So, I don't know why, but I'd never tried to make a homemade caramel sauce before now. I *love* caramel, it's most likely my favorite flavor of anything, so the fact I'd never tried it kinda smacked me this afternoon when I didn't want anything heavy
(Arizona's summer afternoons can get a bit "heavy" and it's starting kinda early this year in my opinion.) I was rummaging through the fridge, which I really must stop doing, and pulled the celery out, thinking that while I like the crunch of celery, I'm just not that big on peanut butter like my husband Patrick. I contemplated the green sticks with ranch dressing, but we're almost out, and I didn't feel like making more (Which is funny, cause what I *did* end up doing took WAY longer than making up a batch of ranch!)
I saw the apples in the crisper below the celery, and thought about eating one, but my sore tooth wasn't very happy this afternoon, and I didn't want to push it. Then my thought process went to cutting them into little slices, and naturally my mind went to how lovely it would be to have some caramel dip to dip the apples in. My mind is such treacherous territory!
"Hmmm, I wonder how hard it is to *make* caramel sauce..." I thought. Google knows everything, and I determined with a 5 minute search I'd know the secrets of caramel sauce. The recipes varied across the net, but the majority of them called for 3-4 basic ingredients. Sugar (I had both white and brown on hand,) Butter (I bought lots as I'm trying to avoid margarine,) and Cream, although at least one recipe said it could be accomplished with regular milk. In retrospect, perhaps I should have used some of the canned "evaporated" milk I had in the cupboard for making the pumpkin pies I've been planning for like 6 months now.
I settled on a luscious looking Salted Caramel Sauce recipe that only called for the above three items. I had everything on hand, except the cream, but thought that if you can add powdered milk to regular milk to make homemade yogurt, why couldn't I use the same in the sauce? I saw no reason why, and so on I went into my project. I decided on half white and half brown sugars, which may have been part of my downfall. I had to go online to convert the "12 teaspoons" of butter into some form of cup equivalent, because the measurement bars on the side of the big brick of butter I had didn't give teaspoons. It said 3/4 of a cup...This again may have been a bit of a downfall, as in the end that seemed like a lot. I also measured out the tablespoon of sea salt it called for, and mixed up my milk mixture.
I poured the sugar into the pot, and turned on the heat. I personally love cooking with gas/propane, I seem to be able to control the heat more than on a coil or glass-top electric stove - not to mention my advantage in commercial kitchens, camping trips, and in the event of a post-apocalyptic energy shortage. (Grin) Do you KNOW how long it takes for sugar to *melt*?? I could have read half a short mystery novel before I saw some action in that pot! The instructions called for whisking the butter and cream into the sugar mix, so I started with a wire whisk, which I generally don't like in my non-stick pots I just bought a few months ago, but I figure it's got smooth rounded wires, so if I wasn't vicious with it, it should be okay.
I tossed that sugar around, and slowly I started to see shinny little dark spots forming like wet drops of water in the sugar bowl. I tried not to "over stir" because several of the recipes cautioned against it. I thought I was gonna fall asleep stirring, but my grandmother used to smack my backside when stirring various fudges and candies at Christmas, so habit and Pavlovian training prevailed. Finally it melted and had started to make a nice gentle bubbling pattern on the surface, whereupon I quit stirring. Up to this point, it looked just like the pictures on the recipe site...... This is also where that similarity stopped.
Maybe it was because I used brown sugar and I didn't let the sugar cook more....maybe I didn't let the butter come to room temperature.....maybe I should have had a candy thermometer.....maybe this recipe just hated me....maybe the cooking Gods wanted some afternoon entertainment.... but as soon as I tipped those butter pieces into the pot, I was doomed. It immediately bound up into what my grandmother would have called "hard crack stage" and gave me the big middle finger, and would NOT accept that I wanted it to play nice with the butter. In fact, it was rather insistent it had no intention of allowing the butter to join it in any way, going to the extent of globing up in my whisk like it was trying to turn my whisk into one of those old-fashioned fish-knocking sticks.
Having never done this, I thought with some hope that perhaps to make their blog or site look all homey they'd just skipped taking pictures of this stage, but I doubted it pretty seriously, and began to consider this a failed batch of sauce. Nevertheless, I figured what the hell, and I poured the milk mixture into the pot after turning off the gas. This resulted in a strangely milky-buttery liquid with small hard sugary chunks in it. It was not pretty.
I hate cooking something and making a mess of it. I hate wasting ingredients. And I hate throwing out anything, most especially because I don't have a good pen full of chickens or anything that would have benefited from the mess I'd made. Out of a total lack of any idea what else to do, I for some reason just
kept stirring this nasty little concoction in the pot, but *definitely*
having come to the conclusion this was a bust. Yet while I stood there tossing these nasty little chunks in the milky slop, I noticed something. The milky slop was turning darker and more "caramel-y" looking. Hey! Perhaps there was salvation for this endeavor after all.
I turned the burner back on, with a very low flame, held the pot on it's edge so the flame was a slight point deep under the body of the mixture, and I gently swished back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. One would think the time it took I'd be near to falling asleep again, but the excitement that I might just pull this off had me more than alert enough. After the whisk attack by the glop of caramel crack, I'd set the whisk aside, planning on bribing the hubby not to kill me for making him wash it. However, with the new development of the sauce, I put it back in and stirred around the pot gently with it.
Over time, the sugar re-melted, the butter and the milk, having made rather instant friends, convinced the sugary mess to come be playmates, and they all commingled into a darn tasty sauce. I added in the salt, and OMG it was amazing. It still looked a bit thin compared to the pictures online, so I thought perhaps if I let it sit and cool, it'd thicken a bit. I had a hard time waiting, and took little tastes now and then. I had the guys try it, and they both thought for a disaster, it'd come out quite nicely. However, it'd taken so long we were now due at a friend's house for dinner. *sigh*
When we got home, it still wasn't what I'd call "thick," but it was definitely what I'd call a sauce. It was a little overly salty, and looked a *little* bit grainy and granular, but just slightly, and the guys didn't notice at all. It was however wonderfully painfully rich, and just a small bit of it on some apple slices and I was ready for weight busters! The salt really made a nice difference, and now the guys and I are thinking up things to use this on, including an idea to mix a bit with some balsamic vinegar and marinade some boneless pork in it for grilling on the BBQ.
Hey, I'll try anything once - I'll let you know how THAT goes.
2 C. Sugar
3/4 C real Butter (I'd cut that to 1/2 a cup now)
1 TABLEspoon of salt (I'm going to cut it to maybe 3/4 of a tablespoon of salt, cut the bite of the salt a little - plus, my blood pressure doesn't need that mush salt!)
1 C of Cream, Evaporated Milk, Etc. - If you happen to have heavy cream, which I often do for coffee, then hey, go for it, but if you don't just wing it with some milk with powdered milk in it like I did.
I saw on one of the sites that the sauce will be thicker or thinner depending on the milk/cream used. This would explain why the sauce was a bit thin. I think Half and Half would work very nicely in this - kind of a nice happy medium.