Friday, December 28, 2012

(Salted) Caramel Sauce

The salty and sweet combo seems to be really trendy these days, especially in cupcake shops. Personally, I love a good salted caramel because my sweet tooth is on the smaller side so I like that the salt cuts down the cloyingly sweet caramel but also helps bring out its flavors.

Today, I'm sharing a recipe for a super easy caramel sauce. It's pretty fool-proof (because you do not need a candy thermometer) but it is still impressive. This sauce would be great as an ice cream topping or sandwiched between some macarons, or as a substitute for frosting, which is how I used it over the weekend.

Ingredients [makes about 1/4 cup of caramel sauce]
1/3 cup granulated sugar (I used vanilla sugar, so if you see little brown flecks in the photo diary below, it's bits of vanilla bean)
1/4 cup heavy cream (the amount of cream you use will dictate how thick or thin your sauce is so if you want something more loose, with a consistency that can be drizzled use a bit more cream, up to 1/2 cup)
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
Okay, so first, I started by baking some mini cupcakes, using my wooden spoon chocolate cake recipe.

But let's quickly move onto how to make the actual caramel sauce. Start with a CLEAN and dry (smaller size) saucepan. Pour in the sugar and put it over a medium-low flame. You want it to be hot enough to melt the sugar but not so hot that everything burns in seconds - if you are unsure, I'd say that it's better to err on the side of too cool instead of too warm so go for a super low flame. Use a whisk (or heat resistant spatula) to stir around the sugar a bit so that each crystal has a chance to get close to the heat. After two or three minutes, the sugar will start to form small clumps. When the sugar reaches the clumpy stage, you'll want to perk up and start whisking more often and more vigorously to make sure everything is heating up evenly. Eventually, after a minute or so, all of the sugar will liquefy. By the way, this dry method of making caramel is great because you don't have to worry about crystallization.
Once the sugar is completely melted, continue whisking for another minute until it becomes a lovely amber color (obviously it shouldn't be overly brown and burnt). At this point, pour in the heavy cream and just leave it alone for a few seconds. The heat from the sugar will bring the cream almost immediately to a boil and it will start to bubble pretty furiously.
At this point, whisk the cream and melted sugar together and then remove from the heat.
The caramel sauce will continue bubbling for a few minutes after it's removed form the heat and that is okay. And this is a good time to add in the salt. If you want a regular caramel sauce, omit this step.
Leave the sauce alone to cool for 10 to 15 minutes. This sauce works best while it's still a bit warm. As it cools, it will get more and more solid (though the final room temperature consistency will be a function of how much cream you used).
Now, let me finish up showing you how I used my caramel sauce. I decided that these crunchy sprinkles would be a nice touch. By the way, I need to tell you a short story about these nonpareils. I was in the 'baking goods' aisle of my grocery store and saw these tiny 4 oz. bottles of assorted sprinkles (Cake Mate brand) on sale at 2 for $4 so I grabbed a few. Then, by pure chance, I remembered that I needed to pick up some pepper jelly so I headed to the bread/jam aisle where they also store the ice cream toppings. 'Lo and behold, a HUGE 13 oz. jar of nonpareils (and other assorted sprinkles) for $2.50! Needless to say, I grabbed that giant jar because I love these little sprinkles and I know I will use up that whole thing.
To decorate my mini cupcakes, I just dipped the top part into the caramel sauce and then right into the nonpareils.
Let's get a closer shot, shall we? How pretty does that look?
I left a few without sprinkles but most of them I couldn't help but give them a dip.
The caramel will definitely ooze a bit, but it won't drip. The texture is smooth and soft and chewy, which actually goes deliciously well with the sprinkles.
Here's the recipe page, if you need it:

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