Quick Caramel Sauce
This sauce is certainly quick to make and absolutely delicious. Warmed and served over a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a few chopped nuts, this will make a simple, but delightfully decadent dessert.
As the mixture heats, the water and sugar will mix (you may swirl the pan, but DO NOT stir).
After the water and sugar has cooked for 2 minutes, heat butter and cream to boiling in a separate pan or microwave.
When the sugar water has become evenly amber, stir in the warm butter and cream.
Remove from heat, stir in the vanilla and salt.
Pour into a heat-proof container, being careful not to scrape the sides or bottom of pan (after the pan cools a bit, scraping the sides and bottom will be your reward!).
Can be kept at room temperature for 2 weeks.
Constantly watch the sugar and water while cooking as once it begins to turn amber, it will burn quickly. Occasionally wash down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to dissolve sugar crystals.
You can vary the depth of caramelization by cooking the sugar syrup to either a light amber (which will produce a mild caramel flavor) or a dark amber (which will produce a strong caramel flavor). However, if you cook it too long, the result will have a somewhat bitter flavor. Experiment to see how strong you like it. Rose Levy Beranbaum in The Pie and Pastry Bible suggests heating the sugar syrup to 380°F [190°C]. Somewhere between 350°F [175°C] and 380°F [190°C] is where I prefer it.
After storing, the sauce may begin to crystalize. Simply reheat to melt the crystals. You can also add 1/2 tablespoon corn syrup or golden syrup to the sugar and water before cooking to help prevent crystallization.
If you are using powdered vanilla mixed with sugar (widely available in Europe), add 1/2 tsp of this powder along with the cream and butter as the sugar needs some time to cook.
A teflon-lined pan will reduce the risk of sugar crystalizing on the sides of the pan.
The quickest way to evenly cook the syrup is in a teflon fry pan that holds at least 1 liter. Using a frypan, however, is messier as the syrup will splatter out of the pan. A high-sided pan will reduce this mess. If using this method, the final cooking time will be only about 30 seconds.
In Europe, I make a large batch by using a 200 ml container of cream and tripling the recipe. I use a 26 cm pan to cook the caramel and pour it into a 1/2 liter (2 cup) glass measuring cup. This makes a bit over one cup.
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