Caramel Corn Ice Cream

Caramel Corn Ice Cream
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caramel popcorn ice cream
Ice cream is nearly a necessity for summer survival.

This past weekend, it was in the triple digits here in Tucson. By triple digits, we mean something near 111°F — no zeros allowed. With that heat, we need a way to cool off, and everyone know the best thing to beat the heat is ice cream. After a bit of thought, we decided on Caramel Corn Ice Cream, but not ice cream with caramel corn mixed in, just the flavor of caramel corn in a smooth, luscious, creamy frozen custard. If that sounds good, keep on reading.

We really made up this recipe based roughly on Triple Vanilla Ice Cream combined with the Salted Caramel Ice Cream, and some techniques we picked up in a cookbook or two (we’ve no idea which ones at this remove). Well, let’s get scratchin’ so we don’t wilt in the heat.

Caramel Corn Ice Cream

Yield: about 2 quarts

Caramel Corn Ice Cream


  • 3 Tbs unpopped popcorn
  • 100 g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 20 g (1 Tbs) molasses
  • 75 g (1/4 cup + 2 Tbs) granulated sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Abbreviated Instructions

Place the popcorn kernels in a brown paper bag and microwave on high until the popping decreases to about 5 seconds between pops. This may take between 2 and 5 minutes. Set aside.

Place 100g (1/2 cup) sugar in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Very gently stir and scrape with a heatproof spatula until the sugar melts and begins to brown. When the sugar smokes, wait 10 seconds and remove from heat.

Add butter and stir and swirl until melted. Add salt and stir in. Add half-and-half and stir. Place over medium-low heat and stir and scrape the bottom of the pan until all caramel dissolves and the mixture begins to steam, about 10 minutes.

Add popcorn and stir in. Cover and let cool for about an hour, then place in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.

Pass mixture through a fine strainer to remove kernels and popcorn. Place liquid in a clean saucepan and bring back to a simmer. Remove from heat.

In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, molasses, and remaining sugar. While whisking egg yolks continuously, slowly add hot liquid. Return to pan and cook until mixture thickens (165-170°F).

Strain mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a clean bowl. Add heavy cream and vanilla, stirring in completely. Cover with plastic and refrigerate at least 8 hours.

Set up an ice cream maker and churn custard according to manufacturers' directions.

Ingredient discussion:

When we can, we try to go with organic cream and half-and-half because they doesn’t have any added ingredients such as polysorbate 80 — what happened to the first 79 polysorbates? We don’t always succeed, especially when heavy cream in on sale for under $5 a quart. Yes, we buy the stuff by the quart. Eggs we get from happy pastured hens; if you want, you can read more about how the hens and other animals are raised at Chiricahua Pasture Raised Meats. We’ve visited the ranch, and we like that our dollars go to supporting places like this.

Procedure in detail:

It looks like a lot of steps, but it’s relatively straightforward, and — we’ve already tasted it — it makes a great ice cream. So, take your time and enjoy the process. That’s why you’re scratchin’.

popping popcorn
Easiest way to pop popcorn: place in a bag and make microwave popcorn.

Pop popcorn. Maybe you have another way of popping popcorn, but we find it easiest to just place the kernels in a brown paper bag, fold down the top, and microwave — just like the pre-filled bags you can buy for a whole lot more. If you want to try it, place the kernels in a plain brown bag, fold the top over three times, and microwave on high for about 3-4 minutes (in our microwave, it takes 3 minutes 15 seconds to pop). Listen, and, after a minute, the kernels will start to pop. Let the microwave go until popping slows to one kernel every 4-5 seconds. Remove the popcorn and set aside.

making simple caramel
Once a bit of smoke comes off the sugar, count to 10, then remove from heat.

Caramelize sugar. Place 100 g (1/2 cup) of sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. After a minute or two, the sugar will start to melt; use a heatproof spatula and very gently stir the sugar, trying to get it all to melt. If some remains unmelted, don’t sweat it; it’ll be fine. After a few minutes, the sugar will turn golden brown, then it’ll start to smoke — not a lot of smoke, a few wisps — once that happens, count to 10 and remove from heat.

adding butter
The butter will spatter and sizzle, careful!

Add butter and salt. Drop in the butter (careful, it’ll spatter and sizzle) and stir or swirl around the pan until it all melts. Some of the butter will mix in, some not, but, again, don’t worry, it’ll be fine. Add the salt and stir that around. It probably won’t mix in, as the caramel is starting to harden. Again, it’s not a problem.

adding half-and-half
It looks like a real mess, but wait a few minutes ….
caremel half-and-half
Nice and smooth, just as we said.

Add half-and-half. Pour in the half-and-half. The caramel is now completely hardened to the bottom of the pan, right? No worries. Place the pan over medium-low heat, and, using the spatula, stir continuously across the bottom of the pan until all the caramel dissolves — it will — and the half-and-half is steaming, about 10 minutes. If you want to use a thermometer, the mixture should be around 170°F.

adding popcorn
Looks somewhat disgusting, so just don’t think about it. Forge onward!

Add popcorn. Remove the pan from heat and add the popped popcorn. It’ll seem to melt into the mixture, and, with a stir, it’ll all look like some lumpy brown liquid. It’s fine, just not pretty, yet.

Steep. Let the mixture cool for about an hour, then place it in the refrigerator to steep for about 24 hours. During this time, the popcorn flavor will be soaking into the half-and-half, which is what you want for ice cream that tastes like popcorn.

straining popcorn
After steeping, strain the popcorn out and you’ll be left with popcorn-infused caramel half-and-half.

Strain. The next day, strain out the popcorn. You can pass it through a colander lined with butter muslin, or, through a mesh strainer, or, if you have one, a funnel, fitted with a strainer. Whatever you use, press the kernels to release as much liquid as you can. And, if a few popcorn bits get through, no problem, since we’ll be straining it again later.

strained half-and-half
See, a bit of straining and we’re back to a nice smooth mixture.

Reheat half-and-half. From here on out, we’re making custard just as usual, so place the infused half-and-half in a clean saucepan over medium heat. Stir continuously until the mixture steams — if using a thermometer, the temperature will be around 170°F. Remove from heat.

yolks, sugar, and molasses
We used a bit of molasses, mainly because we think it gives a great flavor.

Whisk egg yolks and sugar. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, molasses, and the remaining sugar, until smooth, about 1 minute.

Tempering is tricky, but it’s a skill that every scratcher needs to learn; the only way to learn is to practice.

Temper egg yolks. The moment of truth: you need to pour the hot liquid into the egg yolks without cooking them. The way to do that is to whisk the yolks rapidly as you slowly pour in the liquid. Start with a few drops to about a tablespoon of liquid, whisk it in, then add more. As you continue, you can increase the speed at which you add the hot liquid. Once added, pour it all back into the saucepan.

Cook custard. Place the saucepan of custard over medium-low heat, and, stirring continuously, cook until it thickens slightly. If you’re using a thermometer (we do for this step), the temperature should be between 165-170°F. Any hotter, and the yolks will cook and curdle out of the mixture.

straining custard
After cooking, strain once again, as there will be bits that need to come out to ensure a smooth ice cream.

Strain. Pour the custard through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. This straining will remove any cooked bits of yolks and any small bits of remaining popcorn, ensuring a smooth ice cream.

adding heavy cream
Add the cream and vanilla, then chill overnight before churning.

Add cream and vanilla. Once strained, pour in the cold heavy cream and add the vanilla. Stir thoroughly to combine. If you want, give it a taste and think how much better it’ll be churned into ice cream.

Chill. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours, preferably overnight. The more thoroughly the custard chills, the faster and easier it’ll be to churn.

Churn. Set up an ice cream maker and churn the custard according to the manufacturers’ directions. We use a KitchenAid ice cream attachment which works great and is easy to clean. We love it, but we’re sure there are other ice cream churns that work just as well.

Pack. Once churned, pack into an airtight container and place in the freezer until completely frozen.

Yes, it does taste just like caramel popcorn. How cool is that? It took a few extra steps, making the caramel and infusing the popcorn, but we think it was really worth it to make a great-tasting, original, flavor. So, five stars.

Worth the trouble?

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