Caramel is one of the great secrets of a pastry chef. It requires only two ingredients (sugar and water) and one technique (heating). Most people would be surprised to learn that caramel is really just burnt sugar. "Caramel" sounds so much more appetizing than "burnt sugar," although the French are very honest about "crème brûlée" which is custard with a layer of burnt sugar on top.
Because of the special molecular properties of sugar, once it reaches a certain temperature the structure begins to change. The sugar changes color as it is burning and it becomes solid when cooled, like candy.
Here's how to make caramel for use in other recipes:
1. Combine sugar and water. Place on the high heat.
2. Allow to boil for a few minutes.
3. You will notice that the bubble becomes more tightly packed.
4. Then the sugar will start changing color slightly.
5. At around 300° Fahrenheit, the sugar turns to caramel. Notice the change in color. Swirl the pan gently. Do not stir the caramel.
6. The longer the sugar is heated, the more caramelized (burnt) it will become. For a traditional Tarte "Tatin" or other "Tatin" recipe, you will want to stop cooking the caramel around 350°- 360° Fahrenheit before the caramel becomes too burnt, as it will continue to caramelize during baking. Swirl the pan to even out the caramel color. Do not stir!
|Ideal caramelization for a Tatin recipe.|
7. When making caramel sauce, you can caramelize the sugar longer until it turns a darker color. Then add butter or cream. Be careful when adding the butter/cream to avoid splashing the caramel (to avoid burning yourself).
Keep in mind that the sugar continues to cook for a few minutes after you've removed the pan from the heat.
Note of Caution: Do not stir the caramel! Stirring or splashing the caramel is dangerous because the caramel is so hot.
Copyright © 2014, Lisa Alexander. All rights reserved.