The next guest to join us on our Ice Cream Social is Cara Eisenpress one half of the duo behind Big Girls Small Kitchen, a site focused on food for the quarter-life cook. Cara and her blogging partner Phoebe Lapine just came out with their first book, In the Small Kitchen, this spring. —Kristin
My boyfriend, 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. 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 margherita pizza without cheese (you can make potato-pesto foccacia, though) and dairy-free icing for birthday cakes is a tough sell, too. 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.
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. Their family’s Christmas Eve tradition features a homemade ice cream sundae bar, but Stuart makes ice cream, both dairy and non-dairy, 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.
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 both the flavor and the texture would not 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 taste it; after they do, they’ll be forever grateful.
Coconut Caramel Ice Cream
Makes about 1 pint
I can imagine varying this by adding pralines 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.