A recent baking project involving caramel bread pudding and bourbon caramel sauce challenged me twice to make caramel sauce. And each try resulted in a fail: crystallization. Being able to make a decent caramel sauce seemed essential, so I set about to learn more. Websites and blogs offered up the science behind caramel making as well as the tips and tricks I was looking for.
Overstirring (or even stirring at all once the mixture is boiling) promised crystallization (ah ha) as did too much sugar syrup building up on the insides of the pot. Standard wisdom says to occasionally brush the inside pan surfaces down with a wet pastry brush to prevent the syrup from adhering and building crystals.
I’d tried this method before and it always seemed a bit tricky and precarious. How often is “occasionally”? If the wet sides were brushed back into the boiling syrup, would they crystallize the whole mess? What about when the bristles fall off the brush into the syrup? (I can’t be the only one this has happened to.) Silicone brushes were advised against in my reading, so I didn’t go there. One tip that promised to solve these issues was advice to cover the pot as it boiled, which would create steam to wash down the inside of the pan. I tentatively gave this method a try–it worked!
Cooking with a covered pot seemed to slow the browning (not as much evaporation, not as much browning–makes sense) and I had to cook it for twice the recommended time before seeing even a hint of darkening. Even after four batches I hadn’t progressed much past a very light blond. The intro for Salted Caramel Sauce in Kir Jensen’s The Sugar Cube (highly recommend–love this book) convinced me I wanted a deep, dark, near-burnt flavor. This takes more bravery–and better judgement–than I’ve had thus far; I’ve taken my sugar syrups off the heat before they brown much at all. Maybe the fifth time will be the charm? In the meantime, I have more than enough caramel sauce–even at blonde, it’s divine–to get me by. Though if any of you have caramel tips to share, please send them my way. There’s always room for a better caramel sauce.
Salted Caramel Sauce
Adapted from Kir Jensen’s The Sugar Cube. Jensen recommends straining the caramel syrup just before adding the vanilla, though I skipped this step.
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons fleur de sel
2 cups heavy cream, warmed
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
In deep heavy-bottomed pot, combine sugar, water, and fleur de sel; stir until well mixed. Bring to a boil over high heat, swirling pot occasionally. Cover pot; boil, swirling pot occasionally (but do not stir), until caramel is deep mahogany in color and just on the verge of burning. (Can’t give you a time as I’ve yet to achieve this deep brown color–it’s more than 15 minutes.)
Immediately remove pot from heat. Gradually whisk in cream in a steady stream. (mixture will bubble up and spit–keep whisking) Stir in vanilla. Cool to thicken. Serve warm or at room temperature. Refrigerate up to one week.