Homemade Caramel Sauce

Perfectly made, homemade, caramel sauce, let your mind wrap around these words. I believe I have made such a thing; it was dark amber in color, rich, sweet, but with depth, tasting almost smokey, but not burnt, and totally delicious. A few weeks ago, I set out to make my first-ever caramel sauce for David Lebovitz's Chocolate Covered Salted-Peanut Caramels for a wine and cheese party my friends were hosting. Thanks to a lot of research on the internet, I was able to boost my confidence level on caramel making from very little, to semi-confident. As I patiently, carefully, and nervously made the caramel, I rehearsed the instructions I had read online in my head over and over again There was one moment where I was quite anxious because I felt like I was in the simple syrup stage forever and it wasn't turning golden brown, but I told myself "Just wait Whitney, don't you go messing this up yet!" After a bit of nervous pacing in front of the stove, I noticed a slight golden brown and the syrup becoming more viscous. "Hallelujah!" I thought, and breathed a sigh of relief. From there, the golden brown quickly became amber, and with a whisk of cream my luscious caramel came into being, and I, was speechless. I had done it! When Scott came home from work, I was so excited to tell him about my triumph. I jumped up and down in front of him as he took his shoes off, begging him to let me show him what I'd done right then. I was like a little kid who begs their parents to come watch them do a cartwheel, or some other trick, that they've just figured out how to do and can't wait to show them and hear their exclamations. Well, now you too can have this same feeling, yes you can and I'm going to show you how.

If you are wondering what you can do with caramel, rest assured, there are many delightful concoctions that can be made with caramel and caramel sauce. My Chocolate-Covered Salted Peanut Caramels were delicious and a hit at the wine and cheese party. In fact, I think I might have to make them one of my Christmas traditions, something my future kids can always remember and count on at Christmas time. With the caramel left over from the chocolates, I made a caramel-topped rustic apple tart, which was also a treat! It had truly flaky crust, with tart apples tamed slightly by baking and the sweet caramel sauce. Inspired by the caramel apple, but so much better, and without the mess! This caramel sauce is great seductively drizzled over grilled pineapple, peaches, or nectarines with a cold scoop of ice cream alongside. Yumm. Or you could even make a caramel ice cream (or a salted caramel ice cream)! So, are you in? Ok then, let's go!

There are two types of caramel, dry and wet. Both caramels form a liquid in the end, but dry starts with only sugar in the pan which you melt, and wet has sugar and water in the pan and you start with forming a simple syrup of sorts. Today I will be explaining how to make a wet caramel, as I've heard it is less temperamental and it is the type that I made and had success with!
  1. Tip number one is to have patience.

  2. Keep your heat on a little above medium and no higher. This will help things to not cook too fast and too unevenly. Sugar burns very easily and once it's burned it's no good and should be tossed out.

  3. Do not stir after the sugar has disolved. This was super tough for me because I'm a stirrer, especially when I get nervous about whether or not something is turning out! You don't want to stir because sugar crystals are rough and the more they collide into one another they more they stick and clump and you'll end up with a grainy caramel. Most likely some parts of your caramel will cook faster and begin to brown sooner than others, to ensure even cooking slowly tilt the pan from side to side to redistribute the cooked sugar.

  4. The caramel will be hot and can splatter when you add the cream, so for precautions don't wear a nice shirt and maybe have long sleeves and gloves. A good idea is to place a strainer over the pan when you add the cream so the splatters will be blocked but the steam can escape.

  5. Use a large sauce pan or skillet because when you add the cream it will bubble madly. The pan should also be the highest gauge of metal you have, often the more heavy a pan is the more evenly things cook. If your caramel is cooking evenly, then the less tilting of the pan you will have to do! Also, the lighter color of the pan (like stainless steel) the better, because then you can more easily see the color change. With my dark nonstick it was a little hard to distinguish the difference between the different colors/stages of caramel.

  6. If you burn the caramel throw it out, there is no bringing it back. On David Lebovitz's blog he suggests adding more water to the pan and letting it simmer to release the caramel from the pan for easy clean up.

Homemade Caramel
Adapted from Peanut Butter Cookies with Peanut Caramel on David Lebovitz's blog.

1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (125 mL) water
1 Tbsp light corn syrup (or glucose)
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup (250 mL) heavy cream
3/4 cup (100g) chopped roasted salted peanuts (optional)

Heat a large sauce pan over medium heat and add to it the sugar, water corn syrup, and salt. Stir until the sugar has disolved. Try not to stir after this point. Let the mixture come to a bubble and watch it carefully as it starts to get larger, more "lazy" bubbles as this means it is getting more viscous (thicker) and is close to turning golden brown. While this is cooking warm the cream in a sauce pan or microwave so it is hot when it is to added to the caramel.

When you see your first patch of golden brown appear, slowly tilt the pan from one side and then to the other to let the caramel redistribute. Continue cooking, brushing down the sides of the pan with water if desired (not necessary but some sources say it's good to get the sugar crystals off the side of the pan). When you see your first amber-brown patch tilt the pan again so that part is redistributed and doesn't cook too fast and burn.

The caramel is done when it is all a dark amber-red-brown and has just started to smoke. Remove the pan from the heatimmediately and whisk in the hot cream in a slow steady stream. (If using a strainer, put it over the pot when you add the cream to prevent splatters.) Remember, the caramel will bubble vigorously when you add the cream so don't panic and think all is lost! Let the caramel cool until pourable, stir in the peanuts if desired, and enjoy it any way you want!


A topping to make things new again

Oh I feel it’s been so long since I’ve last blogged! I am sorry but Scott and I really have been on a whirlwind of busyness lately! Between weekend family vacations, hosting friends, traveling to see friends, taking time to serve others in need, Scott taking Step II of his medical Boards (tests you must take to get into residency), me taking on his normal household chores while he studied for the Boards, and all of our other normal stuff that we do, there has been no time for blogging! Actually, there would be time for blogging, as Scott points out, if I would stop cooking so much. But that wouldn’t be any fun now would it?

Tonight however, I have relented from cooking and type this while eating leftovers. Now though, I have the dilemma of which of my culinary creations during these last few weeks to tell you about. Seriously! Please don’t laugh. Just so you know, I have now sat here for a good ten minutes without typing a word because I don’t know what favorite thing I have made that I should tell you about on this post. Am I ridiculous? I hesitate to choose because if I do, then there’s a chance that I may never tell you about the rest, which, in my mind, deserve publicity as well. So I’ll start chronologically and show you pictures of the others and you can hold me accountable to be sure I tell you about the ones that look especially appealing to you. Deal? Ok, here goes.

Chocolate mint frozen yogurt (made with fresh mint! Nothing better!)

A traditional sourdough boule and a tomato basil sourdough baguette

Two to tango: a tangy tomato feta bruschetta that plays nicely off of a rich mushroom gruyere bruschetta that tastes almost as sinful as fondue!

Une tarte fine aux pommes avec du caramel: a rustic apple tart with some salted peanut caramel on top left over from making Chocolate-Covered Salted Peanut Caramel Cups.Fantastic!
All on the grill: grilled corn-on-the-cob, red peppers, zucchini, and summer squash salad tossed with a super tasty Thai inspired dressing consisting of Thai basil, soy sauce, lime, garlic, and rice wine vinegar.

The end all, be all of appetizers. I had this appetizer during my last week in France after staying there for five months. I can't say anymore about it just now because then this post will go on forever, or at least it will be twice as long as it is.

Now on to this post's recipe!

It’s really a sort of a condiment, but I find that term sort of degrading due to the immediate associations of mayo or ketchup and it is much more than that! Thus I will simply be calling it a “topping” because it’s not really a sauce or a dressing. It is a Greek style topping with feta, lemon, garlic, mint, and either Greek yogurt or mayonnaise depending on the consistency and tang you want, or, in my case, budget. ;) I first tried it atop broiled mahi mahi complete with thin slices of lemon and found it to be a flavorful, easy, new way to serve fish like mahi mahi or tilapia. The second time I made this topping I used it to top roasted red, purple, and yellow “banana” potatoes. Again it was delicious and again it was a tasty new way to eat an old standard.
Greek-style Topping
Makes about four servings

This truly is a versatile topping that will “spiffy up” any tired food staple. Try it on fish or potatoes like I did, or on chicken, lamb, and almost any vegetable that you would grill or roast. A Greek style hamburger complete with hummus or babaganoush, and cubes of tomatoes and cucumbers mixed with this topping would also be terrific. Of course, anything that is traditionally Greek, like falafel, would be great with this too!

  • Originally inspired by Gourmet magazine's Greek-Style Mahi Mahi, June 2009

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise (I use low-fat mayonnaise. You could also substitute Greek yogurt, creme fraiche, or even sour cream in a pinch)
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta
  • 3 tablespoons chopped mint*
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dill (2 tsp. for dried) *
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 small clove of garlic grated or finely minced

Whisk all ingredients together, season with freshly ground pepper to taste, and you're done!
*Both of these herbs can be substituted with others like basil or thyme if you don't have mint or dill on hand.