This was a first for me – making a bona fide caramel sauce. I’ve made a basic caramel a few times, but not with the added cream and butter.
And, may I say, it’s as divine a concoction as ever existed. Deep, dark and ever so slightly bitter. The trick is all in knowing when to take if off the boil.
And, this is where I need to confess that I’ve come back to this post three years later to edit it. In my original post, I waxed lyrical about using a thermometer in order to tell when the caramel is done. However, many, many caramels later, I can honestly say that a thermometer is actually not particularly helpful. You need to eye-ball a caramel to know when it’s done, and that knowledge really only comes through making it A LOT.
So, ditch the thermometer and get to know the stages of caramel making. Here’s some tips:
- At first, the caramel (technically speaking, a sugar syrup) will be very bubbly – loads of fast moving, small bubbles, making lots of noise
- After a while, the bubbles will start to quieten down – they’ll get bigger and move more slowly
- The colour will start to change very subtly – from colourless to a very light amber… that’s when you need to start watching it like a hawk
- The amber colour will start becoming more prominent. If the colour is uneven, it’s a good idea to gently (and carefully) swirl the pan to distribute the burning sugar evenly
- The colour will move into a medium amber colour. You’re not done yet though, keep going…
- Now the caramel moves into a deeper amber – like a bright copper penny. You really want to allow the caramel to go a little deeper yet… And, don’t forget to swirl the pan if the sugar is burning unevenly.
- The final stage sees the caramel deepen even further to a dark amber brown. And very importantly, you’ll notice a puff or two of smoke coming off the surface, plus a good whiff of the caramel. You can take it off right then and there if you want but, if you feel confident, just push it a moment or two beyond that point. That’s when the caramel takes on a much more sophisticated flavour – dark, slightly bitter, but definitely NOT burned!
I hope that helps. If you’re new to caramel making, it might take you a few shots to get it right. And, hey, should you make a slip-up and burn it, don’t worry… finding out at what point a caramel burns is actually a useful lesson, and at the end of the day, you’ve only wasted a cup of sugar!
Yields about 1.5 cups
Ingredients: (click here for unit converter)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 3/4 – 1 cup cream (depending how light you want it)
- 45g salted butter (or if you use unsalted butter, you can add in ¼ teaspoon of salt at the end)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- To make the caramel sauce: Add the sugar and water in a medium-large saucepan (you need the high sides to contain the caramel once you add the cream) over low heat. Stir carefully with a metal spoon until the sugar dissolves. Have a glass of water handy with a pastry brush and brush down any sugar granules that build up on the sides of the pan (if you don’t, the mixture may seize).
- Once the sugar is dissolved, the liquid is looking clear, and there are no sugar granules on the sides of the pan, turn up the heat to med/high and put your spoon away – you don’t want to be stirring at all. As the mixture heats up the bubbles will get fast and furious, but will start slowing down after a while. This part of the process can take 5-10 minutes.
- After a while, you’ll see the colour gradually change to a light amber. To ensure the sugar gets cooked evenly, you will probably need to give the pan a gentle swirl from time to time. The sugar will then move into a medium amber, and then through to a darker amber (like a copper penny). Allow it to deepen further until a puff or two of smoke comes off the surface (you can take it off the heat at this point, or you can push it just a moment or two more to deepen the flavour).
- Take it off the heat straight away, grab a whisk and while whisking, carefully add the cream in a fine, steady stream – the mixture will bubble up very quickly, but don’t panic, this is normal and will settle down again in a moment. Just be careful – the mixture is extremely hot and could give you a nasty burn. Should you find the caramel seizes, simply put it back on the heat and whisk until it smoothes out again.
- Next, carefully add the butter (be careful not to splash yourself) and whisk. Then add the vanilla extract and whisk again. If you want to add salt, you can do that now.
- Let the caramel cool, then pour it into an airtight container. You can store it in the fridge (where it will thicken) for up to two weeks. When you need to serve it, you will probably need to heat it up in the microwave for a half minute or more to make it pourable.
Food Photography Info: Canon 550D (EOS Rebel T2i); Canon 50mm 1.8 lens / Natural lighting