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Ice cream is, without a doubt, my favorite food. Our ice-cream maker is one of my most-used appliances, and there is almost always a quart of homemade ice cream in our freezer. Winter or summer (or spring or fall), I’m either making ice cream, eating ice cream, or thinking about the next time I’m going to be making or eating ice cream.

When I first started making my own ice cream, I adhered strictly to the bible that is David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop. I’ve made almost all the ice cream recipes in that book, many of them multiple times, and they are all fantastic.

After making dozens of batches of ice cream from recipes, though, I began to get the hang of the basic proportions needed, and learned the subtle differences that occur when increasing/decreasing the proportion of cream, milk, and eggs in a recipe. Nowadays, I rarely look at a recipe when making ice cream, but my classic ice-cream ratio is quite similar to Lebovitz’s standard vanilla recipe in the book. It’s rich, but not indulgently so — the perfect base on which to experiment.

This caramel ice cream was something I threw together when I had one of my regular cravings for ice cream a few days ago. I had made caramel ice cream in the past, always following a recipe of some sort, but I never quite got what I wanted; the ice creams never had quite the right sweet/salty/rich/creamy balance. I really was just throwing things together while making this ice cream, but I think my lack of over-thinking in this case helped me finally attain caramel ice cream perfection, with the perfect blend of sweetness and salt, and with a texture that stands on its own but doesn’t overwhelm when accompanying something like apple pie. There is a bit of standing-over-the-stove, making-sure-your-caramel-doesn’t-burn time at the beginning, but after that the recipe is basically foolproof.

caramel ice cream

  • 2 cups heavy cream, separated
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
  • 5 egg yolks
  • Heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Place 1 cup of heavy cream in the bottom of a large bowl or container (this will be the bowl you chill the ice cream mixture in), and place a mesh strainer on top of it. Measure out the other 1 cup of heavy cream along with the milk and set it nearby. Whisk together the 5 egg yolks in a medium heatproof bowl or measuring cup and set it aside.

Set the sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Keep an eye on the pan until the sugar begins to liquefy, then stir the sugar with a heatproof spatula and continue stirring until all the sugar is melted.

Once the sugar is melted, stop stirring and wait until the caramel is a nice amber color. Immediately pour in 1 cup of the heavy cream and 1 cup of the milk. There is a good chance the caramel will seize up and form chunks here; that’s OK, as it will melt once the milk comes up to temperature.

Continue to heat the caramel mixture over medium heat, stirring regularly, until the mixture is hot but not quite boiling. (If your caramel still has solid bits, turn the heat down and continue to stir until it melts).

Once the caramel mixture is hot, slowly pour it into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Pour the tempered egg yolks back into the saucepan and cook at medium heat, stirring near-constantly with a heatproof spatula, until the mixture has thickened considerably, about 2-5 minutes. Once the mixture coats a spoon dipped into it, you’re done.

Pour the hot custard mixture over the strainer into the bowl of cream, straining out any cooked egg bits or hardened caramel chunks. Add the vanilla extract, and cool the custard to room temperature. Cover or seal the bowl, and allow the custard to chill in the refrigerator until cold, at least 4 hours and up to a couple of days.

Once chilled, freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. Scoop the ice cream into a container and freeze until solid.