Monday, November 8, 2010

My Caramel Nightmares

I like to think of myself as a reasonably accomplished cook. For crying out loud, I made homemade croissants yesterday. Today I will make braciole in the crock pot to serve with pasta and garlic broccoli, homemade bread, and noodles for chicken noodle soup tomorrow.

I'm not a kitchen dunce. I don't require recipes, for the most part, or fancy ingredients, and I can, for the most part, produce some pretty fabulous dishes.

Not caramel. Never caramel.

The method to caramel is so simple, so inexplicably easy, and yet, to date, I've been unable to produce one single, satisfactory pot. It's maddening. I've burned sugar, I've curdled the cream, I've used a pot too small and scraped hard cracked amber sugar off the ceiling. That was eight years ago, and was the final straw. I gave up. Completely and utterly. Along with polenta...caramel remains my Moby Dick.

Until last night. Last night, buoyed by my successful, flaky, buttery croissants, I decided to attempt the fateful recipe once more, in an attempt to have a lovely snack for my dear husband.

I chose a nice, big pot- two quarts for a single cup of caramel sauce, in preparation for the rolling, bubbling, steaming addition of the hot cream to browned sugar. I set all my ingredients in a row, so I wouldn't have to step away from the simmering sugar. I even had the butter cut into uniform little pieces to melt in at the end.

The only mishap occurred when my toddler broke through the barrier I erect whenever I cook something possibly explosive, but I kept her at bay with a well practiced, swinging leg, and ignored her angry chatter as I focused solely on the pot of liquid gold.

My technique- it was flawless. The cream bubbled predictably as I poured it into the hot sugar in small batches off the heat...whisking, whisking, whisking...I added the butter at the end, let it cool...said a prayer of thanks to the gods of the clean ceiling, and swirled the gorgeous mahogany sauce in the pan in admiration.

I did it. I finally managed perfectly smooth, perfectly gorgeous caramel. Knowing pretty well how hot caramel sauce is, I let it cool for fifteen minutes before dipping a tiny spoon in...and...

It was bitter as hell. Possibly burnt tasting. Not really sure what that flavor was, but it was definitely NOT salted caramel. More like... salted burned tires. It was, for lack of a better term, horrible.
 I couldn't stop tasting it. I didn't burn it. No sandy, undissolved sugar crystals. The sauce didn't break. There was no explainable reason why this caramel didn't taste like liquid gold.

 Unless you are counting the fact that I evidently melted half a plastic kitchen spoon into the sugar when I was first stirring. The recipe didn't call for freshly melted plastic spoon. In fact, I'm pretty sure it said wooden spoon, but you know, a lot of recipes are fans of the wooden spoon. I've never really found it necessary before. My favorite bread recipe wants to be stirred with a wooden spoon, but I always use my favorite long handled plastic spoon- half of which may very well be in my stomach right now from all of the diagnostic tasting. If only I'd washed the dishes before I tasted the caramel, I could have saved myself probably two hundred calories worth of dips and shudders.

 God, that's horrible.Hope I don't die of plastic poisoning.

Guess I'll try it again today with the wooden spoon.

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