Big Girls, Test Kitchen: Coconut Caramel Ice Cream
When you live in the city, and you have a small kitchen, you have to say no to a lot of kitchen tools and devices. While, sure, it would be nice to own the right equipment for every occasion, we really have to weigh what there is room for in our cabinets. Would our baking be more efficient if we owned the right equipment for each and every need? Maybe. But we’d feel like pack rats, and that’s no good. Among the things I don’t own: a citrus squeezer, a cherry pitter, a fancy wine opener, and an ice cream maker. Yet.
As you guys know, Alex can’t eat dairy, and as he likes to remind me with a smile, I enjoy the challenge of creating meals that satisfy the requirements of his restriction, just as I honestly do love making meals with the limited resources of a small kitchen. You might think I’m crazy, but he’s right–I do enjoy the challenge most of the time. There are moments, though, when I encounter unbeatable obstacles. You can’t make a margarita pizza without cheese (you can make Potato-Pesto Foccacia and Merguez Grill Breads though) and dairy-free icing for birthday cakes is a tough sell too (unlike the cake itself, which I’ve solved with banana, almonds, pecans, and carrots). As for ice cream, well, like anything that uses the word “cream” in the title, it’s not the easiest dish to turn dairy free. But: I did (not to ruin the end of this story).
I’m not the first to solve the ice cream dilemma for Alex. I can’t take that claim away from his stepfather, Stuart, an ice cream virtuoso. He presides over a professional-level churner, turning out custards and sorbets and ice creams like it’s his job, which it technically isn’t. Their family’s Christmas Eve tradition features a homemade ice cream sundae bar, but Stuart makes ice cream, both dairy and non, at all times of the year. Every time Alex comes back from a visit home, he brings tales of yet another new flavor: Coconut Almond Swirl. Mint Chocolate Chip. Fresh Cherry. With caramel sauce, hot fudge, fruit compotes. My mouth tends to water.
What Stuart figured out was that coconut milk is the only dairy-free liquid that incorporates enough fat to make the texture of the finished ice cream as luscious as if it were made with cream.
Now I like coconut as much as the next girl, but at first glance, it does limit the potential range of flavors. Still, lots of great ice cream flavors marry beautifully with coconut: chocolate, for example, plus nuts, citrus, cherry. And caramel.
I developed this recipe a few months after bookmarking this recipe for Coconut Cajeta Fondue on Food52. The process of cooking caramel down with brown sugar and salt to make a dessert dipping sauce seemed genius (the original recipe called for chocolate too), and from reading the comments on the post, it seemed that neither the flavor and the texture would scream “non dairy”. A perfect base for my future coconut-based ice cream creations, I thought the moment I saw the cajeta. When I finally got access to an ice cream maker, I went for it.
The result? So. Good. Make this–no one will know it’s dairy free. Tell the non-dairy folk, though, so they can safely taste it; after they do, they’ll be forever grateful.
From my kitchen, dairy free yet creamy, to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Coconut Caramel Ice Cream
Makes about 1 pint
I can imagine varying this by adding pralined nuts, swirls of melted cherry, or toasted unsweetened coconut flakes (only if you love coconut). A teaspoon or two of espresso powder would be wonderful too.
2 cans coconut milk (not lite)
1 cup light muscavado sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Combine 1 can of coconut milk, the brown sugar, and the salt in a medium saucepan. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally so that the sugar dissolves. Once boiling, reduce the heat slightly and continue to cook until the mixture has darkened and reduced, about 20-30 minutes. It should be very thick–like lava–resembling caramel.
While the caramel is reducing, beat the egg yolks in a large, heatproof bowl and set aside.
Add the second can of coconut milk to the coconut caramel and heat, stirring to integrate the caramel. When the mixture is very hot, but not boiling, temper the egg yolks: slowly whisk 1 cup of the caramel mixture into the bowl with the egg yolks.
Turn the heat to low and pour the tempered yolks back into the pot. Cook, stirring constantly, just until the mixture has thickened, 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into a heatproof bowl. Stir in the vanilla extract. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.
Pour the custard mixture into an ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer’s directions. Freeze for 4-6 hours before scooping and serving.