Deep, dark, gooey, sticky and sometimes tricky, caramel lends itself to versatile use in baking and desserts in general. That gorgeous deep hue and the assertive caramel flavor is what it takes to make caramel based desserts look and taste good. Neither an undercooked caramel which is barely there like in my Caramel Custard or an overcooked burnt one (thankfully, I don't have an example of that on my blog!) will do. We need to cook it just right!
Using basic caramel, you can make caramel shards and spun sugar as attractive garnishes for your desserts. If toffee is your flavor, you will love caramel sauce drizzled over your brownies, ice cream, crepes, pancakes, cakes and most sweet things you can think of. Except of course kheer or your favorite halwa.
Having had trouble earlier getting my caramel right, I thought I must share the recipe and method which has consistently worked best for me.
Caramel can be a wet caramel or a dry one. Dry caramel is just heating sugar it until it caramelizes. It is quicker to make, but there is the risk of your sugar burning easily. A wet caramel takes some time, but you are less likely to burn it as the water offers some protection. A splash of lime juice helps prevent crystallization.
If you watch this video on Fine Cooking you don't even need to read the recipe below. You will get your caramel right - just make sure you follow the instructions to the T. Most important, DO NOT stir the sugar mixture at any point of time, just swirl the saucepan. Wash down any sugar crystals on the sides to avoid grainy caramel. Do decide the flavor you need beforehand - light or assertive so that you cook it to the right stage.
Getting ready : You will need
- A fairly large (2 quart / 2 liters capacity) light colored heavy bottomed saucepan with a handle
- A pastry brush sitting in half a cup of water
- A white plate on the counter
- A spoon
- A dish half filled with cold water. You will be plunging the saucepan into this to arrest the cooking process.
- Ramekins or cake tin, dried and ready on the counter if the caramel is for Creme Caramel.
- A fine meshed metal strainer suspended on a heat proof bowl, in case you need to strain it.
Sugar - 200 grams / 1 cup
Water - 60 ml / 1/4 cup
Lime juice - 1/4 teaspoon
- Take the sugar, water and lime juice in the saucepan. On medium heat, bring it to a boil. (If in doubt, err on the side of lower heat levels). Keep washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the saucepan with the wet pastry brush. Remember, do not stir. Swirl if needed.
- Keep boiling for about 5-8 minutes and you will start seeing a change in the color at the edges. Keep washing the crystals down. Swirl periodically. This will help even out the color and also avoid burning at the hot spots.
- To test as you see the color change, take a tiny bit of the caramel and drop it on the plate. You will see different shades as the caramel cooks.
- It will go from light amber to medium amber to dark amber, the flavor stronger as the color deepens. This transition happens really fast, so stay there! Light amber colored caramel has a lighter flavor, dark amber will have a slight bitter edge which is desirable.
- When the caramel turns a dark amber, take the saucepan off the heat and immediately plunge it into the cold water. Be careful not to splash water into the caramel. The caramel stays liquid - but only for a few minutes, so you have to use it up really fast!
To make caramel sauce : Smooth, creamy and sweet, this is a sauce you will love for its toffee flavor! All you need to do here is first make the caramel and then add some cream and butter. As simple as that. Be sure the butter and cream are at room temperature or you will be 'shocking' the caramel, and the texture will suffer. Don't worry, the taste will still be good!
(For caramel - Sugar - 200 grams / 1 cup
Water - 60 ml / 1/4 cup
Lime juice - 1/4 teaspoon)
Unsalted butter, very soft - 56 grams / 4 tablespoons
Salt - 1/4 teaspoon(or to taste) optional
Cream, at room temperature ( I have used Amul) - 180 ml / 3/4 cup (please read note)
- First, keep the butter out of the refrigerator, make sure its really soft. If the cream is cold, warm it slightly so that it comes to room temperature.
- Make the caramel. When the caramel turns medium amber or dark amber (as you prefer), let the caramel remain in the saucepan over low heat. Add in all the butter (and salt if using) at once. Stir with the spatula to melt it completely. It may bubble up, so be careful.
- Once all the butter is melted, take the sauce pan off the heat (leave the gas on), add in all the cream at one go. The caramel will bubble up high, and it may seize. Keep mixing and return the saucepan to the heat. Mix any seized up caramel back into the sauce, scraping the sides and bottom of the saucepan as you go. The sauce may appear to be still bubbling at this point, but will be smooth once you take it off the heat.
- Take off the heat, check the smoothness, add the vanilla.
- If your sauce is not smooth enough, you can try pushing it through a fine meshed strainer. Cool completely and store airtight in the refrigerator. It will continue to thicken as it cools.
- In the video, the butter is added to the sauce after the cream is added. I found that adding the butter to the caramel directly first gives a smoother sauce. (This is what most other recipes recommend)
- The sauce supposedly keeps for a few days (not sure exactly how many, a week at a conservative guess. Reheat in the microwave on high power for 20-30 seconds. Serve drizzled over anything you please!
The sauce has an assertive toffee flavor, is sweet and quite thick. I may add 1 cup of cream next time to thin it down a bit. If adding salt ( a good idea as it will help cut down the sweetness), you are supposed to add it along with the butter. In that case, mix the two together before you begin.
Think about all you can do with caramel as the base. And do bottle up some sauce for summer, you are sure to find some uses for it!