I discovered something last year that opened my mind to what I was capable of producing in the kitchen. I followed this recipe for salted caramel sauce, with its list of ingredients more like a casual mentioning–sugar, cream, butter, salt. Just a scattering of ingredients. Things I almost always have in the house. But did I as often have caramel sauce in the house? No. Not because I was trying to be a good girl, but because I always thought making caramel was way more involved. Like, requiring a candy thermometer (those things still scare me). I thought good quality caramel was the kind of thing you splurged on at fancy import stores and poured sparingly over your ice cream.
But no, the recipe told me. Caramel is not that hard. And I found, more importantly: caramel is not something you should think you have to buy. Because the cheap (hardly-deserves-the-name) caramel that comes in squeeze bottles at the grocery store is packed with additives and unsavoury things that don’t belong in the good, clean, honest stuff. It was another reminder of how we are duped by Big Food into thinking we need to buy things like this because they are outside possibility in our kitchens–and isn’t this convenient and flashy plastic bottle awesome? And the expensive versions, while delicious, are, well, expensive, and for what it is, for the time it takes to make it, caramel doesn’t have to be out of your everyday reach.
The truth: You can make caramel in ten minutes with a little patience and bravery (both of which will be hugely rewarded) and then keep it in the fridge in a jar (the perfect, classy packaging, after all), and reheat it in the microwave or in a pan of warm water when you want it. It won’t go bad in a week. I think I’ve kept mine for a month or more (if there’s any left), and sometimes, somehow, forgotten about it and had a joyous surprise discovering it at the back of the fridge.
The other truth: Homemade caramel tastes SO MUCH BETTER than grocery-store-bought. A million times better. They are separate species, couldn’t-mate-and-produce-fertile-offspring different. It’s the real thing, the pure, simple, clean taste of its ingredients. And the alchemy of it is much more interesting to me than chocolate, though I’m not knocking chocolate, my other Great Love. The thing is, to make chocolate sauce (which is also way better homemade than store-bought), you need preprocessed chocolate, either bar or powder form, and that’s one step further away from the genesis of it all. You don’t have a choice, unless you have access to unprocessed cacao beans, etc. Which I sadly don’t. But because caramel is made miraculously from basic ingredients, you have control over the quality of those ingredients and get to witness the transformation from the beginning. (Yes, okay, the sugar is highly processed, the butter was once cream. I’m making a point here. Somewhere.) Chocolate sauce is taking basic ingredients and combining them into a pourable consistency. They are still themselves. Caramel is taking basic ingredients and making something new.
So if you like caramel as much as I do, run here and here (or to the link at the top of the post) and make some. Don’t be afraid. I have had to discard burned sugar a few times in my quest for caramel bliss. It’s okay. It’s so worth it. And once you have made it, you have unquestionable authority to eat it by the spoonful from the jar. It’s your right.
But because, once I’ve made something that I want to eat every minute of the day, I also want to eat it in as many forms as possible. Lo: the very best salted caramel ice cream. It’s a favourite in our house and one I often make for friends. Ice cream for friends is always a good idea, don’t you think? Maybe accompanied by a little pot of caramel…