Many say that Pierre Hermé was the man who brought forth and made the combination of salt and caramel renown worldwide with his Caramel Fleur de Sel macaron. Can’t say for a fact that it’s true but one thing I know for sure is that that discovery must’ve been magical. It’s become a drug in the world of confectionary, one of those many things that seem almost too rare to work but yet it just does and you just can’t get enough of it.Real caramel is cheap and delicious but requires patience and while most of the time it requires a candy thermometer too, I’ve discovered a way to tell if it’s ready without one. So for those who want to make some and don’t have a thermometer, don’t go all out to buy one just to make a sweet sauce. And trust me when I say this that you don’t want to walk away from a saucepan full of sugar over high heat, the washing involved if it burns is a massive chore. However, I do think the saucepan and change of state from sugar to caramel proves captivating enough for you to stay put and watch it.
So extremely versatile, it can be used as a flavouring, a filling, a spread or even simply as a sauce to be drizzled over your ice-creams or to rim a cocktail glass. All you have to know is how much to cook it and I’m going to explain to you how to make a soft caramel, one with the consistency of a spread or toffee.
What makes a good caramel?
It’s colour. It should be a dark amber, especially for salty caramel. You don’t want it too light or it’ll be too sweet but dark and almost on the brink of burning though of course not burning it. That way you get a myriad of more complex flavours. Instead of just head on sweet, you get a combination of sweet, smokey and salty. Some people like to have it slightly bitter meaning it’s just burnt before they add the cream in but I prefer not, it’s unhealthy eating burnt stuff! Not that caramel itself is healthy but if you had unhealthy sinful caramel x unhealthy burnt caramel, double whammy!
So how do you tell if you got the desired caramel colour?
When all your sugar has melted and it’s at caramel stage, tilt your saucepan and the thin residual caramel that’s still sliding down, that’s the colour of your end result. So basically you want to check the colour of the caramel against the base of the saucepan by tilting it.
(sorry no photo! It’s hard snapping photos when you’re dealing with caramel at about 180C.)
(I have ugly hands I know)
1. If you want it even harder for fillings, cook it longer and as usual run the same test and it should feel very hard and leave an even stickier string between your fingers. At this point you can add in the salt and let it cool.
I couldn’t keep my fingers off the leftovers. Yum.
Go on, make yourself some and you’ll be on your way to having the best breakfasts and teatime snacks. I mean, crêpes/pancakes/pain perdu with salted caramel…
You know the deal, and you know you want it.
Caramel Fleur de Sel:
caster sugar – 200g
vanilla pods – 1 no.
cream (heated) – 200g
fleur de sel – 3g
butter – 140g
Heat a little of the sugar and scraped vanilla pod in a saucepan until it caramelizes, adding more every time it melts. Stir with a wooden spoon occasionally to break up the sugar crystals.
Once it reaches a caramel colour, lower the temperature to monitor the colour. You don’t want it to burn. Tilt the saucepan as stated before to check for the desired colour and if you have gotten the colour you want, add in the cream little by little. Be careful as you do this as the mixture will spatter and boil vigorously. Eventually add in all your cream and keep stirring until the caramel un-seizes and the mixture isn’t cloudy anymore.
Cook until a soft caramel (refer to explanation on top), remove from heat and add in the salt.
Transfer to a small heatproof safe bowl and leave to cool till about 40C.
Blended in the soft butter using an immersion blender without incorporating any air in. Your caramel should now be smooth and glossy.
Store it in bottles and refrigerate till it is hard. Use it as a spread on top of your crêpes, pancakes or scones or even as a gift for someone.
// Note: If you want to pair it with ice-cream, simply heat some caramel up in the microwave till it’s a pourable consistency and drizzle over //
(instagram post hence the filter)
How to get the consistency of a spread or soft caramel?
After you add your cream, you keep stirring and boiling it over medium high heat. Have a plate next to you and drizzle a little caramel over and put it in the freezer to cool it down and harden it slightly. When you take the plate out, take some caramel between your fingers. Tt should feel harder than usual and leave a sticky string between them.
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2. It’s important to let it cool naturally till about 40C before you blend in your butter and while you’re blending, do not incorporate any air bubbles into the caramel. You want a smooth and glossy finish like the photos below.
3. Shiny and smooth, no bubbles!
It looks like a whaaaaaale! Love vanilla pods! They make everything in pastry look so much sexier.