Making caramel is a matter of nerves: your natural instinct is to remove the pan from the heat as soon as the caramel takes on a slight amount of colour. But the caramel actually has a lot more flavour (and tastes less sweet) if you let it darken. How dark you cook it depends on what it's mixed with; if it's used on its own (as in the flan recipe), a medium-brown is fine, but if it's diluted with a large amount of cream and milk (as for the ice cream), you should take it almost to the point of being burned. It's a fine line, though, and if you cook it too much, the caramel will be acrid, rather than nicely bitter. When making caramel, you should have all the ingredients and equipment on hand, because it goes from being just right to burnt in a matter of seconds.
Salted caramel ice cream sundaes with bittersweet chocolate sauce and sweet and salty popcorn (pictured)
The recipe for the bittersweet chocolate sauce is from Frozen Desserts by Francisco J. Migoya.
This makes far more popcorn than you'll need for the sundaes, but the rest makes a good snack; just store it in an airtight container and eat it quickly before it goes stale.
For the salted caramel ice cream:
180 grams granulated sugar, divided
3 large egg yolks
1/2-3/4 tsp fine-grain sea salt
500ml whole milk
30ml dark rum
For the bittersweet chocolate sauce:
55 grams glucose or corn syrup
165 grams bittersweet chocolate (with a cacao content of about 65 per cent), chopped
For the sweet and salty popcorn:
45ml cooking oil
60 grams popcorn kernels
50 grams granulated sugar
1/2 tsp fine-grain sea salt
Make the ice cream first so it has time to cool and then freeze. Put a fine sieve over a mixing bowl and place this next to the stove. Put 130 grams of sugar in a medium-sized saucepan and stir in about 40ml of water (the exact amount doesn't matter). Bring to the boil over a medium flame then cover the pan with the lid and simmer for three minutes. Remove the lid then cook the sugar without stirring until it turns pale golden. Swirl the pan (but do not stir) so the sugar caramelises evenly, then cook to a medium-dark brown. Watch carefully, especially as it starts to darken.
While the sugar is cooking, heat the cream and milk in another pan. Bring to a simmer then turn off the heat. As soon as the caramel is ready, ladle in some of the hot cream/milk - take care because the caramel will splatter. Turn your face from the hot steam and protect your hand by wrapping it in a dishcloth. After gradually adding in all the milk/cream, stir the mixture over a low flame until smooth, then turn off the heat.
In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the salt and the remaining sugar until dissolved. Add a ladleful of the hot caramel mixture to the yolks and whisk immediately. Repeat twice then pour this mixture into the saucepan containing the caramel and milk/cream. Place over a low flame then stir constantly with a wooden spoon, making sure to cover the entire bottom of the pan as you stir. The mixture is ready when it coats the spoon and when you draw your finger across the spoon it leaves a track. Pour the custard through the sieve into the bowl and cool to room temperature, stirring often. Chill in the fridge until very cold, then stir in the rum. Process in an ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions then pack into a container and freeze until firm.
For the chocolate sauce, put the milk, cream and glucose or corn syrup in a pan, stir to combine then bring to the boil. Pour into a bowl over the chocolate and water and mix until smooth with an immersion blender or a whisk.
For the popcorn, put the oil in a large pan, add a few kernels and set it over a medium flame. Shake constantly until the kernels pop then add the sugar and remaining popcorn and stir to coat. Cover the pan and shake constantly until the kernels pop. Sprinkle with the salt and stir to combine. Taste the popcorn and add more salt if needed.
Scoop the ice cream into bowls, add some popcorn, then drizzle with the chocolate sauce.
For the caramel:
150 grams granulated sugar
10ml fresh lemon juice, strained through a sieve
For the custard:
10 large eggs, at room temperature
100 grams granulated sugar
600ml whole milk
600ml condensed milk
1/2 tsp fine-grain sea salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
A pinch of ground cloves and allspice
Lightly spray with pan coating a large round metal cake pan that's at least 4cm deep (you might need two pans). Put 150 grams of sugar in a saucepan, add about 50ml of water and stir to dissolve. Bring to a boil then add the lemon juice. Cover the pan with the lid and simmer undisturbed for three minutes. Remove the lid then let it cook, without stirring, until the caramel is a medium-amber. Pour the caramel to a depth of about 5mm into the pan(s).
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Whisk the eggs with the sugar, whole milk, condensed milk, salt and spices. Strain through a sieve then pour the mixture into the cake pan. Place the pan in a roasting pan. Pour water in the roasting pan so it comes about 2cm up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the custard is set (it will be a little wobbly at the centre) then remove from the oven and cool to room temperature. Chill for eight hours then run a knife around the edge of the pan. Put a large plate upside down over the pan and invert it, shaking the pan if necessary to loosen the flan. Slice into wedges then serve.
Styling Nellie Ming Lee