Note: In our late-summer cover story on ice cream sundaes, Nancy Silverton, co-founder of Los Angeles' Campanile restaurant and La Brea Bakery, gave readers a sense of the thinking that goes into the desserts that make it onto Campanile's menu. She was obsessed, she says, with the combination of salty peanuts and caramel, so she made caramel ice cream with a salty peanut swirl. It was fantastic, but difficult to make. "The swirl solidifies almost immediately, which makes the ice cream hard to scoop," Silverton explained. "Then I started thinking about restructuring the ice cream as a sundae--caramel ice cream with a salty caramel peanut sauce instead of the swirl. I changed the caramel ice cream from my standard one by adding a little creme fraiche to smooth the burnt sugar edge from the caramel--a better contrast for the stronger sauce to come. The sauce has a toastiness from the peanuts, which is amplified by vanilla bean, and just enough salt to stand up to the sugar. It's everything a good sundae should be--salty and sweet, warm and cold, crunchy and smooth." We completely agree.
CARAMEL ICE CREAM
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 cups milk
3 cups heavy whipping cream
20 egg yolks
1 cup creme fraiche
* Scrape vanilla bean seeds into large pot and add pod halves. Add sugar and melt, stirring gently and constantly, over medium-high heat until sugar liquefies and turns dark caramel color.
* Slowly add milk and whipping cream and bring to boil, stirring constantly, over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and let stand 30 minutes.
* Return caramel mixture to boil over medium-high heat. Slowly pour over egg yolks in large bowl, whisking constantly. Whisk in creme frai^che. Strain through fine mesh strainer into separate bowl. Whisk to release heat until cool. Chill.
* Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Scoop into bowls and top with Salty Peanut Caramel Sauce.
SALTY PEANUT CARAMEL SAUCE
2 3/4 cups unsalted, unroasted, peeled peanuts, ideally Virginia nuts (1 pound)
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon salt
1 large plump or 2 thin vanilla beans, split lengthwise
1 3/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 1/2 cups sugar
* Toss together peanuts, peanut oil and salt in small bowl. Sprinkle peanuts only (not excess salt from bowl) onto baking sheet. Toast at 325 degrees until lightly colored, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
* Scrape vanilla bean seeds into small saucepan, then add pod halves. Add cream and butter and heat over medium heat until butter melts. Remove from heat and set aside.
* Heat corn syrup in 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat until it begins to bubble. Begin stirring syrup slowly and continuously and sprinkle in sugar in about 4 batches, waiting until each batch of sugar is incorporated into syrup before adding more. (Don't stir too fast or sugar won't color.) Continue cooking and stirring slowly until mixture is thin, bubbly and straw-colored. (Don't let sauce get brown at this point.)
* Remove syrup from heat and slowly add half of cream-butter mixture. Caramel will boil up; stir to incorporate ingredients. Repeat with remaining cream-butter mixture.
* Return caramel to medium-high heat and boil until sauce has thickened and darkened slightly, about 2 minutes. Add peanuts but not any clumps of salt that may have fallen onto baking sheet. Stir peanuts into caramel. Boil slightly longer if color is not dark enough; sauce should be pale brown, not medium or dark brown. Remove vanilla bean pods before serving.
1/2 gallon ice cream. Each 1/2-cup: 422 calories; 63 mg sodium; 427 mg cholesterol; 30 grams fat; 33 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams protein; 0 fiber. 3 cups sauce. Each 2-tablespoon: 278 calories; 745 mg sodium; 34 mg cholesterol; 21 grams fat; 21 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 0.92 gram fiber.