Friday, March 23, 2012

Made from scratch caramel sauce!

Don't be intimidated by the title! This is possibly one of the easiest things in the world to make and tastes great. I originally found this recipe from Annie's Eats (I love her website!). I mentally bookmarked the idea and forgot about (in other words: was too afraid to try it) for a few months. Read the directions and you'll understand why. So for the time being, I kept using the gourmet sauce that my awesome husband was able to order for me through his work (Marrying a chef has it's perks). Eventually though, I was using so much, so sporadically that it was getting hard to figure out if we needed more and how much more. When you go from using 2 lbs of caramel sauce a week to not using any for two weeks, it's hard to decide how much you should keep on hand.
I operate completely out of my small house (Yay for cottage food laws!) so space is limited. I went back to Annie's recipe but I was a little afraid of cooking sugar. More specifically, I was afraid that I'd burn the sugar. So I tried several different recipes that had sugar dissolved in a liquid. And none of them turned out great. And if there is one thing I am a little OCD about, it's making sure that what comes out of my kitchen is great.
So reluctantly I tried Annie's recipe.
The first time I made it, I did not realize that the sugar on the bottom of the pan would be melting while it appeared like nothing was happening from the top. I'll admit it, it was a little overcooked but I noticed it too late into cooking the sugar to do anything about and figured what the heck, keep going and see how it turns out. It turned out great! The first day it was obvious that it had been over cooked. The second day, the flavor had mellowed out a bit and after the third day, my husband was declaring it better than anything he'd ever tried. Notice my jar of caramel....almost gone. I didn't think to take a picture of it until after I had filled up my squeeze bottle.

Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce

Yield: 1½  cups
1 cup sugar
1¼ cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
¼ tsp. coarse salt
½ tsp. vanilla extract
Spread the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Place over medium-low heat, watching carefully.  When the sugar begins to liquefy around the edges, use a heatproof spatula to gently stir it towards the center.  Continue stirring very gently until all the sugar is melted, taking care not to over stir.  Measure out the heavy cream in a liquid measuring cup and scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the cream.  Set aside.  Once the caramel reaches a deep amber color, immediately remove the sauce pan from the heat.  (To test the color, spoon a drop onto a white plate or bowl.)  Carefully whisk in half of the heavy cream along with the vanilla bean seeds.  The mixture will steam and bubble violently.  Stir until the cream is well incorporated, then whisk in the remaining cream.  Stir in the salt and the vanilla.  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.

*From my experience, the sugar always hardens when you add the cream. I might try heating up the cream next time...if I remember...and see if that helps. If that happens, just keep the sauce over a medium low heat and stir (and stir and stir) until smooth. If you don't have vanilla bean or don't want to spend $4 on one bean, the sauce also tastes great without it.

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