Sweet contemplation

Today was a tough day. An arctic cold front bullied its way into the area with blustery winds, a long commute jangled my nerves, several tedious projects confronted me as soon I as entered the office, and the sky turned dark far too soon. When I finally returned home I decided to treat myself to something indulgent. In defiance of the frigid temperature, I chose an ice cream sundae as my reward.

The sundae was really a pretext for making a batch of caramel sauce. The process of making caramel clears my mind because it allows no daydreaming or dilly dallying. You must pay attention from the beginning, when you carefully pour the sugar into the water to avoid it clinging to the edges of the pan, to the end, as you stir the molten liquid that has bubbled up ferociously after the cream is poured. Each step requires concentration: a moment’s distraction can result in scorched caramel, crystallized lumps, or a painful burn.

The stages that the sugar passes through in its transformation from one-note sweetness to complex and robust flavor are fascinating. At first the syrup is noisy: thousands of tiny bubbles each sing a different song at a brisk cadence. As the water is driven off, so too are the myriad hisses and pops. The bubbles begin to coalesce, joining together and expanding, sighing in slow motion as the sugar relaxes into sleepy liquid amber.

As the bubbles grow fewer and lazier, the noises in my mind also diminish. The tension between my shoulder blades eases, and my breathing becomes deeper and easier. I am transfixed by the subtle changes in the color of the molten sugar as it moves from crystal clear to pale blonde to golden wheat to rich chestnut.

When it reaches peak color the spell is broken. I pour in the cream and the mixture boils and steams furiously, like releasing the valve on a pressure cooker. I exhale deeply and stir until the mixture is smooth and the bubbling retreats into a murmur. I decant the gooey substance into a jar and spoon the sauce onto the waiting ice cream. It hugs the curves of the scoops with a warm embrace, and I smile.

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  • rchesser  on  November 12, 2019

    I really enjoyed reading this!

  • Kristjudy  on  November 13, 2019

    A great article..well written Darcie!

  • averythingcooks  on  November 13, 2019

    The cold front is currently blasting through here with a vengeance. I slept in this am and had a million things buzzing through my head as I raced around until I forced myself to sit down with my coffee and then I read this post. Your description of the process is beautiful and so calming – thank you. My equivalent choice to drive the “rough week hangover” away is bread baking on the weekend. The metamorphosis of the sticky dough into a smooth and elastic ball is mesmerizing as I concentrate on my hands through the kneading process. Now I need to have a go at caramel this weekend – it has always intimidated me a little but I am going to try.

  • Lem9579  on  November 13, 2019

    So true. Wish I had a photo of this last summer when I showed my pre-teen nieces how to make this for a flan. All of us were hovering over the stove at times just watching it transform. They were fascinated.

  • Jenny  on  November 14, 2019

    Beautiful piece and shared.

    My version of browning butter on Monday went like this: Put the butter on the burner, watched it, watched it, watched it. The phone beeped with a msg from the advocate for Andrew. Went to read it. Butter burns. Grabbed vodka. 🙂

  • FaithB  on  November 14, 2019

    What a lovely piece, thank you.

  • averythingcooks  on  November 14, 2019

    To Jenny – you totally made me smile 🙂

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