Why Trying For Dark-Colored Caramel Is Worth The Risk

Caramel has proven to be an indispensable flavoring agent to have in the kitchen. Use it as a glaze for meats, a filling for pastries, and as a syrup for drinks, and find yourself enjoying the rich sweetness it lends to everything. It's convenient to make at home, with only sugar, cream, and butter as its basic ingredients. Add some vanilla extract and salt and you have a delectable salted caramel sauce.

Because sugar burns easily, it's often better to err on the safe side and remove it from the heat as soon as it has dissolved into a slightly thick syrup with a light caramel color. However, once you've already mastered making your own caramel sauce, it's worth letting it cook a little more to take on a deeper, richer hue. A darker-colored caramel sauce comes with a deeper flavor that can enhance a wide spectrum of dishes and desserts.

The exact temperature for cooking caramel sauce is 220 F, with the flame kept low and slow. Keep it cooking at this temperature longer than you usually would until it takes on a deep amber color to your liking. Since caramel doesn't continue to darken after being removed from the heat, you need to push through any fear of burning your sauce and let the color develop to the depth you like. As soon as it does, take the pan off the stove immediately. Carefully but quickly add in your butter and cream, plus your choice of additional flavoring.

Caramel's flavor deepens at its different stages

Once you've built your experience in cooking a deeper-colored sauce, you'll discover how caramel's level of sweetness develops as it takes on a darker hue and brings something different to a dish. You can then learn how to cook different-hued caramel sauces for various purposes.

When you need a glaze for your vegetables or meat, a light caramel sauce is perfect since its mild sweetness will deepen further as it gets cooked along with the food. A dark caramel sauce, meanwhile, takes up to 22 minutes to cook over medium heat where it develops a distinct nutty scent along with a stronger caramel taste. This depth in flavor makes it ideal for topping your crème caramel or drizzling over cinnamon rolls. As for very dark caramel sauce, it has a deep reddish-brown hue, achieved by cooking sugar at 380 F to 390 F for 21 to 22 minutes. Enjoy the slight bitterness in its intense caramel flavor with espresso or with salted nuts in a brittle. Balance the bitterness with dairy so you can drizzle it over ice cream and use it to glaze cakes.

Don't stress over committing mistakes; it takes practice to make the right caramel sauce for your cooking and baking needs. Instead, follow chef Alex Guarnaschelli's tip to put your safety first. While you take care not to burn the sugar, be mindful, too, that you don't get burned by the bubbling caramel.