Somehow I had yet to jump on the salted caramel train until today. It’s not that I have anything against it; I’ve honestly just been a little gun shy about making my own caramel since consistently burning it throughout cooking school. I’m such an embarrassment to culinary professionals everywhere. Caramel is easy. It’s certainly not rocket science but it blows my mind every time. Not sure what my problem is…I follow the directions for temperature, time, constant whisking and timely heat removal. I even strap a candy thermometer onto the side of my saucepan to make the whole thing fail-proof. Still no luck. Burnt caramel every single time. This happened as recently as yesterday! I made a two-cup batch of the stuff that tasted like a marshmallow that’s been toasted a little (LOT!) too long in a smoky bonfire. Still sweet, but the ashy outer layer is a complete buzz kill. Please see the color difference between a perfect caramel and one that has been burned. This will help you when you give it a shot and you see the color start to develop.
So what have I learned, you ask? I’ve learned what I already knew to be true but often forget when it comes to cooking something that’s slightly outside of my comfort zone. Trust your instincts. If the heat seems too high it probably is. If the color is getting darker and darker but the candy thermometer still hasn’t reached 350 degrees, throw that thermometer out! And lastly, if your nose is telling you that something is burning but you haven’t been whisking for the allotted 5 minutes, take the pan off the heat…NOW!
Taking all of this into consideration I decided to try my hand at another batch of caramel using nothing but the appropriate ingredients and common sense. Surprise of all surprises- it worked! I threw out the whisk and used a silicone spatula to stir melting sugar, turned the heat down to medium-low (some recipes say medium-high!!), and removed the whole thing from the heat the second the butter was fully incorporated and BEFORE adding the heavy cream. Enter perfect caramel. I also opted to use salted butter and just a small teaspoon of fine sea salt instead of the tablespoon of Maldon Sea Salt I used in the previous inedible batch. This made a huge difference in texture AND flavor in my opinion. Subtlety versus knock-you-over the head with saltiness flavor. I’m extremely happy with how my Salted Caramel turned out and am already making a list of delicious ways to use it up. Stay tuned!
Subtle, Simple Salted Caramel
6 tablespoons salted sweet cream butter, cubed and at room temp
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, at room temp
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Heat a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium low heat. Add sugar and stir constantly with a silicone spatula. Nothing will happen for a very long time. You will doubt yourself and think about turning the heat up. Don’t. The sugar will slowly begin to brown, melt and clump. It will look like a pan full of sugar crystals and you will again begin to doubt yourself. Don’t. It will melt. ***Side note: Do NOT touch the melted sugar!! You will burn your finger and then your tongue when you quickly try to lick it off to stop the pain! I speak from experience.***
- The SECOND the sugar is completely melted with zero clumps remaining, stir in butter. Be careful because it will foam up and makes scary splattering noises. That’s ok! Keep stirring until completely incorporated. You might need to quickly switch to a whisk to get this to happen.
- As soon as the butter and sugar have combined and are looking like a sticky mess, remove from heat and slowly add in heavy cream. Whisk and whisk and whisk until smooth. Add salt and let cool slightly before handling. Pour into a mason jar to be extra cute about it. Pat yourself on the back for not screwing up! 🙂