Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Delicious, delicious chemistry. (Homemade Caramels and Caramel Sauce)

I've been making a lot of caramel lately. Yes, it's pure sugar and fat, but isn't it one of the more delicious ways to ingest a combo of sugar and fat? Also, in the caramel making process, there's something amazing about the way plain ol' sugar (although I've been using a nice, unrefined, organic evaporated cane juice sugar lately) goes from a white, grainy substance to a smooth, rich, deep amber-colored substance. And in the first recipe I'm about to post, it does so without the addition of anything except heat and motion. First the sugar starts clumping together a bit, and as it heats up more, it eventually liquifies and then darkens. Yup, I make caramel for the chemistry. (Delicious, delicious chemistry.)

This first recipe, for caramel sauce, came from a salted caramel brownie recipe (and, in fact, I've already posted it in that context). Now, however, I've stopped adding the salt and started adding vanilla, and I just make the sauce without the brownies (is twice a week overkill?). I put it on ice cream, eat it with apples, eat it plain, put it in my coffee, and my small group members just drizzled it over their butter-and-salt popcorn. This recipe for caramel sauce is also dangerously easy and fast: no long boiling times, no candy thermometers or dropping lava-hot sugar into a glass of water (not that I've ever done that anyway). If you dare make it, be prepared to share it or you might eat it all in one sitting and then go back to make some more.

Caramel Sauce
(recipe originally from here)

Prep/Cook Time: 10 minutes

1 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature [I accidentally used an entire stick of butter this last time (8 tablespoons) and it was possibly even more rich and delicious, and it wasn't even greasy like I feared. Also, I think you can use either salted or unsalted butter -- it calls for unsalted, but I always use salted.)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup heavy cream, at room temperature

In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the sugar over medium-high heat, whisking as the sugar begins to melt. Some of the sugar will harden into clumps, but that’s okay – it will melt eventually – just keep whisking. Continue to cook the sugar until it reaches a dark amber color. Add the butter all at once and whisk until it is completely incorporated into the sugar. Remove the pan from the heat and pour in the heavy cream and vanilla (it will foam up when first added). Continue to whisk until it forms a smooth sauce.

Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before using. The leftover sauce can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. (You’ll probably need to warm it up a bit straight from the refrigerator.)

I've also made multiple batches of these caramels over the last few months. I made them for HH to take to Asia for a work project, and the unanimous feedback from recipients was that they were a big hit (they may have even been the subject of a haiku in which they were compared to the sun's gold and called a delectable treasure). I won't copy over her entire recipe, since I follow it pretty much to the letter. I always use sweetened condensed milk instead of cream; I heat them to about 242-243 degrees (lower than she says because I like my caramels really soft and gooey); and I usually stick whole cashews into leftover blobs of caramel because cashews and caramel are a match made in heaven.

So there you go, two trusty caramel recipes that are big hits around here these days. If you happen to get some from us for Christmas, please act surprised. It's entirely possible that I could still be in the thick of this caramel kick two months from now.

1 comment:

Addie said...

I haven't made the caramels yet, but soon. SOON, my pretty! I love chemistry.

However, all I ever buy is unsalted butter, and the caramel sauce definitely either needs salted butter or salt. It's just missing a tiny touch of that complexity. I mean, I ate it anyway, but I'd be remiss if I didn't help refine your recipe. :)