Improving Vanilla Ice Cream

Well… let’s just ignore the nearly eight-month-long, uh, sabbatical, here, okay? I mean, no one likes excuses, and the fact is, I just didn’t make time to write for the last several months.

Instead, let’s just pick up right where we left off. With ice cream.

I made this ice cream last fall for a girls night with a few good friends. Of course, everyone has shortcomings, and, unfortunately for this chocoholic, several of these friends would pick vanilla and caramel over chocolate any day. So, in an attempt to liven up the world’s most boring flavor, I swirled my standard custard-based vanilla ice cream with some caramel sauce and served it with a giant cookie.

Everyone enjoyed it, including me. (After all, I don’t hate caramel or other flavors, but chocolate will always be my first love…)¬†So, maybe that’s a sign that I should start making ice cream (and blogging) more often. The old downside to this plan is the fact that I’m right in the middle of birthday season for some vanilla fans. I’m going to need a chocolate fix pretty soon.

caramelswirlvanillaicecream

I used a homemade caramel sauce (thanks to America’s Test Kitchen), but you could definitely use your favorite, already-prepared caramel sauce. It’d also be good with an extra pinch of sea salt either in the caramel or on top of the ice cream, for that salty-sweet combo that everyone loves.

Caramel Swirl Vanilla Bean Ice Cream 

5 egg yolks
1 cup of half-and-half
3/4 cup of sugar
2 cups heavy whipping cream, divided
pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split and scrapped
1-2 teaspoons (give or take) vanilla extract
1/2 cup caramel sauce, plus extra for serving if desired

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the half-and-half, sugar, salt, and one cup of cream. Set the pan over medium heat and add the vanilla bean seeds and pod. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is warm. Remove from the heat, cover, and let steep for a little while (30 minutes or so).

In a glass 2-cup measuring cup, whisk the egg yolks together until they are smooth. If the milk mixture has cooled, reheat it until it’s warm to the touch again. Slowly pour 1/4 cup of the warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Continue to add the warm milk to the egg yolks, 1/4 cup at a time, whisking the entire time. When you’ve added about 1 1/2 cups of warm milk, pour the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan, whisking the entire time.

Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring it constantly with a rubber spatula. When the custard has thickened and coats the back of a spoon, remove it from the heat.

Pour the remaining cup of cream into the bottom of a mixing bowl or large measuring cup. Set a fine mesh strainer over the cream and pour the custard mixture through the strainer. Remove the strainer and add the vanilla bean back to the ice cream base. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Chill the ice cream base in the refrigerator until it’s completely cold, at least a few hours or overnight. Churn the ice cream in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. When the ice cream is finished churning, drizzle a couple tablespoons of caramel sauce into the bottom of the container you will store the ice cream in. Scoop about a third of the ice cream on top of the caramel, then drizzle another few tablespoons of caramel sauce on top of the ice cream. Repeat the process until all of the ice cream has been layered in the container with the caramel sauce. Drizzle a little more caramel sauce on top of the ice cream, then freeze until solid.

Serve with extra caramel sauce, if desired.

Ice cream base adapted from my Moose Tracks ice cream recipe, which is initially from David Lebovitz via Everyday Annie.

Click here for a printable version.