Caramelized sugar shards are a beautiful professional-looking topping, especially for creamy custards. Follow the steps, using a heavy skillet and the appropriate heat, while resisting the urge to stir.
For caramel, in a heavy small saucepan, cook the granulated sugar over medium-high heat until sugar begins to melt, shaking saucepan occasionally. Do not stir. Reduce heat to low and cook until sugar is melted and golden brown, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. Remove saucepan from heat.
Carefully stir in the 1/2 cup whipping cream. (If a large lump of syrup forms, place saucepan over low heat and stir occasionally until syrup lump dissolves. This may take 15 minutes.)
In a medium saucepan combine egg yolks, milk, dry milk powder, and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture coats the back of a metal spoon. Remove from heat. Stir in the 2 cups whipping cream. Add caramel, brown sugar, and vanilla to saucepan, stirring until brown sugar dissolves.
Cool custard mixture by placing the saucepan in a bowl of ice water. Stir occasionally, adding more ice to water as necessary until mixture is completely cool. (Or, cover and chill in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.) Freeze custard mixture in an ice-cream freezer according to the manufacturer's instructions. If desired, garnish ice cream with Caramel Shards. Makes 8 servings.
Butter baking sheet. (If desired, line the baking sheet with foil and butter the foil.) Set baking sheet aside. In a heavy large skillet cook 3/4 cup granulated sugar over medium-high heat until sugar begins to melt, shaking skillet occasionally. Do not stir. Reduce heat to low. Cook and stir about 3 minutes more or until sugar is melted and coppery brown in color. Remove from heat. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon hot water. Immediately pour mixture onto prepared baking sheet, spreading as thin as possible. Cool for 30 minutes. When cool, tap gently with a spoon to break into shards. Store tightly covered.