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In the world of upscale ice cream, salted caramel is the new black. Every parlor with a pedigree has a version, and home ice cream makers practically write it love poems. This is hardly a bad thing, and I'm more than happy to use it as a litmus test when trying ice cream somewhere new. I won't be the first to say that salted caramel is one of those perfect foods best left unmolested by other flavors.
But I can't leave well enough alone.
You say "beer caramel ice cream" and people's eyes light up. With delight and desire. They get all Liz Lemon on you. And it's not hard to see why. Beer fills out the flavor of caramel, gives it breadth and body while restoring the complexities lost by the addition of cream and eggs. And a nice hoppy, malty beer, tinged with some grown-up bitterness, makes caramel almost refreshing. Your mileage may vary, but a light and spicy pale ale works best for us.
Thanks to the beer, this ice is cream is also lighter than your average caramel. The caramel's subtleties come through more clear and clean than they would otherwise, and you don't feel like a nap on the couch after a couple scoops. Just don't skimp on the salt. The difference between salted and undersalted caramel is profound.
You can eat this unadorned, or do as we do: top it with some roasted peanuts tossed with Old Bay. No, really. It's a mildly savory, nutty kick that recalls sweet times in well-worn bars. I'll basically promise my loyalty forever to the bar that serves this sundae.
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About the author: Max Falkowitz writes Serious Eats' weekly Spice Hunting column. He's a proud native of Queens, New York, will do just about anything for a good cup of tea, and enjoys long walks down the aisles of Chinese groceries.You can follow his exotic spice- and ice cream-based ramblings on Twitter.