sugar, stirring and repeating until all the sugar is in the pan.
- Let the sugar caramelize, and then over caramelize. Begin testing the color of the caramel on the white plate. The mixture will smoke a bit and the bubbles will start to foam a little. It is important that your heat isn’t up too high at this point or the sugar will change from edible burnt to black and carbon before you can catch it.
- When the caramel has become a nutty brown, start adding the cream in small amounts. It will sputter and spatter, so add the cream with caution. When the sputtering has died down enough to get your hand close, stir the cream into the burnt sugar. When all the cream is added bring back to a boil to dissolve any bits of caramel that remain.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Slowly pour in the cream, stirring constantly to avoid curdling the eggs. Then pour the yolk mixture back into the saucepan, stirring continuously.
- Return the pan to medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat, and strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.
- Set this bowl in an ice bath and chill, stirring occasionally until cool. If churning immediately, keep the ice cream base over the ice bath until very cold. If churning tomorrow, or much later in the day, store the base in the refrigerator.
- Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions.