Caramel knowledge


As we've discussed before, there is a "food holiday" nearly every day of the year, especially in the U.S. Today's holiday bears mention because it celebrates caramel, that fantastic transformation of a nondescription pantry staple into an exotic treat. Caramel has been part of the cooking lexicon since medieval times, if not before, and with good reason. The dark and bitter undertones of caramel are tempered by its sweetness, and this interplay between rich, dark, and sweet elevates many desserts. Caramel's appeal extends beyond sweet treats, however. Food and Wine gives us caramelized black pepper chicken, and Australian Gourmet Traveller Magazine offers these coconut and pepper caramel prawns. Food52 presents an apple ginger pork loin with caramel sauce.

Caramel can be a finicky mistress, but David Lebovitz offers practical advice on how to make great caramel. Among those tips are: use a larger pan than you think you will need (if you're adding liquid to caramel it will bubble up furiously), and if you are making a "wet" caramel, resist the urge to stir because you will encourage crystal formation. Even if you don't achieve perfection on your first try, you've not wasted a lot of time or money, so you can try again, until you arrive at that perfectly dark, smooth caramel.

Here are some great recipes from the EYB library to help celebrate caramel:

Beer caramel ice cream
Salted caramel apple pie
Caramel croissant pudding
Roasted potatoes with caramels and prunes
Maple banana bread with caramel bananas

What's your favorite caramel recipe?


  • Cubangirl  on  4/5/2014 at 4:23 PM

    I love caramel and learned to make it as a child. We put the flan mold right on the stove with the sugar and 1 TBS. water. As it started to get dark, we would swirl it to coat all the lanes of the mold (think Bundt pan). Never worried about crystals or used a brush, etc. Once it was liquid dark gold, we put the blended flan mixture in the mold, covered the mold and put it in the pressure cooker. After it cooked and got cold, we unmolded it and all that wonderful caramel was liquidy goodness. Perfect Cuban flan every time. I did not start to worry about making it until I started reading cooking material and realized it was supposed to be hard lol. BTW, same experience with bechamel sauce.

  • boardingace  on  4/5/2014 at 6:37 PM

    Great tips! I love David's website. Caramel is one of those foods that comes to mind when I think of things that are 100 times better made from scratch (or probably from a very nice specialty shop) :)

  • Jane  on  4/5/2014 at 11:33 PM

    I made some really good caramel brownies. They were basically Nick Malgieri's Supernatural Brownies with a caramel sauce streaked over the top (and cacoa nibs sprinkled as well). The caramel elevated the brownies to another level.

  • veronicafrance  on  4/6/2014 at 12:25 PM

    I've never seen anyone other than me recommend the easiest, most foolproof method of making caramel. Like Cubangirl, I've never thought of it as difficult. But if you are worried, the idiot-proof way is to use sugar cubes. Just put them in a dry pan and heat them, bashing with a wooden spoon to break them up. Once the sugar is all melted it is usually a slightly paler colour than you want, so carry on as normal, cooking till it's golden brown. They won't crystallise, and it's quite hard to burn it with this method too.

  • Bloominanglophile  on  4/6/2014 at 2:24 PM

    Interesting technique, veronicafrance--I have never heard of using sugar cubes before. When I had to make flan everyday for a restaurant, I was instructed to add a small amount of lemon juice to the sugar to prevent it from caramelizing. I do still wash down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush. Doesn't hurt to know a variety tips in this case!

  • Bloominanglophile  on  4/6/2014 at 2:27 PM

    Whoops--I meant prevent it from crystalizing (like my brain seems to be, sometimes)!!! We are discussing caramelizing...

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