I looooathe the term “Food Porn”. It’s just so tacky and gross. However, if I had to describe one food as “sensual”, “seductive”, or “illicit”; this Salted Vanilla Caramel Sauce would be it. Just look at it…this…this gooey deliciousness! It’s enough to make you want to eat it with a spoon straight from the jar. Which I have totally done. It’s so good, in fact, little drops of it landed on the countertop while I was pouring it into a jar to store, and were swiped up with my finger, which was promptly inserted into my mouth. I savored it. I couldn’t care less about your judgement. Not one bit.
What’s In It?
This salted vanilla caramel sauce is different from plain salted caramel sauce because it is infused with a heavy dose of vanilla bean paste. Oddly enough, I forgot to add vanilla to this shot. My genius stuns me, my friend. Anywho, there’s also a good amount of unsalted butter, warm heavy cream, sugar, water, lemon juice, and sea salt, of course. You can also use regular kosher salt in a pinch- no pun intended.
Getting the Caramel Started
I’ve talked many a home cook off the caramel ledge in my day. One of the most misunderstood processes in the home kitchen is the crystallization of sugar. To put it in layman’s terms: liquified sugar doesn’t like sugar crystals. Don’t try to make them like one another- they won’t. Respect their differences and you’ll have the smoothest, creamiest caramel you’ve ever tasted. Disrespect results in a granular, crystal-filled mess.
Start by adding sugar to a three quart pot with sloped sides. The bigger the pot the better because it’ll provide you with a sense of security. Anything smaller than a three quart pot and you risk a boil over, which is not only messy, but extremely painful if comes in contact with your skin.
Add a cup of water and a bit of lemon juice to the pot. I like to pour my liquids into the center of the sugar, but it’s not a hard and fast rule.
Now, use a whisk to stir the sugar and the liquids together until the sugar crystals are dissolved. Bring the mixture to a simmer- the bubbles in the liquid should be tiny and not break the surface violently.
DON’T IGNORE THIS STEP!!
(An Important, Yet Often Skipped, Step)
There, there- I yell because it’s important.
Part of the reason we use the lemon juice is to prevent crystallization, but I like to be overly cautious when it comes to my salted vanilla caramel sauce.
Grab a small bowl and fill it with water- you only need about a cup of water. Use a pastry brush, dipped in the water, to brush down the sides of the pot, which is bound to have sugar crystals hanging on to it. Each time you brush the side of the pot free of the sugar crystals, be sure to re-wet the brush to get rid of any crystals that are hanging onto the brush itself.
I like to work in sections that are a wide as the brush. Usually, letting the water from the brush run down the side of the pot will get rid of the sugar crystals, just avoid allowing the brush to enter the sugar that’s in the pot (you don’t want to re-introduce crystals from the brush to the dissolved sugar in the pot). ALWAYS be sure to rinse the brush off in the bowl of water.
Another great method is to cover the pot for a little while and let the condensation that’s produced rinse the sides down. I prefer the brush method, though.
The reason why you have to be so meticulous in brushing down those crystals is because just one of those crystals, if introduced to your melted sugar, will cause the entire batch to crystallize and muck it up. The image above shows the process of brushing down the pot properly.
This is what your pot should look like when you’ve finished brushing it down. Inspect, inspect, inspect. Don’t let a single crystal of sugar remain. You’ll be pissed if you do. By now the sugar should start simmering. Once all the sugar has been removed from the sides, place your candy thermometer into the sugar, then leave it alone.
Allow the sugar mixture to gently simmer
Allowing the sugar to boil rapidly is not only dangerous, it risks the sugar cooking too fast, which could cause it to burn. Let the sugar simmer gently over medium heat. Slowly, the water will evaporate and all you’re left with is molten sugar, which burns like the dickens if it touches your skin. Not that it should touch your skin, but be careful anyway.
Slowly, the sugar will begin to caramelize and turn a golden color.
Heat and Infuse the Cream
Heat your heavy cream until it’s steaming while you wait for your sugar to reach the caramel stage. I do this in the microwave for a minute. Stir in a tablespoon of vanilla bean paste, or a tablespoon and a half of pure vanilla extract. I prefer the paste because I like the looks of vanilla bean flecks in my sauce. Set this aside until the sugar has reached the final stage of cooking.
Reaching Caramel Stage
The longer the sugar simmers, the darker it will become. Your sugar is ready for the next step when the candy thermometer reaches three hundred ten degrees fahrenheit, or when it’s appears deep amber in color.
Watch for Spatters!
It’s important to pull the caramel right when the thermometer reaches three hundred ten, because sugar can go from perfect to burnt in seconds. Before the thermometer gets to that point, though, fold a kitchen towel to set your pot upon. Once you’ve pulled the pot off of the stove, place it on that towel. Slowly, carefully, pour in the heated vanilla-infused cream. I can’t stress how careful you need to be. The sauce will spatter when you pour that cream into it. This is, again, why using a larger pot is a good idea. Whisk constantly as you stream the cream into the sugar.
The caramel will clump up after you’ve added the cream, that’s normal.
Whisk a teaspoon of Maldon sea salt (or kosher salt) into the vanilla caramel. If you find that the caramel has clumped up considerably, return it to the stove and heat on low (whisking constantly) until it melts again.
Add the unsalted butter and whisk it in until it’s completely melted and your caramel is smooth.
Cool, Jar, and Enjoy
Once you’ve developed that smooth, creamy salted vanilla caramel sauce, allow it to cool to room temperature. You can pour it over whatever your heart desires afterwards.
Like an apple cut in very unnecessary Picasso-like way…
…or over ice cream…which this isn’t…
…or scooped out with a spoon and shoved into your mouth. You can also transfer it to a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, and store it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. If you want to eat it as more of a candy, don’t warm it. To achieve a pourable consistency, you can either nuke however much you want to eat for fifteen to thirty seconds, or warm it in a hot water bath. Then enjoy it!
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Salted Vanilla Caramel Sauce
A great version of the classic caramel dessert sauce.
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 3/4 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or 1 1/2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon sea salt (or kosher salt)
- 1/4 stick (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, sliced
In a 3qt (or larger) pot with sloped sides, whisk together the sugar, water, and lemon juice until the sugar has dissolved.
Use a pastry brush, dipped in water to brush down the sides of the pot. This will remove any undissolved sugar crystals, which will cause your sugar to crystallize.
Add a candy thermometer (if using one) to the pot, then bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat.
Slowly cook the sugar, without stirring, until the mixture reaches 310°F, or until it appears dark amber in color, this may take anywhere from 10-15 minutes.
While you're waiting for your sugar to reach the caramel stage, heat the heavy cream in the microwave (or on the stovetop) until it's steaming- about 30 seconds to a minute. Stir in the vanilla bean paste to infuse the cream with vanilla flavor.
Fold and set a kitchen towel on the counter to set the hot pot on. Once your caramel has reached the proper temperature, remove it from the stove, and place it on the folded towel.
Carefully pour in the heated, vanilla-infused cream, whisking constantly (try to keep your hand out of the path of the steam). The sauce will spatter and steam when the cream is added. The caramel may clump up after you've added the cream, that's normal, just continue stirring with the whisk.
Whisk in the sea salt (or kosher salt) and the butter, and whisk until the butter is melted and the caramel is completely smooth.
Allow the sauce to cool to room temperature. Serve once it's cool, or transfer to a clean jar and store, refrigerated, up to two weeks.
- If you find that the caramel has clumped up considerably after you've added the salt, return it to the stove and heat on low (whisking constantly) until it melts again.
- If you want to eat it the caramel as a candy, don't warm it.
- To achieve a pourable consistency, remove your desired amount and microwave for 15-30 seconds, or warm it in a hot water bath. Stir until smooth, then pour.
Here are some great recipes to use your
Salted Vanilla Caramel Sauce in: