Archive for: caramel
Is there anything that salted caramel can’t make better? There are actually plenty of desserts out there that salted caramel can’t improve on (although it’s difficult to come up with more than a couple), but there are an even greater number that can go from good to great with a little bit of salted caramel mixed in. One of these recipes is a molten chocolate cake, a.k.a. chocolate lava cake. Molten chocolate cakes are served hot and are baked so that they have oozing chocolate centers that add an extra chocolate kick to each serving and make the cakes extra decadent. This variation on the standard recipe adds salted caramel to the filling, keeping all that chocolate while adding another layer of flavor.
I relied on salted caramels that I already had in my cupboard to make these cakes. Since you only need a couple of caramels, it is much easier to start with premade caramels than try to make a whole batch just to use a half dozen. The salted caramels I used were the Trader Joe’s Fleur de Sel Caramels, which are chewy and have a nice sweet-salty flavor to them. There are several other brands of salted caramels out there to choose from, too. If you can’t find them in your area, choose another buttery caramel candy (chewy and made with good quality ingredients, not a hard candy) and use those, adding a generous pinch of coarse sea salt along with each caramel into the chocolate cakes.
The caramel melts as the cakes bake, but holds its place in the center of the cake without being absorbed by the chocolate surrounding it. This means that you get a soft, gooey caramel center and a tender, rich chocolate cake all in one dessert. The salty-sweetness of the caramel is a great contrast to all that dark chocolate. The cakes must be served while they are still hot, or the caramel centers of the cakes will start to firm up and become sticky. If you grease and flour your muffin pans or ramekins, your cakes should come out pretty easily. Silicone molds are even easier to pop cakes out of. If your cakes do stick, however, take comfort in the fact that you can cover up any imperfections with whipped cream and you’ll still have an amazing dessert.
Towards the holidays, Trader Joe’s puts out all kinds of seasonal offerings. Their Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels are always at the top of my list. Dark chocolate is a great combination with caramel most of the time, but with these candies I’m just in it for the silky smooth caramel and the crunch of coarse salt sprinkled on top of the candies. It is delicious and addictive. Naturally, when I spotted Trader Joe’s Fleur de Sel Caramel Sauce on the shelf, I had to pick some up.
The caramel sauce has a very similar consistency to the center of those dark chocolates I like so much: smooth and creamy enough to melt easily on your tongue. You can taste the sugar, butter, cream and vanilla in the caramel, too. There is no coarse sea salt here, but there is a noticeable amount in the the caramel and the contrast of sweet and salty will definitely make your mouth water. In short, the sauce is delicious. I also appreciate that, unlike its chocolate-wrapped cousin, it can be used in many applications, from topping off an ice cream sundae or giving a batch of brownies a sweet swirl.
One of the most frequently recommended ways to make Dulce de Leche is to put a can of sweetened condensed milk into boiling water and cook it for a period of 2-4 hours. This is not a good thing to do – and one look at the warning on a can of sweetened condensed milk will tell you why: the can can explode. This can happen when the water level in the pan gets to low, when the burner you’re using has a hot spot below your can, or when any other situation arises in which excess heat builds up in that can. I’ve used the method with good results – but it’s not worth the risk of stepping out of the kitchen and returning to a big mess of sweetened condensed milk everywhere, not when there is a safer method that is just as easy to do and that is even a bit faster.
This method for making dulce de leche uses a double boiler. Simply open a can of sweetened condensed milk and pour it into the top of a double boiler, where the bottom is already filled with a few inches of simmering water. With a double boiler, you don’t need to worry about the water evaporating while you cook, and since there is no pressure from a sealed can, there is no risk of an unexpected explosion (yes, it really does happen).
Once you’ve made some Spiced Apple Cider, or if you simply happen to have a bottle of storebought cider in the back of the fridge, it is a snap to make one of my favorite wintertime drinks, Caramel Apple Cider. I was first turned onto this drink on a visit to Starbucks, where it is generally available year-round but is often featured on the menu boards during the winter. The drink seems to retain heat much better than just about anything else, so not only does it taste great, but it keeps your hands warm when it is snowy outside!
The Starbucks version of this drink is made by steaming apple cider until it is very hot, then adding caramel and whipped cream. I start mine with homemade cider and heat it up in a saucepan if I am going to be serving a crowd and in a mug in the microwave if I’m only serving myself. Once the cider is steaming hot, stir in about 1 1/2 tbsp caramel sauce, then add whipped cream and another drizzle of caramel. Use any kind of caramel for this drink, whether it’s homemade sauce or your favorite topping brand – I’ve even melted solid caramels into it in a pinch and it turned out very well. I often add a very small pinch of salt to the caramel on top for that salted caramel effect, too.
The sweetness of the caramel highlights the sweetness of the apples in the cider, while the whipped cream on top is a nice, cool contrast to the steamy beverage below. And the caramel on top? Why, that’s just an excuse to eat even more caramel. As though I needed one.
A cream pie is usually a pie with a custard or pudding base that is topped off with a lot of whipped cream. In the case of banana cream pie, the standard recipe has vanilla pudding covering a layer of fresh banana slices – and whipped cream on top, of course. The standard is a classic because it has a good combination of flavors, it’s simple and it’s tasty. It’s also a little bit boring when it comes right down to it. This version of banana cream pie adds in another flavor to give the dessert a little more depth: caramel.
I made a caramel pudding to top off these bananas, and added a drizzle of caramel sauce to the whipped cream before serving to further boost the caramel flavor. The caramel pudding has a nice, subtle buttery flavor to it, but still keeps the nice vanilla notes that you’ll find in plain pudding. It’s easy to make from scratch and there is no need to use a candy thermometer to keep track of the temperature of the caramel. All you have to do is watch the color of the sugar as it cooks, looking for it to turn a golden color all over before adding in the butter.
If you make pudding from scratch a lot, you’ll notice that I use quite a bit of cornstarch to thicken this caramel pudding. I wouldn’t normally use this much, but it’s important that a cream pie be easy to slice and hold its shape well when sliced (otherwise you might as well just leave out the crust eat the pudding with whipped cream), and this cream pie holds up extremely well when sliced. The pudding stays soft and tender, even if you store the pie for a day or two before finishing it, so don’t worry that the extra cornstarch will make it unpleasantly stiff.
I added whipped cream to each slice as it was served, since I was not serving the whole pie at once. For the best presentation, make a batch of whipped cream and spread it over the pie before serving.