When slightly bitter notes reminiscent of coffee meet caramel, it becomes the wonderful world of burnt sugar ice cream. It may sound like a major mishap in the kitchen, and maybe that’s exactly how this ice cream came to be. I just ask you to set aside your inhibitions and get ready to burn some sugar. Or if creating havoc in your kitchen is not your style, then take a trip to Christina’s Ice Cream.
Christina’s is both a spice shop and an ice cream store. Located in Cambridge, MA the stores are interconnected through an employee door (think those connecting doors in hotel rooms that you never get to peek through). The ice cream shop is very unassuming, but once you walk through the doors you’ll see that it takes creaming icy goodness to a whole new level. Their Burnt Sugar flavor has been talked about in foodie magazines such as Bon Appetit, which is actually how I found them in the first place. But when you look at their other flavors on any given day you’ll see flavors such as Adzuki Bean, Coconut Butterfinger, Calamansi Lemon or even Bergamot. They have classic flavors, and each of them are delicious in their own right.
Ever since I left Massachusetts I have been jonesing for this flavor. I also have really wanted to put this flavor to work in baked goods, but could never find a recipe for it. Pinterest now has recipes, but none are the deep colored version I so fondly remember. To be honest, I don’t even like coffee, but there is something so addicting about burnt sugar ice cream. The beauty of this flavor is for as delicious as it is, it also has a limiting factor- it’s meant to be savored, not devoured. Now that you have my full background with this flavor, let’s embark on how I came to “create” it.
I’ve been trying slowly but surely to work my way through recipe clippings and cookbooks. I have huge stashes of both, and always seem to be scouring the internet instead. This is just how our world is these days, technology at its finest taking over the world one blog and news site at a time. I decided to make an effort and choose a cookbook, going back to those pages that inspired me and embrace what could be only found between two hard backed covers. I chose Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home of which my mom thought I would enjoy. She was spot on.
When I received the book, I read through it cover to cover. I dog-eared the recipes I was dying to try and all the techniques I could take away. Jeni Britton Bauer has a wonderful way of explaining why certain things work in terms of ice cream making. She explains every basic ingredient that she uses in her ice cream making, why she uses it, and ultimately how it will perform and enhance a recipe. She goes through equipment, techniques and then of course add-ins and presentation. It’s a hugely thorough book and one to capture the best ingredients one can find or grow, ultimately turning them into something that will shine.
I had been wanting to make ice cream for quite some this summer and figured it was now or never- after all I had all the ingredients. I chose Salted Caramel, Jeni’s most popular flavor. I believe I had tried this recipe a few years ago and gave up when my sugar flopped. What I mean by this is that Jeni’s caramel base uses a dry heat technique to heat the sugar and caramelize it. When making candies or melting sugar, there are two techniques, the wet and dry heat technique. The wet method starts off with sugar and some water in your saucepan. This method works well for those individuals who are newer to candy making and something you can control a lot easier as it’s a slower method. This is the method I use most often when making caramels. However, Jeni’s dry heat method is a simple way of heating just sugar in a saucepan until it liquifies. You can of course achieve the similar results, but the dry heat method goes a LOT quicker, hence my dilemma when I first tried this recipe years ago. I ended up with a rock hard slab of sugar that had no chance of recovery, plus I was pretty inexperienced and impatient. This second time around, I seemed to fudge it up again….but not in a way that left me disappointed.
Normally I read a recipe, I triple check everything and then prep even before I get started. When I saw I was making caramel to start, I decided to start on it and assemble as I go- BAD idea. The dry-heat method progressed much faster than I had imagined, definitely working exactly as Jeni’s recipe promised. I was frantic to keep the recipe going without having to salvage the sugar (which I realized later is stupid as I had tons of sugar on hand). As I started laying out the other parts of the ingredients, I was combining things that weren’t supposed to be combined and realizing I didn’t have enough cream, so I had to work with half and half. I also didn’t have corn syrup so I had to substitute brown rice syrup.
Despite my franticness in running around my kitchen, I wasn’t quick enough and started to smell something burnt. Upon a closer (and careful) inspection, I realized it was burnt sugar. BUT it was the same burnt sugar smell that I had tasted in Christina’s famed ice cream. At that moment of clarity, I decided to press on with the recipe. I did everything by the book from now on and it all came together beautifully. The only problem is that I didn’t get a chance to take tons of pictures to show you all the steps! My blunder happened for a reason, and sometimes that’s just how life is.
My one piece of advice really comes down to the melting of the sugar. Jeni’s salted caramel recipe will tell you that the sugar’s color should be reminiscent of that of a penny (medium caramel in the chart). In order to achieve the burnt sugar taste used in my adaptation, you’ll have to go more to the dark side to achieve that robust flavor. The color of the sugar will be mixed with milk and ultimately diluted giving you that blonde-esque color.
I did happen to substitute a lot using Jeni’s basic principles, but the one thing you can’t skip out on is the ice cream maker. I actually have an attachment that hooks up to my Kitchen Aid mixer, but many fine retailers both online and in stores have them available in a variety of styles.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, is really wonderful. While I screwed up things a few times, it doesn’t mean one won’t end up with good results (hello Burnt Sugar Ice Cream). We all have our days in the kitchen, but I love writing about my mishaps so that others can learn from them or realize mistakes are what help you grow both in the kitchen and out.
To Full Plates and Eating Your Tarte Out,
Burnt Sugar Ice Cream
2 cups Whole Milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Cornstarch
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) Cream Cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon fine Sea Salt
1 1/4 cups Heavy Cream
2 tablespoons Light Corn Syrup (or Brown Rice Syrup)
2/3 cup Sugar
2 teaspoons Vanilla
Mix about 2 tablespoons of the Milk with the Cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry.
Whisk the Cream Cheese and Salt in a medium bowl until smooth.
Mix the cream with the Corn Syrup in a measuring cup with a spout.
Fill a large bowl with Ice and Water.
Heat the Sugar in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat until it is melted and dark brown in color (see note below**). Remove from the heat and, stirring constantly, slowly add a bit of the Cream and Corn syrup mixture to the Caramel: It will fizzle, pop, and spurt. Stir until well combined, then add a little more and stir. Keep adding the Cream a little at a time until all of it is incorporated.
Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the Milk. Bring to a rolling boil and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the Cornstarch slurry.
Bring back to a boil over medium-high and cook, stirring with a heatproof spatula, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat. If any Caramel flecks remain, pour the mixture through a sieve.
Gradually whisk the hot Milk mixture into the Cream cheese until smooth. Add the Vanilla and whisk. Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag in the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.
Pour into frozen canister and spin until thick and creamy.
Pack the ice cream into a storage container, press a sheet of parchment directly against the surface, and seal with an airtight lid.
Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.
**NOTE from Author: Danger! This recipe uses the dry-burn technique. I don’t add water to the sugar before putting it on the heat, as some chefs do. Caramelizing sugar dry means it goes faster, but you have to watch it more closely and be ready with your cream. Here is an overview of what you are going to do:
Stand over the pan of sugar with a heatproof spatula ready, but do not touch the sugar until there is a full layer of melted and browning liquid sugar on the bottom with a smaller layer of unmelted white sugar on the top. When the edges of the melted sugar begin to darken, use the spatula to bring them into the center to help melt the unmelted sugar. Continue stirring and pushing the sugar around until it is all melted and the color you desire.