The calendar finally says that fall has arrived. I am more than ready for it. Last weekend I had a fabulous time on a girls' weekend with my three sisters. After the pleasant days and cool nights in the northeast (I managed to hit five states--Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania--plus the District of Columbia in four days), I was not eager to return to hot central Texas. Glad to be headed back to my own bed, yes, but not excited about the 95 degrees that the pilot told us about as we were landing in Austin. Fortunately, the first day of autumn was rainy and cool (not sure if we even got out of the 60s). We had a few more pleasant days after that as well, but today we were back up to about 90. Ugh.
A lot of my eagerness for fall is because I'm ready to bake with fall ingredients--bring on the apples and pumpkin, the cinnamon and nutmeg. A couple weeks ago, we did have several cloudy days that made it feel like fall was finally on its way. I stopped into Starbucks, which is a fairly rare thing for me. I'm not a coffee drinker, but they do make a couple things that I like. My usual drink is hot chocolate (with peppermint once the weather is cool for good). But I wasn't in the mood for that. I also drink tea, but I have a hard time paying Starbucks prices for a teabag and hot water. As I stared at the menu, hoping for inspiration, it hit me. Caramel Apple Spice!
For those who may not be familiar with it, Caramel Apple Spice is hot apple juice with a squirt or two of cinnamon syrup, topped with whipped cream and caramel sauce. Now the fall weather isn't really here to stay yet. And while it really hit the spot that day, Caramel Apple Spice is too sweet for me to drink very often. But I started thinking some more about it and realized that I might be able to capture the flavors of this fall drink in a summery concoction if I made ice cream out of it.
It's still a work in progress, but I'm off to a good start, I think. I started by looking for Treetop apple juice (which is what Starbucks uses) at my local grocery store. Unfortunately the only bottle they had was a huge jug that we wouldn't have room for in the fridge. So I settled for Motts, and figured Gillian would drink the extra (plus it has vitamin C added, which is good since she doesn't get orange juice). It took some experimenting to figure out the best quantity, but I ended up putting three cups of the juice in a saucepan with half a cup of sugar and a cinnamon stick. I simmered it until the sugar was dissolved and the quantity was reduced to two cups. Once the syrup was cooled to room temperature, I added a couple cups of heavy cream. Then I put it in the fridge for about 6 hours so it would get pretty cold (churns better that way). When I tasted the mixture before churning, the cinnamon flavor wasn't very strong, so I decided to add a bit of ground cinnamon to the mix. I spooned a couple tablespoons of the cream into a small bowl, whisked in about 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon, then whisked that back into the rest of the cream. After churning, I put the soft ice cream into a container, adding spoonfuls of caramel in layers so the ice cream would be swirled when I scooped it.
The verdict? Pretty darn good! It could probably still use a bit more apple flavor, so I may try reducing four cups of juice down to two cups next time. I made my own caramel sauce (like in this post, but with a bit more cream so it wouldn't get too hard in the freezer), but you could use prepared caramel if you wanted to. Everyone else here seemed to enjoy the ice cream too. And it was quite tasty with the turnovers I made a couple weeks ago. I'll definitely be trying this one again.
Caramel Apple Spice Ice Cream
3 cups (24 oz) apple juice
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 cups (16 oz) heavy cream
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
caramel sauce (cold), either homemade or purchased
Place the juice, sugar and cinnamon stick in a medium saucepan. Simmer over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is reduced to 2 cups. Let the syrup cool to room temperature. Remove the cinnamon stick and stir in the heavy cream. Chill the mixture until very cold before churning. Taste the mixture before churning. If the cinnamon taste is not strong enough, put several tablespoons of the cream mixture into a small bowl. Whisk in the ground cinnamon, then mix back into the rest of the cream mixture. Churn the mixture in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer the soft ice cream to a storage container, alternating scoops of ice cream with spoonfuls of caramel sauce so that the ice cream will be swirled when scooped. Freeze until hard enough to scoop.