Good For the Holidays: Salted Caramel

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Did I say good for the holidays? I mean Good For Everyday, and on Everything. This caramel is absolutely delicious, if I do say so myself. The recipe is adapted from Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa. This recipe is pretty straightforward easy to make, which is why I like it, but at the same time it is also pretty easy to screw up caramel. The goal when making caramel is two-fold: 1. make sure it doesn't crystallize and 2. cook it just the right amount of time - 30 seconds too short and it's flavorless and 30 seconds too long and it's burnt. Here are my tips to perfect caramel.

To make sure the caramel doesn't crystallize have ready a small cup of water with a pastry brush. (This is a trick I learned in pastry school.) At the beginning of cooking the sugar and water, as it dissolves, gently brush the wet brush alongside the edge of the pot where you see the sugar and water starting to boil if it looks like it's starting to crystallize. (When you cook sugar and water at extremely high temperatures the sugar molecules try to crystallize back into a solid. There are lots of trick that candy makers use to prevent sugar from crystallizing, like using inverted sugars and adding glucose, but this it not necessary.) Also, make sure NOT to stir the sugar/water mixture. Stirring will result in crystallizing. Once the sugar is dissolved and starting to bubble, don't touch it. If the sugar does crystallize, and you will know if it did, it is not recoverable, just throw it away and start over - it was just a little sugar and water.

To make sure the sugar is cooked just the right amount use your nose and eyes as a guide. Don't walk away from the caramel, just wait patiently until the sugar/water is a golden amber color. Have the cream ready to go and waiting alongside, and once that caramel is fragrant and amber, turn off the heat and pour over the cream.

And that's it. It's really easy to make once you get comfortable with the two main goals. Hope these tips are helpful, cause, just to reiterate, this caramel is really delicious and I think everyone needs a jar of it in their fridge this holiday season. It would also make a really nice hostess gift. I made this caramel for Halloween and dipped sour apples in it and, okay, and maybe a chocolate foil ball or two...

Salted Caramel

Makes approximately 2 cups

Sweet and sticky caramely caramel with just a hint of sea salt to balance out the sweetness. This sauce can be poured over anything… vanilla ice cream, an apple tart or elegant plated dessert – the possibilities are endless.

scant 1/3 cup water
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for garnish

To make the caramel sauce, combine the water and sugar in a medium heavy-bottom saucepan over low heat, without stirring until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and bring to a boil without a lid. Do not stir the caramel. The sauce should continue to boil until it turns a golden chestnut brown; then turn off the heat. Careful the caramel will go from golden to burnt in a matter of seconds.

Being extremely careful, slowly, without splattering, pour the cream into the hot mixture. The mixture will violently bubble. Stir in the vanilla extract and return back to low heat. Stir until the sauce is smooth and creamy. (If the sauce just won’t get smooth, you can strain it through a sieve.) Finally, remove the pan from the heat and add the sea salt. Transfer the caramel to a heatproof bowl and allow the sauce cool at room temperature for 1 hour. Store the sauce in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.


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