Sometimes I secretly think maybe my nutrition degree should be revoked. The thing is, I just think that using smaller plates, cooking more of our own food, and trying to squeeze in extra veggies wherever possible will get most of the job done. I can’t help but feel that bacon and butter are legitimate “spices.” Oh, and then there’s the matter of me and salted caramel. Pardon me for a moment while I glaze over and daydream about creamy, salty, buttery, luxuriousness…Oh no, was I drooling?! How embarrassing. Anyway, I firmly believe that one of the most important things we need to do to eat more healthfully is cut out as much sugar (or equivalent) as possible, but can adding some salt to your sugar count instead? Pleeeeeeeease??? (Real answer: definitely not. There’s actually something about the salty-sweet combination that trips up our brain and makes us less able to control how much we eat. Sometimes life is so unfair! )
It all began when Joel’s parents very thoughtfully sent me a care package back when I was studying for my comprehensive exams. I’m sure they had no idea that they were creating a salted caramel-obsessed monster when they tucked a tiny box of dark chocolate sea salt caramels from Fran’s in with the other goodies. I ate one. I promptly adopted the use of the phrase “O.M.G.” which I had steadfastly promised myself I would never use. Who would have thought that that dark smooth little chocolate cube, with its innocent little sprinkling of grey salt on top, could pack that much decadence into it?! I ate the second one, and amidst the bars of the “Alleluia Chorus” that were playing inside my head, I came this close to packing up everything and moving to Seattle so that I could go live behind Fran’s and eat nothing but their caramels forever more. (I’m sure the fact that I was studying for the most stressful exam of my life in no way contributed to my excited planning for an escape.)
I didn’t go, of course, but ever since then I have had to studiously avoid letting anything involving dark chocolate, caramel, and salt into my line of sight if I don’t want to devour it instantly. But, now and then I unleash the beast and allow myself to indulge. A run to a fancy cheese shop with a friend revealed a source of Fran’s chocolates within biking distance! Jackpot! I also assisted in the photo studio at Stonewall Kitchen this summer, and guess what one of our shots for the holiday catalogue was!!! It was a major exercise in self control not to elbow check the photographer, take out the recipe developer from behind, and rip the lovely plate of candies out of the food stylist’s hands. Naaamnamnamnam. Thank goodness we each got to have one once the shot was over!
Recently I was reading about some small, local artisan food producers in this area and I saw the words “salted caramel ice cream.” I didn’t follow up right then, but the words had burned themselves into my brain, floating there, taunting me, refusing to let me forget that I WANT!!!!! So finally, I decided on a project. Most of the time I don’t have the patience for something terribly involved, but every now and then, I get a bee in my bonnet and decide to take on a project. I have no ice cream maker, but I stumbled across instructions for how to make ice cream without one from ice cream and dessert maker extraordinaire David Lebovitz. I figured if I am willing to put in the effort to make a batch of salted caramel ice cream from scratch then I would deserve to eat at least one bowl of it with no guilt whatsoever. Now the question was, how do you make salted caramel ice cream? Not surprisingly David Lebovitz came to my rescue again with a recipe on his blog for exactly this flavor, thereby making him my hero for all time (imagine being rescued on a swinging piece of jungle twine and being carried to a land all full of perfectly creamy, dreamy ice cream – see what I mean?).
I followed his recipe for the ice cream base and freezing exactly, however instead of adding in pieces of caramel brittle, I added dark chocolate that I had chopped into tiny pieces. Holy frozen full fat dairy product! It churned out one of the richest, creamiest most simply ridiculously over the top ice creams I have ever experienced, store bought or homemade. Seriously. You should probably have to take out a permit to handle this ice cream. The caramel base is a satisfying one for someone new to making ice cream because it keeps the end product from getting rock hard, which happens often with homemade ice cream. I couldn’t even finish a whole bowl, which is lovely because it means it will last longer!
This ice cream is the very definition of decadent, but hey, why should I stop there. As I was trying to control the landslide of frozen vegetables and soups and unidentified objects that came cascading down on me (ouch!) as I tried to clear a space for my ice cream to freeze, some leftover frozen tart dough fell out. Obviously it was a sign. Right? So I let the dough defrost, rolled it out, and pressed it into the bottoms of my muffin tin (I don’t have any tart pans!) and baked it up to make a few little tart shells. Then I melted some chocolate and cream together to make a smooth dark chocolate ganache, which I poured into the tart shells and allowed to cool and harden. A tiny chocolate tart topped with salted caramel ice cream and a dollop of whipped cream. I don’t think regular words can describe it. I might need to write a poem to this dessert.
It’s a good thing, though, that I didn’t make more than a little. It’s time to shoo my caramel beast back into its little shed to nap for a while…but I won’t stop you from taking yours out for a walk!
Oh, and another quick thing before I go to the recipes, for any readers in Australia, the online restaurant guide Menulog is offering a $10 discount off of your first delivery from a participating restaurant (you know, for those nights you spent all your time making ice cream and didn’t quite get to dinner!). Just type in the code 2C5896 when you checkout online. It can be used in combination with other discounts as well.
Salted Caramel Ice Cream from David Lebovitz
- 2 cups (500 ml) whole milk, divided
- 1½ cups (300 gr) sugar
- 4 tablespoons (60 gr) salted butter
- scant ½ teaspoon sea salt (use good salt!!! preferably fleur de sel, otherwise the flavor will be harsh – this may mean you have to go to a somewhat fancy grocery store, but it will be worth it.)
- 1 cups (250 ml) heavy cream
- 5 large egg yolks
- ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
- about half a cup of finely chopped good quality dark chocolate
- First, pour 1 cup of milk into a medium metal bowl (big enough to hold 6 cups), and put this bowl in a deep pan with ice water in it.
- Spread the sugar in a heavy bottomed, fairly large (about 6 qt) sauce pan. Heat the sugar over medium until the edges start to melt, then (using something heat proof) start to stir the edges and bottom of the melting sugar in toward the middle to move unmelted sugar closer to the heat. Continue to do this until all the sugar is dissolved and then keep cooking it until it turns a dark amber and starts to smell strong and dark and almost like it’s going to burn (that burnt marshmallow smell). Remove it from the heat and stir in the butter and the salt until the butter is completely melted, then whisk in the cream.
- At this point the melted sugar (which is now caramel, technically!) may harden in response to the cream. Just return it to low heat and keep stirring it until it is all re-dissolved and blended into the cream. Then, stir in the cup of the milk that is not sitting in the ice bath.
- In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks until they’re smooth. Then, whisk in a little of the warm caramel mixture. Pour this back into the pan with the rest of the caramel, stirring well, and cook this mixture over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until it has thickened enough that your stirring utensil leaves a trail and the custard can coat the back of a spoon (a thermometer will read about 160-170F). Next, pour the custard into the bowl with the milk, add the vanilla, and stir until the mixture has cooled down. Refrigerate this mixture at least 8 hours, or preferably overnight.
- Once the custard is chilled, freeze it according to the directions for your ice cream maker, or if you have no ice cream maker, follow these instructions. When the ice cream has reached the point of being almost fully hardened/churned, stir in the chopped chocolate and mix it in well, then chill the ice cream in the freezer until it is firm. When finished eat it by itself or with chocolate sauce or whipped cream, or with these chocolate tartelettes…
Dark Chocolate Tartelettes
For tart dough:
- 6 Tbs. butter, at room temperature
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 12 ounces good dark chocolate, chopped
- 3 Tbs. butter
- To make the crust, in a standing mixer or using a handheld electric beater, cream together the butter and sugar on medium-high for a couple of minutes until the color has become quite light and the texture is fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg yolk and then beat again on medium-high for another couple of minutes until the mixture has become a pale yellow lemon color. Add the flour and mix on low until just blended together, scoop into a ball with your hands, pat it lightly into a thick disc, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours.
- Before rolling the dough let it sit out at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Generously butter a muffin tin or twelve 3-inch sized tartelette pans. On a floured surface or between two sheets of wax paper/plastic wrap, roll out the dough until it is about 1/8 inch thick. With a round cookie cutter or a knife, cut circles a bit bigger than your muffin cups (or 4 inch circles if using tart pans), then carefully press these into the muffin cups, pressing the bottom and the sides around to try to keep the dough evenly distributed. If it cracks anywhere, just press it carefully back together with moist fingers, or repair it with scraps of dough. The dough should not come the whole way up the sides of each muffin tin. Gather leftover scraps of dough into a ball, and repeat the rolling and cutting procedure (you may need to chill it a little bit again first). Use a fork to prick the bottoms of the tart shells, then chill them for 15-30 minutes.
- In the meantime, preheat your oven to 350F. Put the chilled tart shells into the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until turning lightly golden brown. Remove and allow to cool for about 30 minutes. Then, carefully use a knife to remove the tart shells from the pan and transfer them to a cooling rack to cool all the way to room temperature.
- To make the filling, put the cream in a saucepan and heat over medium-high until it just barely starts to come to a boil. Remove immediately from the heat and pour the chocolate and butter into the cream. Allow to stand for a few minutes. Slowly stir the chocolate and butter into the cream, starting from the center and moving your stirring out in larger and larger concentric circles until all of it is blended together to a uniform color. Pour the filling into the tart shells, then allow to cool. The ganache filling will firm up as it comes to room temperature. Serve the tartelettes with a scoop of salted caramel ice cream and a dollop of whipped cream. Or, just serve them plain!