It took me three attempts to make a classic caramel sauce the other day. Not because caramel sauce is especially difficult to make, but because I still haven’t completely mastered the transition from a gas to glass-top stove. If I may say so, I was pretty good at making caramel on a gas stove; the new electric one is a different beast altogether. Fortunately, the third time was the charm, and now I have the confidence that future batches will deliver on the first try.
My first attempt, using organic cane sugar, turned out too milky in colour and without the depth of flavour that a caramel requires — I didn’t cook it long enough. It has an intriguing taste though, so perhaps I’ll find a good use for it. The second attempt, with granulated sugar, turned far too dark and left me with a bitter caramel — I cooked it too long. I may not be able to salvage this one, so I’ll chalk it up to experience. But, just like in the story of Goldilocks, the third batch came out just right. The caramel sauce is a deep, well, caramel colour, and the flavour is rich and even buttery, although there’s no butter in it. It also has a hint of bitterness, just how I like it.
And by the way, for a different take on caramel check out the coconut sugar caramel I made a couple of years ago.
When you make caramel, let your senses of sight and smell guide you. Keep in mind that the caramel will continue to develop due to the intense residual heat of the sugar even once you remove the pot from the burner. So, once the molten sugar reaches a colour that’s a little lighter than you want the final result to be, with sticky bubbles rising to the surface and the aroma just approaching, but not quite at, that burnt sugar smell, take the pot off the stove, sprinkle on the salt and carefully — very carefully to avoid painful splatters — stir in the cream to transform caramel into caramel sauce. Then return the pot to the burner to bring it all together, still stirring with care, and remove the pot to a trivet to cool as soon as the glorious mixture is bubbling again. Through this process, with some skill and a bit of luck your caramel sauce will turn out to be just what you were aiming for (or close enough!).
My caramel sauce is darker side than some you might have seen, to achieve the depth of flavour I prefer. If you don’t like that touch of bitterness, aim to make yours lighter than mine. The key for you is to make your caramel to suit your tastes, not mine!
Be prepared to experiment with a batch or two (or maybe even three) until you get the hang of what to look for and sniff for, and then you too will have mastered the knack of making crave-worthy caramel sauce.
You’ll be hearing a little later what I did with this sweet and luscious elixir (besides eating it off a spoon). In the meantime, where’s the ice cream?
Classic Caramel Sauce
The key to making caramel sauce is patience and careful attention, with due care to avoid splattering of molten sugar. Make sure all your ingredients are measured out and standing by before you start making the caramel; once the sugar comes to the right colour you need to move directly to the next step. Have a basting brush standing by in a glass of water.
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup whipping cream
Place the sugar and water in a heavy pot with sides high enough to accommodate the bubbling up that will occur later when the cream is added. Place the pot on medium high to high heat, and use a fork to stir the sugar and water together. Once the sugar starts to melt, gently swirl the pan and stir gingerly to moisten any sugar that’s still dry. As the mixture starts to boil, use the lightly wet basting brush to remove any sugar crystals that have formed on the side of the pot.
As you boil the sugar you will see the bubbles become larger and stickier looking. Pay close attention, and when the sugar is a deep golden colour (but lighter than you’re looking for the final product to be) and the aroma is approaching but not quite at that burnt sugar smell, turn the heat down a bit, remove the pot from the burner and set it on a heat-proof pad.
Sprinkle the salt over top of the caramel and then, carefully stirring with a fork or whisk, pour in the cream. It may seize a bit at this point, but not to worry. Return the pot to the burner, and stir until the caramel sauce is smooth and bubbling again. Take the pot off the stove and place it on a trivet to cool until it’s ready to decant into a storage container.
I keep caramel in the fridge for 2 to 3 weeks (assuming it lasts the long), and let it sit out at room temperature for 10 minutes or so to loosen up before using.