I’m not huge on store-bought caramel or the squeeze container stuff that you get a lot of places. Boo. Not dark enough, it’s just sweet and yellow. That’s no good. I do like a nice dark caramel and I can even forgive a little graininess if the taste is there. I went out to eat the other night and had something for dessert, if I’m being honest, I don’t even know what it was. It was good, however the caramel sauce made me want to flip the table over, with all the other food on it. I wasn’t the only one. It was a bit grainy, but it was perhaps the best caramel I’ve ever had, and that’s no joke. It was dark, it had that whole “real” caramelization thing going on. It was the only thing I remember about the dessert. Three days later, it’s still the only thing I remember. Such is the way with things that are done right, or even 3/4 right if they’re really spot on.
I decided to mess around with caramel a bit, just to see how close I could get to what I had the other night. Pretty dang close it turns out, and mine isn’t grainy to boot. Score one for me. There are two methods to making caramel. A wet and a dry method. The wet method involves mixing water and sugar, heating it up, and basically cooking out the water. The dry method involves just sugar in a pan. Being of simple constitution myself, I went the dry route. It’s fairly easy I think, and it worked for me, so why not you?
Before you start I suppose I should give you the standard caramel warnings. Hot sugar is like napalm. If it splatters on you, your neighbors – several blocks away, will know. A good idea is to have a large bowl filled with ice water next to your cooking area. That way if you land a glob of this weapon on your skin, you can dunk the offending body part and stop the burning. I’m usually a safety third kinda guy, but I went with this suggestion. I did the same for wearing a long-sleeved shirt. Sounded like a good idea (and truth be told I was already wearing one.) When you get to the butter/cream steps it also froths quite a bit. And quite angrily. So use a deep pan – preferably with rather thick/strong construction. I used a little pan but I cut the recipe in half, mainly because I’m the only one that likes caramel around here, so why go nutty and waste it. I did not have one problem or accident. I did however, approach it as though I were handling a thermonuclear device.
Caramel does not like impurities. So clean your pan or pot of choice very well. I mean very well. One stray speck of onion or basil and you’re in trouble. Sugar likes to crystallize, any impurity will give it all the opportunity it needs. So don’t give it one. I cut the recipe below in half, so go at it however you like. It’s fairly cheap and fairly easy, but if it’s your first time you may want to go at it easy, just in case you make a pan of black carbon.
Another quick aside before we get started. I use cane sugar, almost exclusively. Supposedly there are fewer impurities in it than beet sugar. If your bag of sugar says cane sugar on the front – it’s cane sugar. If it just says “sugar” chances are it’s beet sugar. I doubt it really makes all that much difference to be honest, but it’s worth noting, if nothing else. I also doubt I could taste the difference or differentiate the two in any way if you put them in front of me – blind taste test style – for what it’s worth.
Drop your sugar into the pan and set the heat at medium-ish. On my electric I started at 4, and it seemed like I might see my next birthday before it started to melt. So I went to 5 and a half and that was the ticket. It’ll slowly start to liquefy. If you’ve got a silicone spatula, this is a great place for it. Start to slowly work from the edges and bring the outsides in. The less you stir and agitate the thing, the better off you are. Air bubbles can make the thing crystallize as well. So go slow and easy, but don’t, whatever you do, let it burn. Burning means you throw it into the trash. That simple. So if you feel a little safer at a lower heat setting, by all means. You will get your own little puddle of liquid magma after a while. There may be a few stubborn chunks of sugar left over. They will melt out if you give them a bit of a stir.
You can use a thermometer, like a candy thermometer, or a digital one. I didn’t. The supposed method for making this really easy for both of us, is heat it until it starts to smoke. Then go a bit further. It’ll be a dark-ish amber brown – a really nice caramel looking color at that point. Give it a few more seconds, and then take it off the heat. Immediately add the butter….whisk it around (do remember that whole frothing angrily portion). As soon as that’s melted all the way in – slowly add the cream. Again remember the whole frothing angrily thing. Keep whisking until you’ve got a nice uniform consistency. Then stop. You’re done! You can use it right away (I dare you not to take giant spoonfuls of this and repeatedly eat them while no one is looking…)
I let it cool a little bit and then get it into a plastic container of some sort and store it in the fridge. It’ll hang out for a good two weeks in there and cause no trouble. It can be easily re-heated in the microwave or on the stove-top before you use it. It goes nicely with just about anything, ice cream, chocolate cake, cookies, naked by itself on a spoon….whatever. Once you mess around with it once or twice it’s amazing how second nature and easy it becomes as well. So banish that squeeze bottle of store-bought yellow-sugar-water to some other poor bloke, and make yourself some real-deal caramel sauce.
- 1 Cup White Sugar
- 6 Tablespoons of Butter
- 1/2 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream
- Oh, and be careful!