Cooking Basics – Salted Caramel Sauce

Salted Caramel Sauce

This week is so busy with all the prep for our fundraiser dinner for Carpenter’s Church!  So, instead of an involved recipe, I decided to give you a simple kitchen basic that I have made about fifteen times in the past twenty-four hours as a topping for the banana bread pudding I’m doing for the dinner tomorrow.

Okay, okay, so maybe this isn’t the most basic kitchen skill to have.  It’s not exactly on par with the humble chicken stock. HOWEVER! It tastes outstanding and you have the ingredients in your house right now.  You could make a batch for ice cream, for brownies, as a topping for a cake or as a totally amazing sweet fondue for bread/fruit/a spoon.  You don’t need a reason.  You could jar this up and give it away as gifts at Christmas or any time.  You could make a few batches and keep them all to yourself – the only thing I know for sure is that if you try this recipe, you WILL be back for more…

Salted Caramel Sauce
makes about a cup

1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup warmed heavy cream (warm it in the microwave for a minute)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (or extract)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

In a large saucepan over medium heat, add the sugar and water and stir with a spatula to fully incorporate.  Put a lid on the pot and let it come up to a simmer.  Have you ever read recipes that tell you to brush the sides of your pan with a wet basting brush to keep sugar crystals from forming while making caramel?  No more!  That’s tedious and I don’t like getting my fingers that close to boiling sugar.  The lid creates condensation that drips down and keeps all the sugar in place, instead of creeping up the sides like it will if the lid’s off.

Swirling occasionally while cooking, check for the color.  When it develops a nice golden amber color, remove it from the heat and stir in the heavy cream and vanilla.  This will bubble furiously, but just whisk, whisk, whisk until it calms down.  Add the butter and whisk to incorporate.  Then, add the salt and stir until dissolved.  Let it cool and taste test for salt level.  Store in jars on the counter for a week or in the fridge for a month.



Strawberries in Balsamic Caramel – Rethinking desserts


Since Olive started eating from the table, I’ve been 10x more mindful of what I serve for lunch and dinner.  I have re-thought the structure of a meal from the way we sit at the table to the kinds of  things we have for dessert.  Dessert is certainly not something that I grew up eating every night.  I’m not sure any of us did.  I think there are a couple reasons for this.  For one, American versions of desserts are really sweet and really indulgent, for the most part.  And usually really big.  So naturally, we don’t think of desserts as something you should have every night, which is inherently a good thing, but it’s caused us to view things like fruits in nearly the same category as vegetables: something we HAVE to eat, or are too expensive to eat, or aren’t very exciting to eat.  I think most people would feel slightly jipped if someone suggested strawberries for a dessert out at a restaurant.  Strawberries?  That’s it?  Where’s the colossal strawberry cheesecake with the dulce de leche syrup and giant mount of whipped cream?

You see the problem.  Besides dark chocolate, fruit has been the only sweet Olive has consumed on a regular basis.  She’s geared to think fruits are the sweetest things in the world.  Her favorite sweet is a banana. A friend of ours from Mexico City once said in the most endearing, non-native to America-way, “What could be sweeter than a banana?!”  That statement struck me because I instantly thought of a myriad of things we eat on a daily basis that are, in fact, much sweeter than a banana and have loads more sugar (cereal, fruit snacks, bottled juice, packaged cookies, even sweetened yogurts can have up to 21 grams of sugar per serving).  So I want to retrain my mind to accept fruits as a dessert by themselves.  And the types of colossal sugar bombs we typically think of as desserts, I want to think of as rare treats, instead of the normal dessert option.  This is a challenge for me.  I feel cheated when I get that sugar craving in the afternoon and the only thing in my house is either fruit or dark chocolate and what I really want is a piece of cake or a brownie or something reserved for a feastal weekend meal instead of a boring ol’ Monday afternoon.  It’s hard to have discipline with dessert, but I feel that if it can be accomplished, a natural limit on sugar will take place in my life and a greater joy will be present when I do indulge in the Super Desserts that all good blog posts are made of.

For today, simple strawberries-coated in a balsamic caramel sauce.  Simple, incredibly flavorful and a wonderful way to liven up your tastebuds at the end of the meal.  When I made this last week, we were out on the front porch and Olive was walking in circles around the bushes and each time she passed me, she got this giggly fit and opened her mouth for another bite.  Like a little, tasty game.  Food is fun and sharing food is even better.  Remember that this week as you prepare meals for your family!

Strawberries in Vinegar*

serves 6

1.5 lbs medium sized strawberries, hulled and halved lengthwise
3/4 cup sugar (I know, I just talked about sugar bombs.  However, this is making a caramel and coating the strawberries.  You don’t consume all the glaze!)
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup boiling water

Put the sugar into a wide saucepan and place the pan over low to medium heat.  You will start to see darker patches of caramel starting to appear.  Stir to make an even, dark caramel.  Carefully pour in the boiling water using a metal ladle.  The caramel will bubble dramatically, so be careful to not get too close.  Let the caramel cool a bit before pouring in the vinegar because boiling vinegar will singe your nostril hairs right off.
Pour in the vinegar and mix well.  Cool the caramel in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.  It will become thick.
Put the strawberries into a bowl, then pour over the vinegar caramel.  Marinate in the fridge for one hour before serving.
These are wonderful, eaten with a simple glass of rose.  However, if you wanted to make a more indulgent dessert, I think these would be killer on a strawberry shortcake with homemade vanilla bean whipped cream.  Mmmmmm…


*recipe adapted from Ferran Adria’s book, titled (not coincidentally) The Family Meal.  🙂 This book was an inspiration for the title of my blog because I really couldn’t think of a better way to title it.  His book is filled with the recipes his staff would share together before dinner service at elBulli in northern Spain (formerly the best restaurant in the world, which is now, sadly closed).  I’d highly recommend this incredibly simple, straight-forward book and its wonderful layout with pictures of each step of the cooking process.