Salty Caramel and How to Make It

Over the Christmas holiday we broke in our new ice cream maker.  Our first batch was salty caramel ice cream (and damn was it good).  We’ve perfected the salty caramel dance over the last few months.  It’s one of those things that looks super complicated (read impressive) to the uninitiated but is actually ridiculously easy.  (Truffles and cranberry sauce fall into the same category.)  It’s totally worth adding to your repertoire (and there’s no reason your pants should fit any better than mine).

To make it, you will need:

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup
  • 2 big pinches good quality coarse salt
  • 2 tablespoons whiskey or bourbon (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Get a good sized pot and put it on the stove over medium heat.  This stuff fluffs up when it cooks and you’ll need to have room for it to more or less double in volume while it’s boiling.  When in doubt, go bigger.
  2. Put the butter in and let it melt.
  3. Put the cream, sugar, and corn syrup in and stir for a minute or two until the sugar starts to dissolve.
  4. Turn the heat up to high.  Stand there and wait.  Pay attention.  Do not walk away.  This stuff is molten glue.  Be careful.  I say again, pay attention.  If you’re the sort of person who has frequent kitchen accidents, you may want to have a large bowl of ice water sitting casually by to plunge your hand into should there be an incident.  Once it comes to a full boil it will dramatically expand in size.  Let it boil hard, and give it the occasional stir with a spatula or wooden spoon.
  5. If you have one, dig out your kitchen thermometer.  If you’re using it, keep letting it boil hard until it gets to about 225-230 degrees Fahrenheit.  This can easily take a full ten to twelve minutes.  If you don’t have a thermometer, you can do it by eye.  Occasionally give it a stir and pull out your spoon.  You want the caramel to thoroughly coat the spoon.  When you hold the spoon up, the caramel should drip off fairly slowly and make little sheets, not run off immediately.  It will thicken quite a bit when it cools, but it does need to have substantial body now (aim for something about the consistency of chocolate sauce).
  6. Turn it down to medium, add the salt, and let it cook for another 5-7 minutes at a low boil.
  7. Turn off the heat, add the whiskey or bourbon and the vanilla, and stir it in.


Notes:  This doubles (or halves if for some unimaginable reason you only want a little) very easily.  It keeps in a sealed container in the fridge for 3 or 4 weeks (though I can’t imagine having that much willpower).

So what do you do with it?  Besides eat it with a spoon?  Well, lots of things.  Heat it up and put it on ice cream or on top of a cake.  Stir a spoonful of it into your coffee or hot chocolate.  Use it as a glaze when you make a ham (don’t look at me like that, it’s fabulous).  Chill, slice into cubes, and call them caramels.  Heat some up in a pan, add a bit more butter to loosen things up, toss in a handful of nuts, and use them on salad.  Just give it a tiny bit of thought, you’ll totally find something to do with it.