Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce

I promise that this is the last of this week's sugary, saucey recipes.  I got a wee bit carried away over the weekend, when I was trying out recipes, and well... oh well :)  Next week, I'll get to some protein-based recipes so that we can attain a little balance.

This caramel sauce is amazing.  And I'm not just referring to the flavor or silky smooth way it melts in your mouth.  The way you make it is just so crazy and kinda fun.  You see, my previous "caramel" sauce recipe was just melted down brown sugar with butter and whipping cream.  Yummy, but nothing that would knock you on the floor in amazement.  This recipe, however, is caramelized white sugar combined with whipping cream.  I'd never actually caramelized sugar until recently.  This is the "dry method," where you throw sugar straight into an empty pot and the heat will melt it and turn it into an amber syrup.  Like magic!
I snapped a few photos of the process, so you could see how things look as the sugar begins to melt and caramelize.  (There's also a photo of where I went wrong and how to salvage things.) 

My tips are these: 
When in doubt, lower the heat a little bit.  Do not do anything else while you're making this sauce; once the sugar melts it goes straight to caramelized in the blink of an eye.  And, the longer/hotter you cook the sauce, the deeper the color, and the smokier(?) the end flavor.  It will have a milder, creamier flavor if you don't take it too dark.

I had elaborate visions of using this sauce on the Chocolate Truffle Cakes or cookies, but honestly it's absolute heaven over a really good vanilla ice cream.  Oh dear, it was so, so good.


Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce
adapted from Annie's Eats

1 c. sugar
1¼ c. heavy cream
¼ tsp. coarse salt or sea salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, optional

Measure out the heavy cream in a liquid measuring cup and add vanilla bean paste.  Microwave for one minute and set aside.

Spread the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Place over medium-low heat (dial set to 3 on my stove), watching carefully. When the sugar begins to liquify around the edges, use a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon to gently stir it towards the center. Continue stirring very gently until all the sugar is melted, taking care not to over stir or allow sugar to clump up.

Once the caramel reaches a deep amber color, immediately remove the sauce pan from the heat.  Carefully and quickly, stir in half of the heavy cream. The mixture will steam and bubble violently. Stir until the cream is well incorporated, then stir in the remaining cream. Stir in the salt and optional butter. If any sugar has hardened, place the saucepan over low heat and whisk until smooth. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If needed, it can be rewarmed in the microwave or in a saucepan over low heat.  Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Ingredient Lineup:

If you shake the pan after it's been cooking, you'll see the layer of melting sugar hiding underneath:

The sugar is turning to liquid and turning a golden color.  Aka "caramelizing."  Weeeee!!!

Completely caramelized.
Give it a gentle stir to make sure all the sugar granules are dissolved.

The sauce will bubble and steam like crazy when you add the first half of the cream.
Stir constantly to completely incorporate the caramel and cream.

Whoops - This is what happens if you heat the sugar over too high a heat - it clumps up into the hard ball stage.  You can rescue it by heating over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until some of it melts back into the sauce.  Even if you don't get it all melted back in, just fish out the hard clumps, and the sauce will still be amazing.

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  1. This looks so tasty, and so simple. I have a vision of putting this on some bread pudding or vanilla ice cream like you did.

  2. I stumbled upon you today via stumble. Good stuff! I will be making this!


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