Gingerbread Caramel Sauce

FullSizeRender-2Move over, sea salted caramel. You’ve had your 15-minutes of fame. Try this decadent gingerbread caramel sauce, a crazy crossbreed of fresh gingerbread cookies and rich caramel. This ice cream/cake sauce was posted on Martha Stewart’s site as an “under 30 minutes” holiday recipe. I latched onto it because it’s a gluten-free option that looked like a good Christmas gift for co-workers and friends. But I couldn’t give it away without knowing if it was actually tasty, so I did a test batch. How was it? Absolutely, positively, DEE-licious. I couldn’t stop licking the stirring spoon! When my friend Suzie texted me that her husband was smearing it on his breakfast toast just to find a base other than ice cream, I had to applaud his ingenuity. You go, Paul. Sauce it up.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a good photo of the sauce in action, as the ice cream melting under the warm sauce made a mushy mess in the bowl. That reminded me of my days working as an art director on Pillsbury cookbooks, and all the tricks we had to pull to get a shot of ice cream under hot studio lights. Here’s rule Number 1 in the food biz—if you’re selling ice cream, you must use your ice cream in the photo. No stand-ins. This required forming dozens of perfect scoops of ice cream, then putting them on dry ice for several hours. Then you had mere moments to pour the sauce and get your photos done. I had to blow through a straw onto the sauce to keep it from frosting over on the hyper-frozen ice cream, while the photographer furiously clicked away. So much work! But what fun to finally get the shot.

Food biz rule Number 2—if you’re selling the sauce but not the ice cream, you can use a salted dough (similar to Play-Doh) that mimics ice cream in appearance. A couple scoops of the salt dough handled the sauces well, and wouldn’t melt under the hot lights. It made for a much easier photo shoot day! Since I didn’t have any stand-in ice cream on hand, my shot above is of my sweet little jars all sealed and labeled for gift-giving.

Makes 6-7 half pints

3/4 cup molasses
3 cups sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1-1½ teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1½ teaspoons ground ginger

In Dutch oven, combine sugar, molasses, and ½ cup water. Heat over medium-high, gently stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil. Continue to cook and stir constantly for 4 to 5 minutes (about 250 degrees on a thermometer, if using). Remove from heat and carefully whisk in cream, butter, salt, and spices, stirring until butter is melted and combined. Ladle into clean half-pint jars; wipe rims of jars to remove any excess sauce. Put on fresh, clean canning lids, and screw on top. Cool jars in refrigerator. (Jars may seal due to rapid cooling.) Once opened, sauce can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks; reheat before using.

NOTE: I found it works best to have all your ingredients measured out before you start making the sauce. The butter and the cream will make the sugar mixture splatter when added to the pot, and may cause it to cool too rapidly. I turned the heat back on to low to get the butter to melt at this stage. Also, it’s best to sift in the spices and salt, otherwise the cinnamon and ginger tend to clump because the sugar mixture is so hot. As far as the salt content goes, I think the 1½ teaspoon salt was a little much, and will back it off to 1 teaspoon in future batches.

Nelson’s Ice Cream

FullSizeRender-2I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! If ice cream makes you holler, then head to one of Nelson’s Ice Cream shops in Stillwater or St. Paul, Minnesota. My husband and I joined the throngs of folks waiting in line one balmy Friday night for the most generously scooped ice cream cones I’ve ever seen. With 40-plus tantalizing flavors of Brown’s ice cream to choose from, you need the wait in line to give you time to make up your mind. If you’re still torn between your multitude of options when your server yells “Next!”, don’t panic. They’ll let you have two flavors per cone or cup.

FullSizeRender-1As you can see from the picture of my Toasted Almond Fudge cone (being scooped by smiling server Dan), even the “child-size” cone is beyond belief. We used to joke when our kids were little that they weren’t supposed to eat anything bigger than their heads. At Nelson’s, you’d be hard-pressed to find a child’s head smaller than the ice cream cone on which they are blissfully licking away. I don’t know how anyone could possibly finish the Lumberjack—five mammoth scoops of any flavor served in a bowl with your choice of toppings. Judging from the Wall of Fame reserved for those who’ve downed the monstrous mound, it’s a task best accomplished by growing teenage boys.

FullSizeRenderWithin the forty or so flavors, there are a few sherbet and frozen yogurt options sprinkled in. And don’t forget about Nelson’s infamous Superman ice cream—a trio of tie-dyed neon yellow vanilla, blue raspberry, and pink cherry that’s especially popular with the younger crowd. I’m fond of their waffle cones, and the reward for making it through the first scoop or two, is getting a bite of the crispy cookie-like crunch along with the delectable ice cream. It’s worth the dollar up-charge— $4.50 instead of $3.50—to get a waffle cone over a cup or cone. Your only issue with Nelson’s Ice Cream shop might be finding it. The St. Paul shop is obvious enough on Snelling Avenue, but the Stillwater store isn’t part of the bustling downtown. It’s off the beaten path at the intersections of Greeley and Olive, up the hill from the main business district. But if you really love ice cream, you’ll find it. And you’ll be so glad you did.