Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Making Caramel

I've always ignored the idea of making "dessert sauces." What do I need a sauce for if I have a good dessert? But I've recently changed my mind. I made some cashew brittle shortbread this week, and planned to serve it with ice cream. But then I thought of those caramel cashew paws I used to sell at my college candy store job. Then I thought of the homemade caramels my friend Kelsey used to make in high school. Then I thought, cashew shortbread over ice cream drenched in caramel sauce!

So I scoured the internet, reading post after post about how intimidating caramel is and how it shouldn't be so intimidating. How it's really hard but actually not that hard. How you have to trust your nose and eyes and wear protective safety gear.

My first batch, featured here, worked out pretty well. For some reason one of the jars looks better than the other, but that jar looks and smells amazing. I think the cooking would've been more even if I had a sturdier saucepan, but such is life.

In the recipe below, I am drawing on David Lebovitz for the safety ideas, and Smitten Kitchen for the main recipe.

Caramel Dessert Sauce
1 cup sugar
6 TBSP butter
1/2 cup + 2 TBSP heavy cream, at room temperature

1. Use a large (2-3 quart) saucepan. Don't use a smaller one, the mixture will eventually be foaming like crazy. Be sure your saucepan is very clean. Put on oven mitts, a long sleeve shirt, and sunglasses or glasses. Fill a bowl with ice water in case you get a bit of the hot hot hot sugar on you and need to stop the burn. (I didn't have any trouble, but I was prepared!)
2. Pour the sugar into the saucepan and begin heating it over the highest setting of your medium heat.
3. Let the sugar melt to achieve a coppery color, swirling it around in the pan so it cooks evenly. You'll be tempted to stir it a lot, but this will just cause grainy clumps. You can draw the sugar back a bit from the edges of the pan at first (with a whisk or high heat spatula) so that the same sugar isn't always exposed to high heat at the edges.
4. Once the sugar is melted to the a deep dark orange-red but before it burns, whisk in all the butter (still over the heat). The mixture will foam, just keep stirring.
5. Then remove the butter/sugar mixture from the heat and whisk in the cream.
6. Let cool and thicken for a while, then pour into a glass jar or over ice cream or over whatever your caramel-complementing dessert might be!

Store in the refrigerator.

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