Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Easy Salted Caramel Sauce

If there's one recipe that you must know (next to my Perfect Shiny Crust Fudge Brownies), it's this homemade Salted Caramel Sauce!

Caramel sauce can elevate any dessert - even one you didn't make!

Store-bought pound cake can be taken to the next level with a drizzle of caramel, and a pint of your favourite vanilla bean ice cream transforms into an elegant dessert. Pair that ice cream with a warm fudgy brownie and that's called HEAVEN!

Caramel sauce is relatively easy to make once you get the hang of the technique. It's really about getting used to the transformations... like knowing how dark to cook the sugar and how often to swirl the pan so that there aren't any sugar crystals forming on the sides. Adding cream to the hot caramel sugar syrup may seem daunting at first, but once you get familiar with the fact that it bubbles up vigorously (and you get over the scare the first time), then it all starts to feel normal. It's about knowing what to expect.

How to prevent caramel from turning grainy:

1. Add an invert sugar like honey, corn syrup or liquid glucose. What is invert sugar? It's a liquid sugar that contains the simple individual sugar molecules (glucose and fructose) that sucrose (granulated sugar) is made out of. When there are lots of these simple sugars floating around, it's harder for sucrose molecules to build up on themselves and crystallize. Corn syrup also contains larger sugar molecules (called oligosaccharides) which can physically interfere with sucrose molecules and prevent them from coming together and clumping.

2. Add acid. Acid ingredients (like vinegar or lemon juice) can help prevent re-crystallization which causes caramel to become grainy. Acid physically breaks the bonds between the glucose and fructose molecules that form sucrose and ensure that it stays apart. By adding a little lemon juice to the sugar and then heating it, you are essentially creating invert sugar in your pan.

3. Place water in the pan first, then add the sugar on top of the water. By respecting this order, the sugar dissolves more readily and evenly.

4. Let sugar dissolve gently first over medium-low heat before increasing heat to boil the syrup and create caramel.

How to make homemade caramel sauce:

There are two methods - wet caramel vs. dry caramel. This recipe today is the wet caramel version which means sugar dissolves in water before caramelizing. This slows the process so that you can control how dark you want the sauce to be. Dry caramel is cooked in a dry saucepan with no water added until it melts and caramelizes - in this method the reaction is faster and always produces a very dark caramel.

1. Pour water into a saucepan and add sugar over the water.

2. Add lemon juice and corn syrup or honey.

3. Cook until the sugar dissolves, it bubbles and turns to a clear syrup. Do not stir. Continue to cook until it begins to change to a golden colour. Swirl the pan gently as necessary to help it cook and colour evenly.

4. When the syrup turns amber (up to the colour of a copper penny), remove from heat and carefully pour in hot cream. Heating the cream will help to prevent the syrup from clumping (adding cold cream to hot caramel will cease the syrup). It will bubble up violently as the moisture from the cream immediately evaporates, so just keep back a bit. Whisk or stir until the sauce is smooth.

5. Return the pan to medium heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes until slightly thickened.

6. Stir in butter, vanilla and salt.

VOILA! - Caramel sauce a la carte :) It will keep in the fridge for weeks - I like to store mine in a mason jar.

Easy Salted Caramel Sauce
makes about 1 ¼ cups

½ cup (120ml) 35% whipping cream
2 tbsp (30ml) water
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar 
squeeze of lemon juice
1 tbsp (15ml) light corn syrup or honey
2 tbsp (28g) unsalted butter
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt

Place cream in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and keep warm or warm it in the microwave.

Add water to a 2-quart heavy duty saucepan with high sides. Add corn syrup and lemon juice, then pour in sugar over the water. Place over medium-low heat until it begins to bubble around the sides and sugar is mostly dissolved. Increase heat to medium-high and cool until it turns to a clear syrup. Do not stir. Once it starts to turn golden, swirl the pan to help it colour evenly. Reduce heat slightly and continue to cook until it turns amber. This will take 6-8 minutes. Continue to swirl the pan as needed to promote even colouring.

Remove the pan from the heat and carefully slowly add the hot cream while stirring or whisking constantly. The mixture will bubble up, so be cautious. Continue stirring to make sure there are no lumps and the caramel is well dissolved. Stir in butter, vanilla and salt. Transfer caramel sauce to a clean bowl or jar to cool completely. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.
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