It’s become far more popular lately, which is not to say that a good caramel sauce is easy to get. Most of the ones you’d buy are entirely too pale, some are even blonde in color, and they taste bland. Not at all what I want, having tried it in Vienna – on top of coffee with whipped cream. I haven’t tried it in Paris, but I defer to the authority of my French coursemate who’d raved to me about the French salted butter caramel during a break in-between learning the groups of Swedish verbs.
I have always loved good caramel, especially good caramel sauce – and always, always thought that such an amazing thing was obviously very difficult (and expensive) to make, and thus I, foolishly, never tried to make it at home. That is, until the other day when I stumbled over this post on David Lebovitz’ blog, and then followed the link to the recipe for a French salted butter caramel sauce courtesy Deb of the Smitten Kitchen. It sounded so easy! Epiphany! I had to make it.
Unusually for me, I felt no need to tinker with the recipe – perhaps it was its simplicity, as I tend to get irate at too-fiddly recipes which complicate things unnecessarily. This one did not.
So, forth I ventured, having tied my apron up nearly to my neck, my old lab eye protection glasses on my nose (Who wants burnt sugar in their eye? Not I, on no, not I! It even rhymes!), I have faithfully measured all the ingredients and placed the sugar into the scrubbed-till-it-shone stainless steel pot.
And then I heated it, and it took barely any stirring and suddenly I was faced with a pot which had a gorgeous puddle of molten coppery sugar rapidly deepening in color and smelling amazing! Oh yes!
So in went the butter, and as soon as it was mostly melted, off went the heat (Induction or gas burner stoves really shine here – the heat goes off and it is off, no cooldown to speak of!), and in went the cream. And yes, all the advice various sites give you about using a really really large heavy pot is good advice – I used a 3.5L pot, and trust me, I was happy I did! The caramel does sputter and it does foam and boil up, and having a large pot is just… easy and secure. And I imagine, prevented a remarkably awful sticky and hard-to-clean mess on my stovetop. So yes, do use the huge pot everyone (and now I as well) told you to. You won’t be sorry!
And then, just like that, the butter and cream and the melted sugar melded into what can only be described as gorgeous, nutty, copper-colored indulgence. This caramel is with a slight hint of bitterness (not burnt off-taste!), and thanks to it, it goes amazingly on everything – even on such a gooey-sticky dessert as a traditional jewish honey cake. And I imagine it will be an utter killer on some plain vanilla ice cream (must try that!). Oh, oh and if you have whipped cream on top of your coffee – you need this. To drizzle on top of said whipped cream and turn a plain old coffee into a little piece of Vienna right there. This is twice as true for hot chocolate.
Very important note for making caramel – give nothing to the sugar to crystallize onto – wash your pot and spatula! Then wash them again and dry them with a non-linty cloth. I mean it.
A note about sugar itself – contrary to the popular idiocy perpetuated by those who clearly failed chemistry in school, refined beet sugar works just fine – it’s the same sugar as refined cane sugar! Do not be tempted to use those fancy brown or golden sugars, because while they taste wonderful in lower-heat desserts (such as baked goods or tea and coffee), the impurities in the sugar that taste so great – they burn at a lower temperature than the actual sugar. And since you are making a dessert which involves narrowly avoiding burning the sugar, these impurities being present is so not a good thing.
Another note about ingredients – use the best kind of butter you can find. French butter at a gourmet cheese shop? Fantastic! Local farmers’ market salted butter? Great! I am lucky enough to live in Stockholm and there is imported French butter here – thank the gods and little green apples! Elsewhere, I recommend seeing if there is gourmet butter around, and try that. Although if you can’t get it, just get the nicest-looking salted butter (~3% salt) from the supermarket, make sure it’s from the back of the butter shelf (They put the freshest there – I am always seen shamelessly digging through to the back blocks on supermarket shelves, and you should, too!), and use that – I am sure it’ll turn out gorgeous. Everything I’ve read on the topic of caramel appears to agree on the subject – the better your butter is, the better this will taste. It’s true.
The recipe makes just over a cup of caramel sauce (I hadn’t bothered to measure it) – enough to fill two small jars like the one pictured above, or nearly so (the other one was a bit less full and became progressively less full as the weekend progressed, hallelujah!), and according to things I’ve read around the net, ought to keep a couple of weeks in the fridge in said jar – that is, if it lasts that long, which is doubtful. To avoid overdosing on it, I gave one of the jars away. Just a safety precaution, you understand, so that I won’t make myself sick with sugar overdose by not being able to put down the jar and the spoon. You know how that goes, right?
I have converted the American measurements in Deb’s recipe into metric (with rounding). It works rather well.
What you need:
- A heavy-bottomed non-reactive (preferably stainless steel and not non-stick – those can’t take high heat well) pot. I recommend 3L+ capacity.
- A heatproof silicone or nylon spatula or spoon.
- A metal wire whisk.
- Your glasses or a pair of clear laboratory goggles (optional, but I recommend this).
- 2.5dl refined white sugar (cane or beet).
- 90g of the best salted butter you can get your greedy paws on.
- 1.5dl heavy (whipping) cream (36% to 40% fat)
How to do it:
- Measure out all your ingredients and have them at arm’s reach. This will go fast and you won’t have time to search for a utensil or cut up butter once you start.
- Place your sugar in an even layer on the bottom of a clean, dry large pot. Place the pot on medium-high heat (I use setting 6-7 out of 9 on my induction range), and do not stir. Just let it sit there. It’ll make little spitting noises for a while, and then it will begin to melt – around the edges and then it may puff up a little steam volcano in the middle (so don’t keep your face directly over the top of the pot).
- You can very gently push the sugar around with a spatula or spoon to help it melt, but don’t be tempted to stir vigorously – it’ll make it catch and crystallize. You can also lift the pot and shimmy it side to side a bit before putting it back down, or bang on the side of it with a wooden spoon. I found that very slow gentle, hesitant stirs did not cause a problem.
- Once the sugar has begun to melt, turn heat down to medium (I used setting 5 out of 9), and watch it turn into a beautifully copper puddle. Here I recommend having the stove light on, so you can see the color change – you want it to turn deep, dark copper but not to burn. David Leibovitz blog linked above has some photos of what the melted caramel should look like before addition of butter – I did not have a handy photographer to take pictures, so I only have the finished product. ;)
- Once the caramel deepened in color and scent to your liking, add the sliced butter and stir with a spoon or spatula to incorporate – then immediately take the pot off heat, or if you have a gas/induction stove, turn the burner off. You really do need to let it get dark – some people say to or past the smoking, but I couldn’t see any smoke. I just went by color, and it worked great. From what I read, if you don’t let it darken enough, it tends to just taste like sugar, with no complexity of taste, so I let it go rather dark, but obviously not to burning. (Do not leave the pot alone – a few seconds could make the difference.)
- Once the heat is off, pour in your cream and be ready to stand back for a second – the caramel will bubble up. It’ll subside in a couple of seconds, and that is when you take your whisk and you whisk-whisk-whisk like mad to dissolve any bits of it that are not already melting. It’s not hard, they actually melt rather happily. At this point, the sauce is quite runny, but that is because it’s still bloody hot. No, don’t stick fingers in it, no matter how it smells. I know, I was tempted to. It will thicken as it cools, so whisk it until it looks homogenous.
- Allow to cool for a while, then carefully pour into glass jars (pouring it while too hot will cause the glass to crack), cover them and let them cool completely before storing them in the fridge. The sauce will thicken when refrigerated, but it will return to its pourable consistensy if you set the jar in a small bowl of hot water for a few minutes (Deb at SK recommends 60 sec in microwave, but I don’t own a microwave right now so I can’t test it – but I never really used the microwave for melting butter or heating up thick sauces even when I did own one, so I don’t know about that).
So, now you have caramel sauce, when fifteen minutes ago you did not. And while I’ve mentioned some things that I’d like to do with it, I am sure you can come up with a zillion ways to enjoy this (some of which may be more suited for the public than others!). Me, I’ll make another batch of it later this autumn and spread it over a baked slab of my shortbread cookie dough, pour on some melted 70% cocoa chocolate, and make millionaire’s shortbread that’s out of this world.
A note of caution for safety’s sake – melted, caramelizing sugar is very, very, very hot. Avoid splatting it on yourself, and don’t be tempted to – gods forbid! – lick the spoon. Or touch it with fingers. Just – don’t. Luckily, it’s also very heavy so until you are adding the cream, it doesn’t tend to boil up or spit much (it will a little when you add butter too, but not a lot), so I’ve not even bothered using long sleeves here – others recommend those. If you do get a splat on yourself from careless waving of the molten-sugar-coated spoon, stick the hand or whatever you splatted under running cold water immediately and let it run for a while.