Caramel Sauce

Caramel is one of my favorite flavors, and making your own caramel sauce is probably easier than you think. The keys to caramel are attention, timing, and fearlessness. Read through the recipe a few times, then have all your ingredients ready to add. Keep an eye on your mixture, and don’t worry if the mixture seizes a bit when you add the heavy cream – just keep stirring, and it will become smooth. Most of all, don’t be afraid – the worst thing that happens is you have to start over.

I don’t usually include the step-by-step photos in my blog posts, but since caramel-making instructions can be vague, I wanted to give you a visual – pictures are below. Good luck!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3/4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pats

Preparation

Place sugar in a medium saucepan; shake gently to form an even layer. Add water, but don’t stir; allow the water to completely moisten the sugar, then place over medium heat.

Allow mixture to cook to dissolve the sugar; it will look cloudy (step 1). Once the sugar dissolves completely, allow the mixture to cook on medium-high until it turns an amber color, which can take 5-10 minutes; mine began to turn amber around 6 minutes into cooking and I gently shifted my pan a bit to keep the heat even as the mixture began to darken (step 2). When the mixture is almost evenly browned (step 3 – I pulled mine when all but the very center of my mixture had turned amber), remove from heat. Very carefully add heavy cream, stirring well, then add butter and continue to stir until completely smooth (step 4). The mixture will bubble up when the cold cream hits the hot sugar mixture, so watch out for splashes and be careful not to get burned.

Allow mixture to cool to room temperature, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Caramel will last in the fridge for about 1 month.

Step 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 4

Advertisements

Chocolate Caramel Cookies

chocolate caramelRolos have been around since 1937. Originally manufactured in Britain, they are made by Nestle everywhere except the United States, where the fine folks at Hershey’s produce them alongside other heavenly treats like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Kit Kats, and Mr. Goodbars.

So, what happens when you take a Rolo and wrap chocolate cookie dough around it? You get a delicious treat, like these cookies.

The original recipe I found included a salted caramel drizzle, and the next time I make these, I’ll definitely include it. While they’re certainly delicious on their own, I think these cookies could benefit from an extra kick of caramel and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 36 Rolo candies, unwrapped

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In a mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed for 30 seconds.

Add sugar and brown sugar, beating until light and fluffy, scraping the sides of the bowl frequently.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating until combined, then add vanilla and beat until combined.

Add flour mixture about a half-cup at a time, mixing well between each addition and scraping the sides of the bowl frequently.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, shape dough into balls and press a Rolo into each center, shaping dough around the candy to enclose it.

Place cookies about 2 inches apart on prepared sheets and bake for 10 minutes, until edges are firm. Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes on cookie sheets, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Apple Crumb Bars

apple crumb barsI will not be intimidated by caramel. Not even when I completely fail at a recipe for caramel apple shortbread and turn said caramel into something that could have probably been used as a weapon, so sharp were its edges.

Full disclosure: I’m no confectioner. I’m far better with baked goods than I am with candies, which is what caramel is, really. So when the failed recipe didn’t turn out, I chalked it up partially to my inexperience with this finicky substance and partially to the blogger who wrote some less-than-clear instructions regarding the length of time one needs to cook her caramel and what it will look like at different stages in preparation. Hint: “bubbly” and “glossy” are rather subjective terms, and I clearly have a very different opinion about what those words mean. Step-by-step photos of the process would have been immensely helpful, but there were none to be had. Anyway…

Realizing that I definitely need more practice with caramel-ish substances, I found an apple crumb bar recipe that includes a caramel apple layer between two crumb layers, and it turned out very well. I’m not a big fan of cooked fruit, even apples, but Mike proclaimed these bars delicious.

Ingredients

For the crumb layers:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 3/4 cup white sugar*
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar*
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes

For the caramel apple layer:

  • 4 medium apples, diced (I used 2 Granny Smiths and 2 Empires)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup cold water

*If you prefer, you can use 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar instead of the white/dark brown mix. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with parchment paper and spray lightly with baking spray.

In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, sugars, baking soda, and salt; stir to combine. Rub in the butter with your hands until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs; you can also cut the butter in using a pastry blender, but I found the rubbing method to be much easier.

Reserve 2 cups of crumb mixture for topping; press the remaining crumb mixture into the prepared baking dish and set aside.

Sprinkle diced apples evenly over the crumb layer.

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, butter, and water. Stir constantly and bring to a boil; once the mixture begins to boil, cook and stir for 2 minutes until the mixture is thickened and bubbly and looks like the photo below.

Pour the caramel mixture over the apples and sprinkle the remaining crumbs on top.

Bake for 38-40 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and cool completely before serving; I put mine in the fridge overnight so the caramel would set up well.

caramel spice mix (2)

 

You’ll want your caramel spice mixture to look like this. Don’t be intimidated by the caramel!

Caramel Cupcakes with Vanilla Almond Buttercream

caramel cupcakesIn this age of fancy-looking cupcakes, when many a blogger can present the kind of artistic creations that were once reserved for food magazines, I find myself incapable of successfully piping buttercream icing onto regular-sized cupcakes.

While cream cheese frosting flows freely from my piping bag in elegant swirls, buttercream reduces me to the amateur of amateurs. Miniature cupcakes are easier; with such little surface area, you really just need a blob to cover them. But regular-sized cupcakes are another matter entirely, and I simply can’t manage to produce the kind of effect I’d like. We all have our shortcomings, I suppose.

After attempting to pipe this frosting and discovering that my skills were once again lacking, I took hold of my trusty offset spatula. One advantage to frosting cupcakes by hand is that they take on a lovely old-fashioned look, befitting a classic flavor like the caramel of these cupcakes. This recipe was adapted from a few others I’ve seen online to incorporate much more vanilla, and I chose to frost them with a vanilla almond buttercream, rather than a salted caramel or other trendy flavor, to create a more classic treat. Caramel and vanilla are good flavor friends, and according to Mike the almond adds another dimension, which is exactly what I’d hoped to create. If only I weren’t fasting from sugar right now, I’d probably have already eaten a few myself!

Caramel Cupcakes

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line cupcake tins with paper liners; this recipe yields about 18 cupcakes.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar until very light and fluffy.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and beat on medium speed until combined.

Add flour mixture and buttermilk in alternate batches, starting and ending with the flour and scraping the sides of the bowl frequently. Batter will be fluffy.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, scoop batter into prepared pans, filling about half-full.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Mine baked for 21 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool in pans for just a minute, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

Vanilla Almond Buttercream

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 to 3/4 tablespoon almond extract

Preparation

In a mixing bowl, beat butter for about 1 minute, then add salt and beat another minute.

Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until all of the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter; this will take a few minutes.

Add vanilla extract and almond extract, beating well to combine. Taste; add more extract if desired.

Frost cupcakes using an offset spatula.

 

Caramel Popcorn

caramel corn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caramel is tricky. Chemically speaking, caramelization is the removal of water from sugar, a breakdown of molecules and re-formation of compounds that yield a distinct flavor. Making caramel can be a complicated business, because it’s a sensitive substance. Rainy days aren’t good for candy making in general, and you’ve got to be careful about stirring or not stirring according to a recipe’s specifications.

When Mike and I lived in Maryland and DC, my caramel popcorn turned out very differently, with a smooth caramel coating that I am yet to achieve in Pittsburgh. In LaPlata, Mike’s coworkers took up collections, giving me the proceeds to buy ingredients and keep them in caramel popcorn on a weekly basis. But here in my sunny Pittsburgh kitchen, the atmosphere, or moisture in the air, or humidity yields a crystalline caramel akin to rock candy, rather than a smooth caramel like it should. I’ve amend my recipe below to feature an additional half-teaspoon of vanilla from what I used today.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup unpopped popcorn kernels
  • 12 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Using an air popper, pop the popcorn and place it in a large roasting pan; remove any unpopped kernels.

In a medium saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup. Cook and stir over medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil, then continue boiling, without stirring, for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and add baking soda and vanilla, then stir vigorously to combine; the mixture will puff up a bit and it is very important to do this off of the heat.

Pour immediately over the popcorn and bake for 15 minutes; stir, then bake 5 minutes more.

While the popcorn is baking, spread two large pieces of aluminum foil on a table; tape down at the edges and butter well.

When popcorn is finished baking, spread immediately on the buttered foil to cool.

AVC (Almond Vanilla Caramel) Cupcakes

vanilla caramel cupcakes

 

 

 

 

 

Tonight, my mom is having “the kids” over for dinner. The kids” used to mean my brother Andy and me, then morphed into either one of us and our spouses, or all four of us. Add my nephew Roman in and “the kids” range in age from five to 39.

Because there will be a small group of us at dinner and I’m not eating sweets for the next four months (let’s just say my scale and I aren’t friends at the moment and leave it at that for now), I wanted a recipe that would make just one dozen, so I adapted a basic one-dozen recipe to include both almond and vanilla flavors, then added caramel icing because my mom is a caramel fan. Midway through the caramel, I decided to whip up some chocolate drizzle icing to embellish half of the cupcakes for those who are chocolate fans. The end result is a cupcake from my wildest dreams. Too bad I won’t be eating them!

Almond Vanilla Cupcakes

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup milk

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line a cupcake pan with paper liners; set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add eggs, one at a time; scrape down bowl, and beat in vanilla.

Add flour mixture and milk alternatively, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

Divide batter evenly among liners, about three-quarters full each.

Bake until golden and tops spring back to touch, 20-22 minutes.

Transfer pans to wire rack; cool completely before frosting.

Caramel Frosting

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • About 1.5 ounces milk (you need half of 1/3 of a cup of milk)
  • 1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • About 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Preparation

Combine butter and brown sugar in a medium saucepan and slowly bring to a boil.

Boil for one minute, remove from heat, and stir in milk.

Return to heat and bring to a boil once again.

Pour mixture into mixing bowl and allow to cool slightly, about 5 minutes.

Beat caramel mixture on medium speed for a few minutes to disperse heat; the mixing bowl should not be too hot for you to touch, but if it remains warm that is fine.

Add one cup powdered sugar and one teaspoon vanilla, beating until smooth.

Slowly add the remaining powdered sugar and vanilla, beating until smooth.

Transfer frosting to a 12-inch piping bag fitted with a large plain tip. Working quickly, pipe frosting onto cupcakes.

Chocolate Drizzle

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • About 1 cup powdered sugar

Preparation

In a small saucepan, melt butter.

Add cocoa powder and stir to combine, then remove from heat.

Add milk, vanilla, and powdered sugar, stirring until smooth. It may be necessary to add additional powdered sugar to ensure that your drizzle isn’t too thin.

Transfer drizzle to an 8-inch piping bag fitted with a medium plain tip. Pipe drizzle over caramel frosting. Alternatively, you could just use a spoon and literally drizzle the drizzle.

Caramel Frosting

 

 

 

 

 

Many amateur bakers are intimidated by caramel, but this recipe is very simple; it just requires paying close attention to the butter, brown sugar, and milk, and exhibiting some patience in waiting for the caramel mixture to cool slightly before the incorporation of the powdered sugar. It is an excellent choice for chocolate cake, but also pairs nicely with white cake or almond cake. This recipe yields enough for 24 cupcakes or one bundt cake; I have not tried to frost two-layer or sheet cakes with it yet.

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Preparation

Combine butter and brown sugar in a medium saucepan and slowly bring to a boil.

Boil for one minute, remove from heat, and stir in milk.

Return to heat and bring to a boil once again.

Pour mixture into mixing bowl and allow to cool slightly, about 5 minutes.

Beat caramel mixture on medium speed for a few minutes to disperse heat; the mixing bowl should not be too hot for you to touch, but if it remains warm that is fine.

Add one cup powdered sugar and one teaspoon vanilla, beating until smooth.

Slowly add the remaining powdered sugar and vanilla, beating until smooth.

Frost cake or cupcakes quickly, as this will set very quickly.