simple soft caramel from "Chocolates and
Confections, at Home with the Culinary Institute of
America," is the easiest way to go
may be the go-to sweet for Valentine’s Day, but it’s
time to show caramel a little love.
been relegated to a supporting role in beribboned boxes of
candy for too long. So this year, we’re letting caramel
brown caramel is versatile enough to hold its own as a
candy, plain or embellished with sea salt or a dip in
chocolate. Tuck a softer version of its buttery sweetness
between cake layers or use it to sandwich cookies. As a
sauce, it gilds so many desserts.
begins simply enough by caramelizing sugar — gently
melting until it begins to turn golden brown — then adding
milk or cream.
cloying white sugar into nuanced
teetering-on-the-edge-of-bitter caramel is an example if
what I love most about cooking," writes Martha Holmberg
in "Modern Sauces" (Chronicle Books, $35).
"You can start with one thing and you turn it into
another, much better thing."
don’t more people make it from scratch? Perhaps there’s
the fear of failing. The key to success, no matter the
method: Ready all ingredients before you start cooking, then
pay attention, especially as the mixture starts to color. In
a matter of seconds, it can go from perfect to burned.
you mess up (i.e. the sugar browns too much so it has a
burned flavor or it crystallizes and gets lumpy), dump it
and start again, suggests Holmberg. Most importantly, she
cautions, respect how very hot the caramel is and keep
little kids, dogs and cats away from the stove when making
is one other issue with caramel: How you pronounce it. Do
you give the sweet confection three syllables — ker-e-mel
or ka-ra-mel? Or do you trim a syllable and call it kar-mel?
you start arguing, consider this. Several years ago, Josh
Katz, then a doctoral candidate in statistics at North
Carolina State University, crunched data from a Harvard
Dialect Survey, then created maps showing regional dialect
variations in the U.S. for many words, including caramel.
Those on the East Coast and South apparently prefer three
syllables, while folks west of the Ohio River favor dropping
an A for the two syllable pronunciation, according to Katz,
who is now a New York Times graphics editor.
if you like over how to pronounce it, but try it and give
its prep your undivided attention.
tips from Holmberg and the Tribune test kitchen.
tend to foam during cooking. Use a saucepan larger than you
might think for the amount of ingredients (at least three
times the volume) to prevent boil-overs.
use a pan with a nonstick surface; caramel temperatures are
too hot for it.
dark saucepans, it will be difficult to judge color.
only heat-resistant utensils (spoons, spatulas, etc.)
scorch easily. Stir constantly during cooking, if indicated
in recipe; moderate the heat.
attention. Do not step away from the stove during cooking.
The flavor can go from mellow to burned in an instant.
caramel color by using a metal teaspoon to dip a tiny amount
onto a white plate.
about 72 pieces
from "Chocolates and Confections at Home with the
Culinary Institute of America" (Wiley, $34.95). You’ll
need a candy thermometer for this one because cooking it to
the right temperature is crucial, notes chef-author Peter P.
Greweling. Undercooked caramel will not hold its shape, and
overcooked caramels will be too hard to bite. He suggests
leaving caramels plain or dipping them in melted chocolate.
We sprinkled ours with a pinch of sea salt.
vanilla bean, pod split lengthwise and seeds scraped
(14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
light corn syrup
sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
Butter well a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Combine water, sugar,
vanilla bean pod and seeds, condensed milk, corn syrup and
butter in a heavy-bottomed 4-quart saucepan. Heat to a boil
over high heat, stirring constantly with a heat-resistant
rubber spatula. Continue stirring while cooking, lowering
heat to medium-high or medium, to keep mixture at a gentle
boil, until mixture reaches 245 degrees on a candy
Remove saucepan from heat; stir in salt. Pour into prepared
pan; use a fork to remove vanilla bean pod. Cool completely
at room temperature, at least 2 hours. Remove sheet of
caramels from pan. If caramel sticks, use an offset spatula
to loosen from the pan. Cut into desired size pieces; we cut
them about 1 by 1 1/2 inches. Wrap individually in
cellophane or waxed paper if they won’t be consumed in a
day or two.
information per serving: 70 calories, 2 g fat, 2 g saturated
fat, 7 mg cholesterol, 12 g carbohydrates, 0 g protein, 43
mg sodium, 0 g fiber
A candy thermometer is the most accurate way to test the
temperature of cooking sugar syrup. Experienced cooks,
suggests Greweling, will find this reasonably accurate. For
these soft caramels, a second method can help determine the
exact point when the proper texture is reached. At 240
degrees, begin using the spoon to remove small samples of
syrup from the saucepan and immerse in ice water. After
several seconds, remove sample from ice water; squeeze
between your thumb and forefinger to evaluate consistency.
Caramel is properly cooked when the cooled piece is firm but
CASHEW CARAMEL CHOCOLATE TARTLETS
12 to 18 tartlets
from Nick Malgieri’s "Pastry" (Kyle Books,
$29.95). He suggests almonds as an alternative to the
cashews and finishing each tart with a pinch of fleur de sel.
For the tartlets, use a flaky buttery dough or French-style
cookie dough; we found store-bought rolled crusts worked
well too. You’ll need enough dough for a 9-inch
cup whipping cream
cup roasted salted cashews, rubbed in a paper towel to
remove excess salt, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
fully baked 2 1/2-inch tartlet crusts
ounces dark chocolate (60 percent cocoa solids), melted,
cup whipping cream
tablespoon light corn syrup
filling, combine water and sugar in a medium saucepan; stir
to mix. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until
syrup turns a deep amber caramel color.
Meanwhile, stir honey into cream in a small saucepan; heat
to a slight simmer over low heat. Cover; set aside.
When sugar mixture is ready, remove pan from heat and begin
pouring in hot cream-honey mixture a little at a time to
avoid caramel boiling over. Stir until caramel is smooth,
returning pan to heat for a few seconds if caramel hardens.
Stir in cashews. Divide filling among baked tartlet crusts,
using about 1 tablespoon for each and filling within
1/4-inch of the top.
topping, place chocolate in a mixing bowl. Heat cream and
corn syrup to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat; pour
over chocolate. Whisk smooth. Spoon topping onto each
tartlet, smoothing surface. Cool tarts to room temperature.
information per serving: 176 calories, 11 g fat, 5 g
saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 18 g carbohydrates, 2 g
protein, 84 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
1 1/2 cups
this recipe adapted from Martha Holmberg’s "Modern
Sauces" (Chronicle Books, $35), fresh ginger delivers
spicy heat and citrus notes. The author suggests serving the
sauce with apple desserts.
tablespoons peeled, finely grated fresh ginger
tablespoons unsalted butter
teaspoon kosher salt
Combine cream and ginger in a small, heavy saucepan; heat
just to a simmer over medium-high heat. Remove from heat;
let cream infuse, 20 to 30 minutes. Taste cream; if not
gingery enough, let stand another few minutes. Strain
through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing gently on
the solids. Do not press hard or cream will have a vegetal
Combine sugar and water in a medium, heavy saucepan; heat to
a boil over medium-high heat, stirring just until sugar is
moistened. Let mixture boil without stirring, but with an
occasional swirl of the pan, until it is a deep amber and
smells like caramel, 9 to 11 minutes. Caramel will be very
hot. Remove saucepan from heat. Carefully add a little
ginger-infused cream; caramel will bubble up furiously.
Return pan to low heat. Whisk in remaining cream a little at
a time to avoid bubbling over, then whisk in butter and
salt. Continue whisking another minute until sauce is very
smooth. Remove pan from heat; let sauce cool in pan. It will
thicken as it cools. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.
information per tablespoon: 76 calories, 5 g fat, 3 g
saturated fat, 16 mg cholesterol, 9 g carbohydrates, 0 g
protein, 14 mg sodium, 0 g fiber