Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Sticky Situation: Homemade Caramel Sauce

The snow started to really fly today - all day - here in Tijeras, and that can only lead to one thing: Me in the kitchen, trying something new. (The only time I'm not cold from September to March is when I'm in the kitchen.)

Today, I had my sights set on trying something that I'd been salivating over for more than three weeks: Apples dipped in caramel. Now, the rest of the American world might have just bought some prepared sauce, but after the research I'd done, it just didn't look that hard. Nor would it cost as much as the jarred sauce.

Besides, it's fun to try new things!

I read recipes and tips. I bought the missing ingredient (in this case, all I was lacking was heavy cream). I read about a hundred different ways to go about it. And I narrowed it down to two. Two different methods and recipes that appeared everywhere on the web. Unlike so many of the other recipes that I track down and meld two, three or four into one, these two were apparently the culmination of either the 1) "Easy" method or, 2) "The traditional" method. There were hundreds of identical recipes for each, but there was no "blend" like I normally see, so in my mind there were only two ways to go about it: Easy, or Traditional.

For reasons that elude me now, I decide to go the traditional route.

Mistake. BIG mistake.

The recipe that I used first is here, but make no mistake - the author of that post is NOT at fault in the outcome of my creation; I am. It turns out that candy making, which this essentially is, is an art. The recipe advised that I should use a candy thermometer (which, ironically, I actually had because of a previous craft project including wax and candles, but I digress), and I did, but it still didn't work out well. Let me explain.

The "traditional" method of making caramel sauce is to take your standard granulated sugar and "melt" it into liquid, then lightly brown it to "carmellize" it and add flavor. Sounds easy enough, right? No, not so much. I had liquid coming in at the edge of my pan, and I followed the instructions and tried to whisk all the sugar together, but all I had was a bunch of carmellized clumps of sugar, and NO liquid. And it was carmellizing FAST! My goal temperature (for the melted liquid sugar) was 350°F, and I hit it way before I had liquid sugar. The color looked good, but I had a pan full of sugar clumps (plus a TON of them stuck to the side of the pan that would have taken a culinary-grade chisel to get off). [I really wish I'd taken pictures!]

Being a cook by nature (not a chef, certainly not a candy master), my first thought was "add some liquid to dissolve," so I did, by way of the butter. This was NOT a good solution - no clumps disappeared AND now I had oil floating on top of them.

At this point I must have been making noises in the kitchen. My husband called in, "Do you need some help?"

"No," I replied, "I need a miracle." This was a total failure, without doubt, unequivocably.

Looking over my whisking shoulder, we went over the possibilities as I realized that this particular culinary event was going to be a total failure.

(Again, if you could see it, you would really understand.) I had a bowl full of little brown bits of sugar and a ton of butter floating on top.

After little debate, we decided to try the microwave. 3 minutes at level 1 (10% of full microwave power).  I was amazed that many of the clumps had disappeared and become syrup. Success looked to be at hand!

Several successive minutes at same low power level produced similar results, until it was ready to put back into the pan, where I whisked it merciously to get the butter to actually incorporate and then added the heavy cream and salt.

The result: Something like a Heath bar. Dark, heavy caramel, with just a hint of burnt. I was not impressed.

Of course, this was all on me: too high a heat, altitude changes things like this, etc., etc.

I'll revisit this recipe again another day.

After a boiling of the pan ( the ONLY way to get the burnt-on sugar off), I decided to try the alternate - even though it felt like a cheat. Here's what I finally did (cuz it worked!):

EASY Salted Caramel Sauce Recipe:

Over Medium-Low heat, in saucepan, combine, whisking until combined:

  • 1/2 Stick UNSalted Butter, mostly melted (Or, melt first, turn off heat, then add other ingredients, whisk and turn the heat back on - at least, that's what I did)
  • 1 tsp. Good Sea Salt (shop here)
  • 1 Cup Light Brown Sugar (use whatever brown sugar you have on hand - the darker the sugar, the darker the final result; tastes about the same - I had regular Brown Sugar; flavor was awesome, but I wish the color had been lighter so my mind would have equated it more to my memory of it.)
  • 1/2 Cup Heavy Cream (aka, Whipping Cream; don't take regular milk and turn it into this - it's not the same; fresh cream milk - if you own a cow - would, however, work perfectly)

Whisk until well combined, Then (& only then), turn the heat to high, bring to boil, then immediately lower the heat to simmer and let simmer for EXACTLY 6 minutes, stirring / or whisking about once every minute or two.

After 6 minutes of simmering, remove from heat, add 1/8th to 1/4 tsp. Real Vanilla (careful - it will bubble up!), stir in and then just wait for it to cool and enjoy.

IN SUMMARY:
If you don't have the time to fail, just go with the "easy" version - no one will be disappointed and there's no room for failure. In the future I WILL try the "traditional" version again - if not for caramel sauce, then just to know how to make a decent candy base in general. Besides, what am I going to do with this candy thermometer if I don't?

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