Monday, May 2, 2011

How to make homemade caramel

Tonight I was sitting on the porch, alternately translating the Latin Vulgate into English and reading the poetry of Robert Burns, when I was struck with a theopneustic moment in light of a difficult few days and, specifically, remedies thereunto.  Knowing full well Laurie will be home soon, I thought, "Wouldn't it be nice for her to come home to some homemade caramel for putting on iced cream or popping corn?"

Caramel is ridiculously easy to make and, once you know how quick, economical, and easy the process, you will most likely wonder why you don't do it all the time.  Soon you too will ridicule how easy it is to make.

First you need 1 cup of sugar, 6 Tablespoons of butter, and a half cup of Half and Half (or any other milk derivative you have laying around your fridge.  I just happen to always have Half and Half on hand for tea.  I would recommend the thicker milk products, closer to the cream end of the spectrum.  I am in no position to recommend Fat Free or Soy Milk.)  Keep all of these right next to you because the process is exceedingly quick.  You will be called upon to move quickly in the preparation of your caramel or the whole thing will go to pot, as it were.  It is a testimony to my deft camera finger that I was able to photograph the experience for this post at all.  If you put Tom Waits' Glitter and Doom album on when you start (like I did) you will be done before Get Behind The Mule is over.

Place the sugar in a saucepan.  You want a higher heat.  When the edges of the sugar in the pan begin to brown and pull away from the edge of the pan, you start whisking.  This is a crucial moment and you must be diligent in your whisking.  Burning is a very real peril in this process.  Be ever vigilant in your whisking, my little catechumen confectioners!
 If you can, you probably want a larger whisk as the pan is very hot.  You will whisk the sugar until... is roughly the consistency of caramel.  Let me restate, what is shown in this picture is just sugar at this point.
Then you add the butter and whisk until it melts.  Oh yes, get used to whisking.  Your universe is a whisking universe for the next few minutes.  Note the discarded novelty whisk which I started with until I darned near singed all of my arm hair off.
Is it all melted now?  Are you responding by saying "yes?"  Then it's time to take it off of the heat and place the pan on one of the neighboring cooler burners.
You will keep whisking and slowly pour the Half and Half into the mixture.  This rushed picture with my thumb halfway over the flash fails to capture what a dramatic juncture this is in our narrative.  It bubbles and steams and tries to wrap its fingers around your throat to drag you down to Hell as the three ingredients die by your hand and a new foodstuff is born like the phoenix.  Do not heed that devil-caramel!  Whisk it into submission!
Soon it will get over itself and look like caramel.  You will initially think you put in too much Half and Half, but never fear!  It will thicken upon settling.
And now you have homemade caramel which tastes as good as store-bought because it is the same thing.


  1. Wow! I've never made homemade carmel and didn't know it was so easy. Hope it tasted as good as it looks.

  2. Having read your post, it is almost as good as if my world turned into a whisking universe. Why are all recipes not written like this? Projected enjoyment motivates not to mention the love for the one at the late meetings. Lastly, one of those deep, deep, searching questions: "What on earth is half and half milk?" South Africans aren't familiar with this, but half a guess is: 50% milk 50% water?

  3. I just finished a book that had a recipe to make your own lemon curd in the back. Want it?

  4. I'll field Estelle's question, if you don't mind, Paul. Estelle, Half and half is a mixture of milk and cream. So it's thicker than regular milk, but not so heavy, and so less guilt-inducing than cream. I use it for a lot of recipes that call for milk, but which I want to give a richer taste.