Alex Guarnaschelli's Tips For Making The Perfect Caramel - Exclusive

Homemade caramel can scare even the most seasoned of home chefs; while it's not complicated to make, it can still pose some difficulties. In her new book "Cook It Up: Bold Moves for Family Foods," co-written with her daughter Ava Clark, Alex Guarnaschelli describes making caramel as "one of the simplest — and hardest! — things to do." Luckily, Guarnaschelli gave us a few extra tips on caramel-making during a recent exclusive interview. The first thing she pointed out was the safety risks of boiling sugar: "The reason people are intimidated is, rightfully so, because caramel can give you quite a memorable burn."

On a similar note, Guarnaschelli said, "It's like maybe watching a great white shark at the aquarium. You're looking at other fish, but you always know where the great white is. With caramel on the stove, you want to be passive with it in many ways but also constantly aware of where it's at." Caramel may not be incredibly hands-on, but stepping away for even a second can lead to burning caramel.

Less is more

Once you are prepared and the caramel-making process has your full attention, Alex Guarnaschelli has some practical tips to get you started. "First of all, you need a clean pan because any dirt or impurity in the pan can interrupt and cause the sugar to crystallize." Of course, the hallmark of a good caramel is a perfectly smooth consistency — so crystallization is one of the most frustrating and common problems with homemade caramel. And a dirty pan isn't the only reason your sugar can crystallize. "You don't want to stir it with any utensils for the same reason," Guarnaschelli added, as stirring is a surefire way to make the sauce grainy.

Less is more when it comes to caramel. "The simpler, the better, so to speak, in terms of the methodology," she said. "Don't stir it. Don't fuss with it. Just believe it's going to happen." Admittedly, trusting the process can feel powerless, but Guarnaschelli also reassured us that "caramel is a leap of faith ... You just put sugar in the pan, and gently heat it, and watch it turn that amber color."

Cleaning up

With patience and restraint, you will be rewarded with a lovely, robust caramel. But afterward comes the time for everyone's least favorite task: cleaning. Caramel is sticky at the best of times, and when cooled, becomes tough and solid. Cleaning the pan can be a daunting task, but don't worry — Alex Guarnaschelli was ready to share tips on that, too.

"Once you've made your caramel and used it in any form, put the pot in the sink, pour water over the caramel, fill your pot halfway, and simmer it a couple minutes on the stove to clean the caramel off with hot water instead of scrubbing it up," she said. By doing this, the hard sugar will dissolve into the hot water, much like sugar dissolves in a cup of tea. After that, the remaining caramel should easily rinse clean with basic soap and water, leaving you with a yummy treat and no difficult mess.

"Cook It Up," by Alex Guarnaschelli and Ava Clark, is available now.