Saturday, November 23, 2013

Sinfully Salted Caramel

I realized recently that I never really understood the "salted caramel" thing because I don't ever make caramel without salt to begin with. 

Hold on... I get the salted caramel thing because salt in caramel is out of this planet; they totally belong together and should never exist without each other. Hence, why I always add salt to my caramel anyway. But, I think it was a darn good marketing ploy!

Really, salt is necessary in anything sweet. Even in custards, cookies, brownies (definitely brownies!) and candy. It gives the dessert interest and complexity, otherwise it would be rather one-dimensional and motionless.

To really make salted caramel, we need to add heaps of salt. And I promise, it will not be salty. At the same time it will not be cloying - it will be perfect.

One teaspoon (5 grams) of salt sounds crazy, but it's fighting against 2 cups (400 grams) of sugar.

Caramel is incredible because it has the most sensational flavour but theoretically requires only one ingredient - sugar.

Caramelisation refers to the transformation of simple sugars, such as those that comprise regular table sugar, into a dark, rich amber coloured liquid. Heat causes sugar to break down into several flavourful and colourful compounds that produce the lovely flavours in this recipe.

Making caramel at home is actually very easy. 

Once the sugar and water are combined in a saucepan, apply heat and just swirl, not stir, once in a while to ensure even cooking. If you notice crystals building up along the sides of the pan, dip a pastry brush in water and brush down the sides to dissolve it. 

Glucose helps to prevent the reformation of sugar crystals that would make the caramel grainy or gritty. It does this by introducing a different type and size of sugar (single-unit sugar) in a liquid form to get in the way of the rest of the sucrose molecules (double-unit sugars) and prevent them from coming together to form larger crystals. 

Now be patient because it will take some time for the reaction to happen, and then be brave once it does! You need to familiarize yourself with the sweet spot. That's the point where the sugar is rich and dark but not burnt! If it is too light, it will taste of nothing much and if it is too dark it will taste bitter. 

A trick to know it is at the right spot is when the foam begins to subside at the surface. This is your cue to stir in the cream and be careful. I always recommend wearing an oven mitt on your stirring hand because very hot and quite dangerous steam builds vigorously as the intense heat of the caramel causes water to evaporate instantly from the cream.

TIP: Re-boiling the finished caramel removes even more moisture for a thicker, chewier and more luxurious sauce without over-cooking or burning the sugar.

Hot sugar is really HOT. That's because it has a very high melting point and so, once it becomes liquid, that means it has taken a lot of energy to reach that stage. It can reach temperature above 350 degrees F.

This gorgeous goo keeps famously in the fridge, ready for your next bowl of ice cream. Or on top of peanut butter toast? I'm all over that.

Sinfully Salted Caramel 
Makes about 2 cups

2 cups granulated sugar
2 tbsp glucose
6 tbsp water
1 cup 35% whipping cream
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp salt

In a medium 3 or 4-quart saucepan, pour sugar in a single layer. Add glucose and drizzle water around the inside edges of the pan. Bring this mixture to a boil over medium heat without stirring. Continue to cook until caramel is a rich dark amber color, 15-20 minutes, swirling pan to colour evenly. The mixture will change from granular-looking to a liquid syrup. Wash down the sides of pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to dissolve any crystals that may form.

When caramel is almost ready, the large bubbles will subside and a golden brown foam will appear at the surface around the edges. Remove caramel from heat and very carefully stir in cream until smooth. Be cautious as the caramel will bubble up violently and create lots of steam. Place the pan back over low heat and bring to a gentle boil again while stirring constantly. Boil for 30 seconds. Pour caramel into a heatproof bowl and stir in vanilla extract and salt. Allow to cool to room temperature before storing in the refrigerator in an air-tight container.

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