Ever make something because you had a craving for an ingredient? Of course you have. But I’m not talking something simple like an apple craving, I’m talking about an ingredient that needs to be made to use in another recipe. I’m probably not making much sense here. Salted Caramel. I’m addicted to the stuff. But you can’t just make it and eat it out of the jar with a spoon. At least not when my husband’s home–we’re still newly married enough that I pretend to be above those glutenous habits. So if you want caramel, you need to make it to go with something. Ice cream, cupcakes, fruit crisp. It really doesn’t matter. I’m hosting a dinner party next weekend and while I had no idea at first what I wanted to serve for dinner, I knew salted caramel was part of dessert.
The first time I made it, it was for a specific recipe. Literally 10 minutes (plus cooling time) to pure creamy caramel. After learning how simple it was to make, you could imagine my surprise when I was at Starbucks one afternoon waiting for my drink and happened to spot a package of caramel with an an ingredient list several lines long. Corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup was number one of course. I didn’t really understand. Caramel is sugar, water and cream. Then you have Starbucks caramel: CORN SYRUP, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, SUGAR, BUTTER (CREAM, SALT), CREAM, WATER, NONFAT DRY MILK, NATURAL FLAVOUR, MONO AND DIDLYCERIDES (4471), PRESERVATIVE: POTASSIUM SORBATE (E202), SOY LECITHIN (AN EMULSIFIER, E322), SODIUM BICARBONATE (E500ii).
I understand the need for preservatives to increase an item’s shelf life, but come on. Couldn’t it have been make with sugar, water, milk or cream plus preservatives and skip the extras? Natural flavor–my recipe had plenty of that without any fillers! I don’t think I could ever have the commercialized version again. (Disclaimer: this ingredient list is a direct cut and paste from Starbucks’ online store; I swear the product I saw IN STORE had a much longer ingredient list).
Making caramel does take a bit of skill. The first batch I ever made miraculously came out perfect. Beginner’s luck I guess because since then I’ve had a few bumps in the road. It also requires patience and a high level of attention. The process is only about 10 minutes but those few precious minutes are for the caramel ONLY. Don’t put stuff away in the kitchen, wash dishes, talk on the phone, or even worse LEAVE the room for something trivial like going to the bathroom. The caramel will be wasted. There’s nothing better than achieving fresh caramel. At the same time, there’s nothing WORSE than having a kitchen that smells like burned caramel.
- 2 1/4 c sugar
- 1/2 c water
- 2 c heavy cream
- 1/2 tsp vanilla (optional)
Put sugar in sauce pan. Add water to cover sugar. If necessary, swirl pot a bit so all sugar is wet. This should be the LAST time you touch the pot until you add the cream!
Bring sugar to a boil. Make sure your cream and vanilla are close by. Remember, all attention on the caramel.
Continue boiling the sugar for about 10 minutes until it starts to turn a dark golden amber color. If you’re using a candy thermometer, it should register 350°F.
Add the cream. The mixture will start boiling like crazy and threaten to over boil.
Stay calm and whisk the mixture rapidly until it all comes together.
Add vanilla off heat. Allow caramel to cool to room temperature (it will thicken as it cools). At this point you can add a tablespoon of sea salt to make salted caramel. I tend to keep the caramel pure and add sea salt when I use for specific recipes. Pour caramel into a container (I find mason jars work best) and store in refrigerator. It will last for a long time several weeks to months, but I don’t think I’ve ever been able to keep it around more than 2 weeks.
Now, you want to know what I’ll be using this beauty for, right? Too bad! No, just kidding. It will be part of Saturday’s dessert, but I don’t want to give away too much info in case my dinner guests are reading. You’ll just have to wait and see!