When I swirled some delectable caramel sauce into some vanilla bean ice cream, this fabulous Vanilla Caramel Swirl Ice Cream was born! This ice cream verified my motto that caramel desserts trump everything else!

This Carmel Ice Cream takes a terrific Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe and pushes it over the top!! If you’re a caramel fan, you’ll be swooning with your first bite!

2 bowls of Vanilla Caramel Swirl Ice Cream with 2 red handled spoons.

Why You Must Make

  • If you’re a fan of caramel sauce or dulce de leche drizzled over your ice cream, you’ll love this caramel-swirled ice cream.
  • You’ll learn how to make two fabulous desserts with this recipe: A luscious vanilla ice cream and a rich caramel sauce!
  • If you love salted caramel desserts, it’s easy to add a little salt to your caramel and swoon even more!!

When we were in Denver last month, Katie and Bill would take a stroll down to the hotel lobby each evening to get their single servings of Häagen-Dazs ice cream. Bill, no surprise here, purchased chocolate and Katie found delight in their dulce de leche. It was Katie’s selection that inspired me to make a rich vanilla caramel swirl ice cream. I knew she and I would be thrilled if I was successful with my recipe testing.

Ingredient Notes:

  • Pantry Items – Kosher salt, sugar. egg yolks
  • Dark Brown Sugar – provides more caramel undertones than light brown sugar
  • Heavy Cream – should have 36%-38% butterfat. The cream used to make the caramel should not be cold, but instead, at room temperature so it won’t seize when added. 
  • Whole Milk – don’t use skim as the extra fat is needed for the creamiest ice cream
  • Vanilla Bean Paste – gives those specks of vanilla seeds found in gourmet brand ice creams. Pure (not imitation) Vanilla Extract can be substituted in equal amounts.
Overhead view of a white bowl of Vanilla Caramel Swirl Ice Cream with a red handle spoon.

Expert Tips

If you’re new to making ice cream and/or caramel, here are a few tips to help make the process a success.

  • When you’re making an ice cream base, it’s basically a custard. Care must be taken when the eggs are added to the hot cream mixture so they don’t scramble.
  • The process is called tempering. First add a small amount, 1/2 cup, of the hot cream mixture to the eggs while whisking constantly. And repeat. This warms up the eggs slowly instead of cooking them.
  • The custard works best when chilled overnight so it’s nice and cold and the vanilla flavor is well-infused.
  • Making caramel can be daunting as it’s finicky. Do not rush the process by turning up the heat as the sugar will burn.
  • PRO-Tip: Having the cream at room temperature will help prevent lumps from forming when you add it to the hot sugar. Drizzling it in slowly will also help the cream incorporate into the sugar more easily.
  • If lumps do develop, cook the mixture on low until the sugar melts.

How to Make a Swirl Ice Cream

  1. Make the custard. Be sure to temper the egg yolks so they’re warm before adding them to the hot cream mixture.
  2. PRO-Tip: Tempering is the process in which you carefully warm up a temperature-sensitive ingredient (like egg yolks), so they incorporate instead of cooking when they’re added to a hot liquid.
  3. PRO-Tip: The custard is done when it “coats the back of a spoon.” This means that when you draw your finger across the spoon, it leaves a clean stripe because the custard has thickened. 
  4. Strain the custard to remove any tiny cooked bits of egg. This will make a smoother custard.
  5. PRO-Tip: Make sure to wait until after you strain the custard to add the vanilla bean paste. If you do it before, you’ll strain out all the little flecks of vanilla seeds.
  6. Chill the custard in an ice bath, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight before churning.
  7. The caramel sauce can be made ahead of time. It should be at room temperature when you add it to the ice cream for easier swirling.
  8. Melt and brown the sugar 2 tablespoons at a time as directed, then add the cream and blend once the bubbling subsides.
  9. PRO-Tip: If you have any hard sugar lumps, just keep the burner on low and cook until the sugar melts.
  10. When the ice cream is frozen, layer about a third of it into your container. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of caramel on top of ice cream, then repeat again two more times. You will have leftover caramel.
  11. Use a knife or a chopstick to swirl the caramel. If you prefer softer ice cream, eat it right away or else freeze for about 4 hours or longer before serving.
  12. PRO-Tip: Need a shortcut? Use 6-8 tablespoons of good quality dulce de leche or a premium brand of jarred caramel sauce to swirl into your ice cream.
Overhead view of 2 small white bowls of caramel ice cream.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Doesn’t Caramel Freeze When It’s in Ice Cream?

Water-based ingredients with a high sugar content, like caramel, will not freeze until well below the freezing point of water.

How Do You Make Caramel Ice Cream?

There are two ways to make caramel ice cream. One option is to mix caramel into the custard you will freeze to make your ice cream. Or you can swirl caramel sauce into your already-frozen homemade vanilla ice cream.

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bowl of caramel swirl ice cream with a red handled spoon

Vanilla Caramel Swirl Ice Cream

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Additional Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 55 minutes
Yield 8 servings

A luscious vanilla bean ice cream swirled with caramel.


  • 5 egg yolks
  • ½ cup packed dark brown sugar, divided
  • 1 ¾ cup heavy cream
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (may use vanilla extract if desired)

For the caramel swirl:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup heavy cream, warmed
  • ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


  1. In a large Pyrex measuring cup or heatproof bowl, whisk the yolks with ¼ cup of the brown sugar. Set aside.
  2. In a heavy saucepan, stir together the cream, milk, salt, and the remaining ¼ cup of brown sugar and put the pan over medium-high heat.
  3. When the mixture starts to simmer, decrease the heat.
  4. Remove about ½ cup of the hot cream mixture while constantly whisking the eggs, and slowly drizzle the cream into the egg yolks.
  5. Repeat with another ½ cup of hot cream, then pour the egg-cream mixture back into the saucepan, whisking as you pour.
  6. Cook the mixture carefully over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it is thickened, about 1-2 more minutes.
  7. Strain the custard mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean container. Set the container into an ice-water bath (I fill my sink with ice cubes, then adds some water). Stir occasionally, till cool.
  8. Stir in the vanilla bean paste.
  9. Remove the container from the ice-water bath, cover it with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
  10. While the ice cream base cools, make the caramel.
  11. Set the warm cream by the stove so it's at hand when you need it. Put 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. When the sugar is melted around the edges and starts to turn golden, stir the mixture gently and add another 2 tablespoons of sugar to the pan.
  12. Continue to add the remaining sugar 2 tablespoons at a time, stirring frequently and allowing most of the sugar to melt before you add more. Watch carefully as the sugar darkens, stirring gently to help it melt evenly.
  13. When all the sugar has caramelized, slowly add the cream. It will bubble furiously.
  14. When the bubbling slows down, gently stir in the cream to blend. If you have any hard sugar lumps, just keep the burner on low and cook till the sugar melts. Stir in salt and vanilla and allow to cool to room temperature.
  15. Freeze the ice cream as directed by your ice cream maker.
  16. When the ice cream is frozen, layer about a third of it into your container. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of caramel on top of the ice cream, then repeat again two more times. You will have leftover caramel.
  17. Use a knife or a chopstick to swirl the caramel. If you prefer softer ice cream, eat it right away or else freeze for about 4 hours before serving.


      Yield: 1 quart of ice cream.

      Total time includes 2 hours freezing time.

      Adapted from Epicurious.com

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      Nutrition Information:



      Serving Size:

      1 scoop

      Amount Per Serving: Calories: 445Total Fat: 30gSaturated Fat: 19gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 202mgSodium: 136mgCarbohydrates: 40gFiber: 0gSugar: 40gProtein: 5g


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