Adapted From Pure Dessert (Artisan Publishers, 2007) by Alice Medrich
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! —Alice Medrich
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.
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on Craftsy.com, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).