A liquid gold, embracing our dessert world with its velvety, luscious clutch, have triumphed over million hearts. We love Caramel. Praline, creme brûlée, toffee, hard candy, soft chew, that runny satiny sheen drizzle of caramel sauce, there are so many variations of caramel. All have bribed our taste-buds for years with their ravishing attributes. The confectionery land is incomplete without caramel.
Caramel making has been a dominion for professional chefs. Most of us get jittery over the conversations of making caramel at home. I say there is no need to get petrified when it comes to caramel making. It won’t be a horror-struck situation once you have caramel insight. I am here to say all about caramel today. We will discuss all the caramel making dreads and anxieties. It’s just sugar.
As per my survey, the dilemmas of making caramel are crystallisation, the size and type of pan to be used, temperature dubiety, the brunt aftertaste, too dark, too light, cleaning of the pots, pans and kitchen space. And of course too hot to handle.
Sugar is – sucrose. when heated to the point, the molecules break down and form new compounds that have a deep rich aroma, hues and flavours. Which is responsible for the unique complex caramel flavour. Sugar turns into a molten golden hue when we heat it. They say it’s complex chemistry. The change caused by the heating at the molecular level causes sugar to liquefy and it resettles into the caramel. Heat causes sucrose to break down into its component sugars, glucose and fructose. Eventually, these molecules break down into other molecules that react with one another to create hundreds of new compounds, such as bitter-tasting phenols, fruity, buttery, sour, nutty, and malty. These are the delicious flavours and aromas of caramelised sugar.
But why do we need to learn the chemistry lesson for caramel making? You can skip this segment, and be free from all tensity.
There are two basic methods for caramel making – dry and wet. The dry method involves simply heating sugar in a dry pan until it liquefies and browns. This method is less-temperamental. This caramel without any external moisture is used to line a mould for a flan or crème caramel, to make spun sugar, and praline.
Further adding butter and cream to this molten sugar will turn it into the caramel sauce. I personally prefer to use a pan with a wide surface area for this method so the sugar is in a thin layer that heats and browns more evenly.
My trick for staying in control when dry-cooking sugar for a small quick batch at home – I sprinkle a part of the sugar over the centre of the pan and do nothing until it starts to melt and colour around the edges. At the first sign of colour, I swirl the pan and sprinkle in a little more sugar, swirl again to even things out and continue in this way until I am closer to the colour I want. It is important to know when to stop. There will be enough heat in the pan even when you turn off the flame. That heat will continue to brown further, so stop at the point where you start to feel WOW for that light gold tincture in your pan.
The wet method of making caramel calls for moistening the sugar in the pan with little water. To make a wet caramel, you combine sugar with water in a pan. You then first dissolve the sugar in the water over low heat, creating a sugar syrup. This syrup is further heated until all of the water evaporates. What’s left is pure, liquefied sugar, which is heated until it caramelizes.
The wet method is easier to make, became it is less likely to burn. But it is more prone to crystallisation. Any kind of temperature fluctuation or stirring will immediately, soil the batch.
Let’s get to these points further to have a better understanding. But for now, you are clear that we make caramel two ways, the dry method and the wet method.
Trick – Cooking caramel over low heat may seem like it’s the safest bet since, over high heat, the sugar can go from just right to burnt in a flash. But using low heat makes the process tediously long, which is why I use two heat levels: First, melt the sugar over medium-high heat. Then reduce the heat to low when the caramel begins to turn straw-coloured, which provides a wider window for nailing the exact temperature.
Crystallisation – is the affright, we face when making the caramel. The sucrose molecules in sugar have a strong tendency to cling together, given any opportunity.
Imagine it, like a class of naughty kids. You either have to make them sit separate or you don’t interfere and keep the peace within you, believing they will turn up well in future.
Similarly, there are two ways to avoid crystallisation made by naughty sugar molecules. One is you add a little lemon juice or corn syrup (invert sugar), and you can prevent the sugar from crystallising (keeping the molecules/naughty kids away from each other). As corn syrup or citrus juice will not allow the particles to get back together. And the second way is, after you add the sugar in a pan, just don’t interfere and don’t try to use a spoon or spatula to stir it.
But at the same time, you have to watch for the temperature. Any pan, when kept on the flame, will get a hot spot, where the sugar will start to brown first. So, the smart thing is swirling rather than stirring. Once you see some amber streaks underneath sugar, you swirl the pan gently.
It will be a bit like a default setting in your head. You will see the colour changing in the bottom and around the edge of sugar, you will instinctively pick up a spatula to stir and prevent any burring, but this is the time for patience.
Just let the sugar in the pan, sit on the low flame and don’t use any spatula. As you discern a hot spot, pick up the pan by the handle, swirl a bit and put it back on the flame. Be tactful, when you observe the rapid fierce from the hot pan, don’t keep it back on the flame. Take your call and swirl a little more to bring down the temperature as well as try to get the un-melted sugar into the molten areas of the pan.
Remember – The wet method of making caramel can equally get messed up, even after adding corn syrup, if you stir.
Do not stir, but swirl the pan to mix.
The caramel turns grainy sometimes. Another drawback to the wet method is that the sugar tends to recrystallize more easily than it does with the dry method.
When the sugar and water boil, sugar syrup may splash onto the wall of the pan, where it evaporates quickly and forms back into sugar crystals. If even one of these crystals falls back into the syrup, it can seed a chain reaction, turning the clear syrup opaque and grainy. Here are a few ways to prevent it:
Wash the sides of the pan with a damp pastry brush halfway through the caramelization process, dissolving any sugar crystals on the walls.
If you spot any grains of sugar on the side of the pot, cover the pot with a lid for a minute to cause steam to collect and dissolve any crystals that may have formed.
Another important point to remember is once you have achieved the amber colour hot sugar syrup. And you further want to add cream and butter to it. Make sure that the butter and cream are not cold. In fact, make sure to warm them a little before adding them to the hot sugar syrup. Turn off the flame before adding cream and butter to the pan. And as you add, use a whisk mix them with the molten sugar.
For any caramel, a heavy-bottomed pan is essential. As lightweight cookware heats unevenly and creates hot spots and the sugar can burn within seconds.
They say, don’t use nonstick pans for making the caramel. To be honest, I have been using non-stick pans for years to make caramel at home. Actually, there is a reason for saying no to nonstick pans, Hawkins Futura Hard Anodised Stewpot with Lid, 8.5 litres the non-stick casting of the pan peels off once it wears out and can blend into the caramel. So, it is important to have a good quality, heavy-bottomed nonstick pan (which is not dilapidated).
Also, if you plan to make a big batch for commercial purpose, avoid non-stick pans, because of long persistent heating.
Professionals use unlined copper pans with a funnel-shape hollow metal handle, into which they shove a length of wooden stick. Only a small part of the stick touches the metal, so the exposed part forms a stay-cool grab.
You can use heavy-bottomed stainless steel or aluminium pan too at home for small batches. Prestige Induction Base Stainless Steel Fry Pan, 240mm, Silver
Another point is whether to use regular flat pans or narrower, pot-like saucepans. Remember when you add butter and cream to the molten sugar, it will instantly execute hot bubbles, that will sully the kitchen counter.
If you have a small batch, feel free to choose deep or flat pan. For a big batch, I recommend deep, wide heavy-bottomed pans.
For effortless cleaning of pans and kitchen counter – Don’t try to scrub the pan and utensils clean after making the caramel, you will find this is sheer frustration. Instead, fill the pan with water, and submerge the utensils you’ve used in the water, and let it sit for several hours until the sugar is dissolved, then pour the water down the drain. Clean with regular dish wash soap and you are done.
Caramelised sugar by itself solidifies to a glass-like consistency. For a more usable consistency, liquid and fat (cream and butter) are added, and we get caramel sauce. When this caramel sauce is further cooked at a certain temperature, it turns into candies soft as taffy or hard as a lollipop. The consistency can be controlled according to the specifications of the recipe.
Here I am sharing with you different stages of sugar cooking. The higher the temperature of the cooked sugar, the less water there is in the sugar, so the firmer the sugar will be. The way to determine the stage of the cooked sugar is with accurate mercury or digital candy thermometer.
In my opinion, if you plan to make just some caramel sauce at home, you don’t require and thermometer. You can very well estimate the time to turn off the flame looking at the consistency. But, if you are moving further with candy making, it is best to have a candy thermometer Blusmart Instant Read Waterproof Digital Meat Food Thermometer with Backlight LCD and Calibration for Candy, Outdoor Cooking, Baking Turkey, BBQ, Smoker (Red) because the sugar will be blistering hot to take any chances of reckoning guesses. Hot caramel is a liquid on the verge of becoming a solid. If it comes in contact with your skin, it will burn savagely.
CANDY – SYRUP TEMPERATURE
Thread Stage (230*-234*F or 106*-112*C) – the sugar thickens into syrupy that can make threads when you pull a spoon out.
Soft Ball Stage (234-240*F or 112*-115*C) – Syrup would form a soft, sticky ball that can be flattened or pressed into a soft gooey toffee-like consistency. Used to make soft chewy candies, fudge, toffee.
Firm Ball Stage (244-250*F or 116*- 120*C) – Syrup will form a firm but a pliable, sticky ball that holds its shape briefly. Used for caramels, butter, creams, nougat, marshmallows, Italian meringues, gummies, and toffees.
HardBall Stage (260*F or 130*C) – Syrup will form a hard, sticky ball that holds its shape. Used for caramels, nougat, divinity and toffees.
Soft Crack Stage (270*F or 135*C) – the solution solidifies into a glass-like solid that slowly bends under light pressure. The syrup will form strands that are firm yet pliable. Used for butterscotch, firm nougat, and taffy.
Hard Crack Stage (300*F or 148*C) – the solution solidifies into a hard glass-like solid that breaks or cracks under pressure. Used to make hard candies and brittles. The syrup will form threads that are stiff (brittle) and break easily. Used for brittles, toffees, glazed fruit, hard candy, pulled poured and spun sugar.
Caramel Stage (310-349*F or 160*C) – An advanced crack stage, defined by the development of an amber colour that becomes tan, brown and eventually dark brown as the temperature continues to rise. The longer the sugar cooks, the darker the colour and the richer the flavour. Which becomes deeper, less sweet and more bitter as it darkens.
Burned Stage (350*F) – The sugar smokes and eventually turns black. It is completely oxidized (burned) and inedible. You will need a lot of fat and dairy to balance out the acidic bitterness for a good caramel sauce.
A pinch of salt is used in most caramels because it helps counter the bitterness that develops during caramelization. Adding more salt to make salted caramel is a popular variation, with salt either added to the top of candies or mixed with caramel sauce. Caramel-flavoured coffees and hot cocoas are also common, and their salted caramel variations also have become popular.
Cream – never use non-dairy cream to make the caramel. Regular Amul cream works very well.
Toffee and butterscotch are similar to caramel but are made with brown sugar or molasses and have butter added, whereas caramel is made with white sugar. Butterscotch is boiled to the soft crack stage and toffee is heated further to the hard crack stage
Dulce de Leche (Argentina): Unlike caramel, which begins with caramelizing sugar, dulce de leche is made by caramelizing sweetened condensed milk. Cooked for a long time over low heat, the milk winds up with that roasted sugar flavour.
Cajeta (Mexico): Thicker than caramel, the Mexican favourite Cajeta is made from caramelized goat’s milk and sugar (and often various other spices, including cinnamon). The unique flavour and texture from the goat’s milk are what sets Cajeta apart.
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon. kosher salt
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
In a small saucepan over low heat, add sugar with water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, until sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes.
Cook until deeply golden, without stirring, 4 to 5 minutes more. (If you’re using a candy thermometer, you want it to reach 320*F).
Once the caramel is a deep copper colour, turn off the heat and immediately stir in cream and butter. Make sure that the cream and butter are little warm before you add them to the sugar syrup.
The mixture will bubble up so be careful! So turn off the flame and use a whisk to mix it.
Turn up the flame again and cook on medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Add in the salt and vanilla.
Let cool slightly in pan, then transfer to a container to cool completely.