If you're a Paris food lover, especially if you love the sweets of Paris, you've probably heard about and tasted Berthillon ice creams. Berthillon is the famous Parisian glacier on the Ile Saint Louis. Popular with Parisians and tourists, there is almost always a long line at their main take away location on Rue Saint Louis en L'ile.
I don't remember when I first found out about Berthillon, but while I lived in Paris it became my usual Sunday haunt. Countless Sundays included a few boules (balls) of Berthillon ice cream after mornings at the Bastille Market, wandering through the Marais, or after a Sunday matinee. We'd sit along the banks of the Seine or wander over the bridge and lap up our ice cream with the buttresses of Notre Dame in our view.
My Parisian friend Richard, a Berthillon faithful, gave me many lessons in French ice cream etiquette. See, I love the combination of chocolate and raspberry. "Quelle catastrophe!" He told me one day when he heard me order that combination. Mixing sorbets and glace (ice cream), as I found out, is just not done. It ranks up there in the faux pas world with cutting your lettuce with a knife, wearing sweats anywhere besides the gym, bright white tennis shoes and is possibly as bad as wearing a dreaded fanny pack. He also explained that one should never order less than 3 parfums, meaning 3 different parfums (flavors). I still think the the three flavor minimum rule is one only he follows. Hating to be in the same category as a fanny pack wearer, I decided the chocolate and raspberry combo was out. Once I did order chocolat, chocolat noir and chocolat blanc. To Richard it was boring; for me the combination was pas mal.
In an effort to avoid any ice cream faux pas and to avoid "boring" status, each Sunday I'd order different flavor combinations. What happened was that I found two fabulous flavors I liked more than chocolat noir and even better than the triple chocolate combination: caramel beurre sale and pain d'epices. The salted butter caramel is a full dose of caramel flavor that includes a hint of bitterness, the caramel flavor both balanced and enhanced by the salt and butter. The pain d'epices is a cream-based ice cream with quarte epice (four spices) added to the base and little chunks of gingerbread mixed into the ice cream. Comfort food on a cone.
Alas, I again became boring because from then on my order has always been the same: dark chocolate, salted butter caramel and spiced bread/gingerbread.
During my last trip to Paris, I made my usual stop at Berthillon. I paid around 6 euros for my three boules. However, this trip to Berthillon I was left disappointed. It seemed to me that the boules had shrunk. I felt each one was the size of a walnut. The quality and taste of the ice cream was the same, I guess. It was hard to tell with such a small little tease of a taste. Maybe I made some faux pas, breaking one of the many and infinite French food rules? Maybe the lady scooping my ice cream was having a bad day?
Also part of the problem was that I had just spent the previous month in Italy with daily doses (or more) of gelato. Instead of walnuts, scoops of gelato were closer to the size of tennis balls and prices were rarely over 3 euros for 3 flavors. It's only natural that I made the comparison. Yep, from my experience Italian balls are bigger than French ones......at least when it comes to ice cream.
I still love the taste of Berthillon's ice cream, even though the size of my last scoop left me wanting more. I came home craving salted butter caramel ice cream and worked on recreating the recipe from my taste memory. One thing is certain, when you're in charge of the scooping, you can make the size of your boules as small or as big as you like.
Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream
(makes about 2 quarts)
1 3/4 cups (375 grams) granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
2 cups (500 ml) whole milk
2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, scraped
10 egg yolks, at room temperature
½ cup (1 stick/115 grams) salted butter, room temperature and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
5 grams sea salt
In a copper or heavy bottom saucepan caramelize the sugar and water. Do not stir the mixture with a spoon while it's cooking, or the sugar will crystalize and make the mixture grainy. While the sugar is cooking, mix together the milk, cream, vanilla bean, and bean scrapings. When the mixture starts to turn from a golden color to an amber one, immediately remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour in the cream mixture. (Be careful because it will initially bubble up.) Once you've poured all the milk/cream mixture in, place back on medium heat and stir until the caramel has dissolved into the mixture.
In a very large bowl, that will hold the milk mixture and the egg yolks, whisk together the egg yolks. Very slowly pour the milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. (Slowly pouring the milk mixture onto the egg yolks, will slowly bring the yolks up to temperature without them curdling.) Pour the entire mixture back into the saucepan and heat to 170 F (82 C), stirring slowly and constantly.
Once the mixture has reached 170 F (82 C), remove from the heat and strain into a bowl that has been placed into an ice bath. Add in the butter and stir until all the butter has melted. Cool completely. Stir in the sea salt and place in the refrigerator. It's best to leave the mixture in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours before churning. Churn based on your ice cream maker's instructions. Enjoy!