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How to Make Real Caramel Sauce at Home

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Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich is going rogue on Food52 -- with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.

Today: Your ice cream called. It wants to be covered in the kind of gooey, warm caramel sauce that puts store-bought varieties to shame. Lucky for you (and your ice cream), Alice is demonstrating how you can make that happen.

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Nothing you can buy in a jar beats real caramel sauce. There are endless ways to flavor it, it keeps well, and it makes a stunning gift. As with any cooked sugar project, the details matter. Use the right size pot and a thermometer. Follow the instructions. All will be well.

Real Caramel Sauce

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Adapted From Pure Dessert (Artisan Publishers, 2007) by Alice Medrich

Makes 3 to 4 cups caramel sauce

1 cup golden syrup or light corn syrup
2 cups sugar
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Equipment:

Candy thermometer
A long-handled silicone spatula or wooden spoon

  

Combine the syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture simmers around the edges.

Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush. Cover and cook for 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon for use again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more.
 

Attach the candy thermometer to the saucepan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered, without stirring until the mixture reaches 305° F. Meanwhile, heat the cream in a small saucepan until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and cover it to keep the cream hot. When the sugar mixture is at 305° F, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter chunks.

  

Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically. Put the pan back on the burner and adjust the heat so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 225° F (or 228° F for a sauce that thickens like fudge when poured over ice cream). Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla. 

Serve the sauce warm or hot. Store in the refrigerator (it keeps for ages) and reheat it gently in the microwave or a saucepan just until hot and flowing. You can stir in rum or brandy to taste. If the sauce (after reheating) becomes too thick or stiff to serve over ice cream, it can always be thinned with a little water or cream.

Flavor variations:

  • Honey Caramel Sauce: Substitute 1/4 to 1/3 cup honey for an equal amount of the golden syrup or corn syrup.
  • Lavender Caramel Sauce: Stir 1 tablespoon of dried lavender into the cream. Cover and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours. Strain the cream, pressing on the lavender to extract as much liquid as possible. Use the infused cream in place of the cream in the recipe.

  • Cardamom Caramel Sauce: Omit the vanilla in the recipe. Add 1/2 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds (from about 15 cardamom pods) to the cream before heating it. Strain the cream when you add it to the caramel; discard the seeds.
  • Salted Caramel Sauce: Add extra salt to the finished caramel, carefully, to taste. I like the sauce salted, not salty -- but it’s your sauce!

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Pick up a copy of Alice's new book Flavor Flours, which includes nearly 125 recipes -- from Double Oatmeal Cookies to Buckwheat Gingerbread -- made with wheat flour alternatives like rice flour, oat flour, corn flour, sorghum flour, and teff (not only because they're gluten-free, but for an extra dimension of flavor, too). 

Photos by Bobbi Lin


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Tags: baking, caramel, alice medrich, caramel sauce, ice cream