Dry caramel

Dry caramel

By
From
Salted Caramel Dreams
Photographer
River Thompson

My first attempt to make a dry caramel was aged ten, standing at the stove stirring a dry pot of salt for two hours, mystified as to why nothing was happening. I’m still embarrassed it took me so long to realise it was salt.

As I taught myself to bake, caramel was the one thing I was terrified to conquer. All the books I read barked warnings of crystallised sugar and burnt hands, disasters unknown and pans awaiting ruin. Eventually I summoned up all my courage and gave it a go, following instructions to make a wet caramel, reportedly a good place to start. It crystallised, but I cracked on and researched why this was happening. I went to a DIY store and bought a paintbrush and brushed down the sides of the pan to wash away sugar crystals as they formed, practising until I perfected the technique (for the perfect Wet Caramel). My apprenticeship over, I moved on to dry caramel. It was perfect the first time. I could bash the sugar around and stir to my heart's content. Caramel wasn’t a big bad fiddly beast, it was a dream. Dry caramel remains my favourite method to make a quick, dark caramel suitable for most recipes in this book.

Here’s the science: sugar, when independently heated above 160°C, undergoes an irreversible state change known as caramelisation. The water content of sucrose sugars (most common white sugars) allows the sugar to liquify easily, meaning that it’s easy to caramelise sugar without the addition of any extra liquid and the sugar is less likely to crystallise. In short, that means it’s OK TO STIR!

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
250g caster sugar

Method

  1. Add the sugar to a heavy-based saucepan and shake out to an even layer.
  2. Heat over a medium heat for 1–2 minutes until patches of sugar begin to liquify. Stir to coat the dry sugar in the liquified sugar. The sugar will clump, but don’t panic! Keep stirring, mixing and breaking up the clumps of sugar as it liquefies and caramelises. The sugar will be fully liquid and starting to turn dark after 5–6 minutes. For a light to medium caramel, pull the pan off the heat just before all the lumps have melted, while stirring to allow the heat of the pan to melt the remaining sugar. For a dark caramel, continue to cook, stirring, until smooth, smoking and just starting to foam – depending on the colour desired, this will take another 1–2 minutes.
  3. If the liquified, caramelised sugar is darkening too fast, before all the lumps are melted, simply reduce the heat slightly and continue as before.
  4. The more sugar you have to caramelise, the longer this technique will take and the more you will have to stir and bash – but that’s half the fun!
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