A-Z Cooking School - Caramel
May 4, 2012, 1:32 pm
If you put a spoonful of sugar in a skillet and place over heat, it will turn to caramel. The sugar will melt and thicken, turning amber, then golden, then brown, and eventually, then burnt, black. Each stage develops a considerably more complex flavor.
To reach the correct temperature - Use a candy thermometer. Insert it into the caramelizing sugar; it should be between 320 F (amber color) and 350 F (deep brown color). Once you’ve cooked caramel too far, there’s no other choice than to start over.
To avoid crystallization - Heat the sugar over low heat, without stirring, until it dissolves completely. Boil the syrup only after it has dissolved, and avoid stirring after it has reached a boil. You can also add a squirt of lemon. Dip a pastry brush in hot water and brush down any crystals from the sides of the pan to dissolve them.
To ensure even cooking - Swirl the pan to redistribute the liquid.
To immediately halt further cooking - Transfer to a cool pan if necessary. Or remove from the heat and add butter and a liquid, such as water or cream to thin the caramel and keep it fluid when cooled.
To keep fluid and warm - Place the pan over a double boiler or in a pan of barely simmering water.
To crush hardened caramel - Place in a zipper-lock plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin.
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