When I attended last month’s Chicago Food Swap, I was invited to use Challenge Butter in whatever I brought and they kindly reimbursed me for the butter I purchased. Butter? I’m all over that, but I’ll admit that it took me a little thinking to decide what to make. Fortunately, I came up with two winners – salted caramel sauce and pineapple curd.
There are some foods that have become “it” foods that I’ll be honest… I never quite understood. There are some that became popular then faded away and aren’t seen much anymore – when was the last time you had a molten chocolate cake? And then there’s salted caramel. It’s the perfect marriage between sweet and salty, and it’s everywhere and in everything from salted caramel ice cream to homemade Twix bars (hmm another recipe I thought I’d posted that I haven’t) and more.
Plain old salted caramel sauce? It’s perfect for everything from drizzling over ice cream to using in your coffee with creamer (oh yes I have!) to making a trifle. It’s one of those things that I make regularly to ensure I have some on hand, as well as to give as gifts because homemade salted caramel sauce? I’m in your good graces if I show up with a jar of that, right?
The sauce itself doesn’t take a lot of time to make and just a little bit of care and attention. The key to good salted caramel sauce is in using good ingredients, like Challenge Butter, since there are so few ingredients that you can really taste each one in the final product.
How to Make Salted Caramel Sauce
Caramel is really nothing more than sugar, butter, and cream. Once you melt your sugar, it starts to caramelize and change color. The key is in getting it to heat evenly and in watching it so that you add the butter when it has enough caramel flavor but before it burns. Once you’ve added your butter and cream, the longer you cook it (and thus, the higher the temperature), the firmer your caramel sauce will be.
Cook it too hot and you won’t have caramel sauce but instead caramel candies. Or really hard caramel candies (think Werther’s). They still taste great but just might not be what you’re looking for. Also note that your salted caramel sauce will thicken as it cools a bit, so don’t expect to have the exact texture you’re looking for when you first remove it from the stove.
To ensure you get the kind of caramel you’re looking for, patience is required. Don’t turn the heat up once you’ve added the butter and cream. Instead, turn it down from where you initially had it to melt your sugar so you have a little more time to get all your ingredients incorporated. I like my caramel sauce just a little thick, so I’ll keep it on low heat and stir for a couple minutes once I add the butter and cream. If you want it thinner, pull your pan from the heat entirely once you’ve added the butter. The residual heat will be enough to melt it and incorporate the ingredients.
If you’re new to making caramel, you might want to add a little water to your sugar when you first start heating it. It always made me feel just a little better because I didn’t believe that sugar would just flat out melt without being dissolved in water. But it does. And any water you add has to evaporate before the sugar will come to temperature enough to caramelize, so it lengthens your cooking time.
Instead, have faith. Just place your sugar in a heavy pot I love my cast iron pots for this reason) and turn up the heat. You do want to stir your sugar to ensure the heat is evenly distributed and prevent it from burning, but it’s really cool to watch it go from sugar in your pantry to little melted bubbles at the edges of your pot to chunks of melted sugar to a gorgeous amber brown liquid.
Once your sugar is a beautiful deep amber, add your butter and stir or whisk it until it’s fully incorporated. You may feel at first that there is too much butter and it won’t come together, but it just takes a couple quick minutes of whisking and stirring and it will happen. Once the butter is fully incorporated, carefully pour in the cream, knowing that it will bubble furiously – which is why you want to be sure your pot isn’t just big enough to hold your ingredients. Again, stir until it’s smooth, and you have caramel sauce. To make it a salted caramel sauce, simply sprinkle in the fleur de sel (high in minerals, so it has a great taste) and stir to dissolve.
When pouring it into jars, I learned long ago that hot caramel doesn’t pour nicely into small containers. Instead, I got smart, and I use my 4 cup liquid measuring cup (because when I make this, why not make a double batch?). I pour the caramel into the wide base of my liquid measuring cup where I don’t have to be exact. From there, I can use the spout in my liquid measuring cup to ensure that my hot caramel goes into the jars and nowhere else.
Place the lids on your jars as soon as you’ve filled them, and let them cool a bit before placing them in your fridge. They do need to stay refrigerated, but they’ll last two to three weeks – if you don’t eat it all first.
The salty taste is a little pronounced in the caramel, but given that I generally am using it as an ingredient, that’s how I want it. If you plan to use it as a dip for apples without mixing it with anything else (with cream cheese would be so good!), put in just a little less salt.
Needless to say, the salted caramel sauce disappeared fairly quickly at the last Chicago Food Swap. I managed to save just a tiny jar for myself, and I’ve been hoarding it ever since. There’s another swap coming up though, so it may be time to start thinking about what else I want to make….
- 1 c sugar
- 6 T Challenge butter, unsalted
- 3/4 c heavy cream
- 3/4 t fleur de sel (or other salt)
- Place your sugar in a heavy, medium-size pot and turn your heat to medium. Stir the sugar until it starts to dissolve and melt.
- As it melts, it will start on the edges with little bubbles, then as more melts, it will form hard chunks before becoming a uniform liquid. Don't panic when you see the chunks; just keep stirring. It will go from white to amber quickly. You want a deep amber, but don't let your sugar burn.
- Once it is a beautiful shade of amber, add the butter and continue to whisk or stir until the butter is completely incorporated.
- Carefully add the cream once the butter is incorporated, being aware that it will bubble and expand when you first add it. Stir until smooth, then remove from the heat.
- Add the salt to the finished caramel sauce and stir to dissolve. Pour the caramel into a large liquid measuring cup and then pour it from the measuring cup into jars. Seal your jars and let cool a bit, then store in your fridge for two to three weeks.