- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Just as fashion pronounces the “in” color each fall, food has its trendy flavor. One year it’s chipotle chiles, the next it’s pomegranate.

Judging from the luscious caramel confections being introduced into gourmet food shops and specialty supermarkets this year, I’m predicting that caramel is the new chocolate.

There’s caramel coated with chocolate and dusted with coarse sea salt; caramel flavored with whiskey, and, of course, caramel sauce for topping ice cream.

Caramel, a magical formula that transforms sugar and cream into edible velvet, satisfies so many needs: It’s a comfort food. Perhaps you remember the fun you had ripping the transparent wrapping off caramel squares. Or maybe you recall what a pleasure it was when you had your braces taken off and could indulge in chewy caramel.

It’s filling. One small piece of this rich treat is usually sufficient to quiet your sweet tooth.

It’s easy to appreciate. Unlike some sweets with long ingredient lists, a caramel is straightforward: sugar, cream and sometimes butter. Most important, caramel is delicious.

If you watch fashions, you know how important it is to hedge your bets. Designers may proclaim that black or some other color is dead only to realize everyone still wearing it. I won’t make that mistake pronouncing the end of chocolate. In fact, to hedge my bets, I suggest making the following incredibly yummy ice cream that uses both chocolate and caramel.

Caramel ribbon chocolate chunk ice cream

ICE CREAM:

1½ cups heavy cream

½ cup milk

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup sugar

2 egg yolks

CARAMEL RIBBON:

1/3 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

½ cup chocolate-covered almonds (see note)

For the ice cream, combine heavy cream, milk, salt and sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring frequently, or until sugar is dissolved in cream.

Beat egg yolks in heatproof bowl. Pour about ½ cup cream mixture into egg yolks and stir well. Pour egg mixture back into saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until mixture is slightly thickened.

Pour egg yolk mixture through a wire mesh sieve into a bowl. Set aside to cool. Ice cream base can be made several hours in advance and refrigerated.

Just before making ice cream, prepare caramel ribbon. Combine sugar and salt in small heavy-bottomed saucepan. Heat over medium heat until sugar melts. Stir in cream. Mixture will splatter and turn hard.

Place over low heat and simmer, stirring frequently until mixture returns to liquid. Remove from heat and stir in butter.

Pour ice cream base into ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s directions. When ice cream is set and you’re just about ready to turn off the machine, drizzle in caramel ribbon. Don’t mix too much or you’ll have caramel ice cream. Stir in chocolate-covered almonds. Scoop out of ice cream machine. Makes 2 servings, if you think of a pint as a serving; otherwise 4.

Note: Instead, you can make vanilla ice cream and use the caramel ribbon as a sauce. If you prefer to skip nuts, spoon in ½ cup of large chocolate chips instead.

Bev Bennett is the author of “30-Minute Meals for Dummies” (John Wiley & Sons).

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