By Katie Workman, Associated Press
"Salted" and "caramel" are two words that make many people get misty in the eyes and weak in the knees.
You can buy lovely salted caramel in the stores to drizzle over ice cream, cake, pie or just your tongue, but you can also make it easily at home, and for a lot less money. Do share the wealth — what a great holiday gift this makes.
How easy is it? There is no need for a thermometer, no special equipment, no difficult techniques. The thing to pay attention to is how fast the sugar mixture is browning. Resist the urge to wander away and clean out the vegetable bin, because the caramel will turn from pale to golden to dark to "oh no, what's that smell?" very quickly. A lighter color will produce a more delicate caramel sauce, while a richer golden brown will produce a more pronounced caramel flavor. And have that cream warmed and ready to go—seconds make a difference.
When you add the cream to the pot it will sputter and bubble quite a bit, so use a bigger pot than you think you need; it will shortly settle back down, but the last thing you want is hot caramel bubbling over onto your stove.
Some caramel recipes call for a pastry brush to brush down the sides of the pot which the sugar is caramelizing. I think nah, not necessary. Also, it's hard not to keep stirring the sugar melted with the water, but you have to trust in the caramelization process. Stirring makes the mixture grainy, whereas leaving it alone will let the sugar gently brown and prevent crystals from forming. Counterintuitive, but true.
Salted Caramel Sauce
Makes about 1 1/2 cups, roughly 12 servings
1 cup heavy cream, warmed
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon kosher salt
In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar and water and turn the heat to medium high. Stir just until the sugar is dissolved and then stop stirring completely. Allow the mixture to come to a gentle boil. DO NOT STIR the mixture; even if it looks a little grainy, that's just the sugar doing its thing. Boil for 6 to 7 minutes until the mixture has turned golden brown and starts to smell like caramel; make sure it doesn't get too dark or start to burn.
When the mixture is a deep golden brown, turn the heat down to medium and stir as you slowly add the warmed cream. The mixture will bubble up vigorously (this is why you are using a large pot!). Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the butter until it is melted and the mixture is smooth. Stir in the vanilla and salt.
Cool the mixture to room temperature and then use right away, or transfer to a glass jar or two with a tight seal. Store in the refrigerator for up to one month.
Nutrition information per serving: 178 calories; 134 calories from fat; 15 g fat (9 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 51 mg cholesterol; 172 mg sodium; 13 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 13 g sugar; 1 g protein.
Katie Workman has written two cookbooks focused on easy, family-friendly cooking, "Dinner Solved!" and "The Mom 100 Cookbook." She blogs at http://www.themom100.com/about-katie-workman/
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Banner image: This October 2016 photo shows salted caramel sauce in New York. This dish is from a recipe by Katie Workman (Katie Workman via AP)