Caramel is one of those ingredients that makes mouths everywhere water. And for good reason, it is a simple thing that you can make sweet & savory dishes alike that much more delicious.
For something that seems so complex, caramel is astonishingly simple. Seriously, you would think something that tasty would have a lot more going on, but alas, it does not.
All you have to do is take sugar and heat it to a specific temperature. By doing this, you are changing its molecular structure and set off chemical reactions that change it into different compounds.
These compounds melt, go clear, and then start taking on color as it, well, caramelizes! I like to think of it as toasting sugar. The process takes a straightforward sweetness and gives it depth and character. Science at its finest.
There are two methods of making caramel: dry and wet. The “dry” method means you melt sugar and sugar alone in the pot until it liquefies. The “wet” method means adding a bit of water to the sugar in the pot to help it melt more evenly.
No matter your preferred method, be sure to have a heavy bottom pot that will heat evenly and a candy or digital thermometer on hand. This process is all about temps and a few degrees off can mean a burned batch.
Sugar begins to caramelize at 340F and will be mildly toasty and sweet. Most recipes will ask you to cook it to 365-375F. At that point, it will be darker in color and deeper in flavor.
What do you add to caramel?
By adding things like butter or cream to it when it reached the optimal temperature, you can create things like caramel sauce or caramel candies. Other popular additions are things like vanilla extract, sea salt, and lemon juice.
For a savory caramel, something like vinegar or fish sauce is added. If all of this is too much, you can purchase it at the store.
Store-bought or purchased caramel sauce is great for things like cookies, ice cream, flan, cakes, pies, and more.
Here are some fantastic recipes with caramel:
- Caramel Apple Cake
- White Chocolate Brownies
- Bacon Caramel Popcorn
- Old Fashioned Pecan Stick Buns
- Best Brownie Recipe Ever
What is the difference between carmel and caramel?
The only difference here is the region you grew up in and a single letter. When I live in Texas, the former was the popular way to pronounce it. In New York, they would give you crazy looks for pronouncing it that way.
Is caramel burnt sugar?
Without going into too much detail, no. It is the difference between toast and a burned-up piece of bread. Burnt sugar would be black, bitter, and very unpleasant. Think of caramel as “toasted” sugar.
Can you overcook caramel when you make it at home?
Yes, you sure can. Pay close attention to the recipe and the temperature they are asking you to bring the sugar to. Investing in a digital or candy thermometer is essential to make this at home.
How long does it take caramel to turn brown?
This varies based on the pot you are using and your heat source, but it can start taking on the right amount of color in 8-10 minutes.