Sweet + Salt = Perfection

Sweet + Salt = Perfection

This season’s hot flavor is salted caramel. Jump on the trend with a recipe for a versatile sauce—and some creative ways to get your caramel on.

A drizzle of salted caramel sauce tops our Signature Hot Chocolate with Chocolate Chip Marshmallows. It’s the perfect introduction to the bittersweet chocolate taste that follows. Salted caramel is also one of the favorite flavors of Dan Kish, head chef of Panera Bread®.

“The salt wakes up different sensory components on your tongue,” says Dan. “The trick is to use enough so that you taste the salt but it doesn’t burn your mouth. That’s the magic of good salted caramel.”

For your own at-home fix, consider keeping a jar of high-quality caramel sauce and a medium- to coarse-grained salt at the ready to quell any sweet-and-salt cravings. He recommends reading ingredient lists and avoiding products that contain high-fructose corn syrup and artificial flavorings. “Caramel is basically burnt sugar with cream,” he says. “That’s what you want in a caramel sauce product.” Sprinkle on a bit of coarse table salt, sea salt, or spice salt (available in the baking-goods aisle of most supermarkets) for that salted-caramel flavor.

Adventurous home cooks may want to try cooking up their own salted caramel sauce, but Dan cautions that, “Patience is a requirement.” For a perfect sauce, you’ll have to bring the sugar to a certain temperature and then keep it there so as to not burn it. “You’ve got to stand there and stir it…and watch it…and stir it,” he says. “In other words, it’s a bit of a project.”

Still up for the challenge? Try the following recipe, along with our great ideas for enjoying salted caramel sauce—be it homemade or store-bought.

Lighter Salted Caramel Sauce

Makes 12 servings
This version replaces the usual heavy cream with skim milk, so we added cornstarch as a thickening agent.

INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup fat-free milk
1½ cups sugar
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 pinch salt or sea salt
¼ teaspoon vanilla (optional)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Place the cornstarch in a small heavy saucepan. Add the milk and stir the mixture until smooth. Cook it over medium heat, whisking constantly, until boiling and slightly thickened, 5 to 7 minutes.
  2. In a medium heavy saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is melted, 2 minutes. (Once the sugar has dissolved, stop stirring, otherwise the sugar can crystalize.) Bring the sugar mixture to a boil and cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until it is thickened and light brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Do not let the sugar burn. Remove the pan from the heat and continue to swirl it until the mixture is slightly cooled, 2 minutes longer. Add the lemon juice, stirring with a wooden spoon.
  3. Using a wooden spoon, gradually stir in the milk mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the mixture is well combined, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the salt or sea salt. Let the caramel sauce cool slightly. (It will thicken as it cools.) Serve the sauce or let it cool completely and then store it in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Bring it to room temperature before using.

NUTRITIONAL INFO (per 2-tablespoon serving): 107 calories, 1 g protein, 27 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 12 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber

Crazy for Caramel

Even after you’ve enjoyed a drizzle atop a few cups of homemade hot cocoa, you’ll have plenty of leftover caramel sauce to experiment with. Get some inspiration here or come up with your own ideas.

  • Use it to make gourmet s’mores.
  • Serve it over grilled pineapple slices.
  • Fill the center of a dessert plate with a thin layer of it; then add a slice of dessert such as cheesecake or poached pears.
  • Mash it into extra-ripe bananas and serve with granola and vanilla yogurt.
  • Use it to sweeten your hot oatmeal.
  • Pour it over bread pudding or a piece of pie.
  • Swap it for syrup on pancakes, waffles, or crepes.
  • Fold it into your favorite buttercream frosting.
  • Pipe it into the center of a cupcake.
  • Use it to sweeten a cup of hot tea.
  • Spread it on toast.
  • Blend it into a vanilla milkshake.
  • Dip marshmallows in it and then roll them in toasted coconut.
  • Drizzle it on frozen yogurt or ice cream.
  • Dip fresh apple slices in a warmed cup of it.