In case you missed it in the last post, I included a simple recipe for chocolate dulce de leche. Yes indeed, chocolate caramel. Did you happen to catch that? Because it’s simple, rather amazing and you should make it immediately. Especially simple because it starts with pre-made dulce de leche, readily available in the Hispanic aisle of your local grocery store (though homemade would work too if you had the time.) I used it previously as a cookie filling but it’s pretty fantastic right off the spoon. Or over ice cream. Or IN ice cream. So here we find ourselves.
Basic (and really good) vanilla ice cream utilizes a classic recipe and technique: crème anglaise, a basic custard sauce cooked on the stove until thickened. It’s one of the first sauces students learn in culinary school. The key technique involves “tempering” the eggs, which means to increase the temperature of the eggs slowly so as not to cook or scramble. Dump hot liquid over the yolks and you run the risk of having bits of scrambled eggs in your sweetened milk. Not exactly desirable. You have to move slowly, gently.
Once tempered, the mixture is then transferred back to the saucepan and cooked over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened to what we pastry chef types refer to as “nape.” What you’re looking for is a sauce that is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and when you drag your finger through, the line holds. Don’t increase the heat to speed things along or we’re back to worrying about cooking the eggs too quickly and the sauce will look broken and curdled with hard bits of yolk. Technically, you’re shooting for 175°F if that helps. A professional trick (and always a good idea) is to strain the mixture to remove any cooked bits before chilling. There’s always something that can be strained out no matter how careful you are and this ensures a nice smooth sauce.
Now then, once in a while things go a bit awry. It’s OK – happens to the best of us. For instance, I tried to catch a picture of the perfect nape stage and took a bit too long. My sauce continued to cook in the hot pan and the eggs overcooked, just a smidge. At this point it looked slightly curdled and definitely not the silky smooth custard it had been just moments before. Dammit. Fixable but I had to move fast. I ditched the camera and whipped out the blender to quickly smooth out those shaggy bits (an immersion blender works well too.) I’m telling you, agitation solves a world of problems. Keep in mind this works if you’re a smidge past the point of silky but also know that big chunks of scrambled egg yolk cannot be saved.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: SAVE THE WORLD. Ice cream can solve many ills. It makes people happy. Just imagine how happy they’ll be to discover a ribbon of chocolate caramel, in all its fudgy chewy glory, right down the middle of their homemade vanilla ice cream. This is another one of those “You made this?!?” kind of things and it really isn’t all that difficult. If you don’t have the gumption – or an ice cream maker – to make the vanilla base, I suppose you could buy some really good premium vanilla ice cream, soften it a bit, and swirl in the caramel. I would of course prefer you make the base but I’m not going to quibble the fine points. It’s all good but why not take the opportunity to learn one of the classic dessert sauces? Go on, give it a try.
CHOCOLATE DULCE DE LECHE SWIRL ICE CREAM
Makes 1 pint, can be easily doubled
for vanilla ice cream base:
1 ¼ cups whole milk
¾ cups heavy cream
pinch of kosher salt
1/3 cup sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or vanilla paste)
4 large egg yolks
for the swirl:
½ – ¾ cup chocolate dulce de leche (recipe here)
- for the vanilla ice cream base: Place a strainer over a 2 quart bowl. Set aside until needed.
- Combine the milk, cream, salt and half of the sugar in a heavy saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium high heat.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks and remaining half of the sugar until smooth.
- Temper the yolk mixture to prevent curdling: add a small amount of the hot milk/cream into the yolks while whisking to warm the yolks slightly. Continue in 2-3 more increments until all the milk/cream has been added.
- Transfer the mixture back to the saucepan and cook over low, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the sauce thickens ever so slightly and passes the spoon test – the sauce should coat the back of a spoon and hold a clear line drawn through with your finger. The temperature should be around 175°F.
- Off the heat, stir in the vanilla extract (or paste), immediately strain the sauce into the waiting bowl.
- Stir occasionally until the sauce is cool – ideally over an ice bath to cool the mixture down quickly.
- Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled – at least 3 hours or up to 3 days.
- for the ice cream: Process the crème anglaise in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturers instructions.
- to swirl: Fill a freezer safe container with alternating layers of ice cream and dulce de leche, keeping the later in relatively thin layers.
- Run a butter knife through the container to lightly swirl the mixture.
- Freeze for at least 3 hours to set the mixture.