Ask Peter: Salted caramel
We had this debate at a dinner party recently: Is salted caramel just regular caramel sauce (cream, butter, sugar) with a handful of salt thrown in? Do you use less sugar than you would for ordinary caramel sauce? Or is there some other special something that is done? Someone suggested you could even use soy sauce to make a dark, salty caramel. Your thoughts?
Salted caramel — that (not-so-anymore) new kid on the block that just keeps giving. One of our most popular doughnuts at Crosstown in London is the sea salt caramel and banana cream doughnut. It ticks all the boxes with its intense banana cream filling, chocolate enriched dough, sea salt caramel icing and a scattering of crunchy chocolate “soil”.
Based on the peanut butter parfait dessert we have at The Sugar Club, the combination of chocolate, caramel and salt may seem like a new idea, but anyone who has been to America and bought a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (created way back in 1928) will know it’s an old combination.
As with a lot of American cookie recipes, a little salt is often added to sweet mixes which somehow highlights both tastes. There have also been a few popcorns coming out which are a combination of sweet and salty: In Canada earlier in the year I ate too many bags of a maple syrup and sea salt variety.
Caramelised macadamia nuts can be found with sea salt flakes added and so it seems this lovely and moreish combo is here to stay…forever.
Salted caramel comes in many shapes and sizes, densities and colours, and there are as many ways to make it as to eat it.
The simplest involves caramelising a cup of caster sugar and, when golden brown, slowly stirring in 1½ cups simmering cream and bringing it to a simmer until the toffee has dissolved into the cream. Add a little sea salt to taste at the end and you have the most basic salted caramel there is.
A more complicated version involves simmering equal quantities of unsalted butter, brown sugar, caster sugar and golden syrup for 3 minutes, shaking the pan every now and then to stop it sticking. Whatever volume of mixture you have in the pan, add 50 per cent of that volume in cream, along with some sea salt. Fine table salt will make it salty, but the flavour can be a little too severe and chemically. Simmer for 90 seconds.
The version we make at The Sugar Club is even flashier and a little funky, and we add both tamari and coconut milk to it. Tamari is a great ingredient to use as it is full of umami and it’s also wheat free, which means people on gluten-free diets can enjoy it. The coconut adds a great background flavour and as people have in their minds the flavours of butter and cream, it often eludes them. I can’t give you the full recipe here as I’m working on getting this bottled commercially, but needless to say it’s exceedingly delicious and a sauce you’ll turn to again and again.
Once you have the sauce you’re happy with, there are endless ways you can use it:
- Spoon over icecream (especially vanilla, banana or chocolate) and serve with some poached pears that have been cooked in red wine and lots of spices.
- Add around 200g salted caramel to a litre of custard and churn into a fabulous icecream. Bear in mind that by diluting it in the custard, the flavour, especially the saltiness, will also be diluted — so you will likely need to stir some sea salt flakes though once churned, which gives the icecream a fabulous finished texture.
- Whip equal quantities of caramel sauce with whipping cream and mascarpone and use to fill a sponge cake, using berries in summer.
- Pour over sticky toffee pudding, or any other rich steamed pudding.
- Or make a milkshake with it as we do at Kopapa in Covent Garden. Blitz vanilla icecream with some milk and a generous amount of salted caramel sauce and even add a banana (or use banana icecream). Finish it by drizzling the inside of the glass with extra sauce — it couldn’t be more decadent.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to email@example.com and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.