For The Love Of Caramel by Paul Lindemuth

One of my favorite cookbooks is “My Last Supper” by Melanie Dunea. It is a journal where 50 great chefs were asked “if you were to die tomorrow, what would you want for your last meal on earth?’ Each chef shared their personal thoughts and requests.

I’ve often been asked a similar question when I’m teaching: “what is your favorite food or flavor?” I know the answer, hands down, to either of these questions:  Caramel.

There is something seductive about caramel and the flavor descriptors are pretty diverse:  buttery, nutty, smoky, toasted, butterscotch, burnt.

I love the chemistry part of working with caramel which begins with melting pure cane sugar and slowly controlling the temperature to turn the sugar from crystal clear to pale amber to deep golden brown. Each stage yields different flavors: pale amber is light and mild, deep amber is rich and complex. Taking the caramel beyond this point to dark caramel yields a more bitter flavor due to increased oxidation (my favorite). Additionally, heating beyond this point (which happens very quickly) will turn the caramel into a black, smoking, bitter mess as the sugar breaks down into pure carbon.

I spent the 4th of July holiday toying with this chemistry while roasting marshmallows to create S’mores. I started with that initial golden-brown crust on the marshmallows, took it one step further to dark brown (actually peeling that layer off to taste it and then putting the remainder back over the fire and tasting again). Then I let a couple of marshmallows actually catch fire and get totally charred…. not so tasty. It sure was fun playing with melted and burnt sugar!

When you peel back the layers of chemistry and technique of caramel, you can easily create some pretty amazing flavors. Patiently working with one cup of granulated sugar, ¼ cup of water to dissolve the sugar and adding 1 cup of heavy cream to the hot caramel will yield my favorite thing to eat:  perfect caramel sauce.

Salted Caramel Apple Tartlets
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup sugar
  2. ¼ cup cold water
  3. 1 cup heavy cream
  4. ½ teaspoon flaky sea salt
  5. 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  6. 4 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into thick wedges
  7. ¼ cup plus 4 tablespoons sugar
  8. ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  9. 2 tablespoons Calvados or apple brandy
  10. 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  11. 1 package frozen puff pastry thawed
Instructions
  1. In a small saucepan combine the sugar and the water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Using a pastry brush dipped in cold water, brush down any sugar particles that cling to the side of the pan. Continue to boil until the sugar caramelizes and turns a deep amber color, being careful not to let it get too dark and burn.
  2. Place the saucepan in the bottom of the sink. Carefully pour the cream into the melted sugar. The sugar will bubble violently and give off steam. Return the saucepan to low heat and stir until the caramel is dissolved and smooth. Add the sea salt and set the caramel aside.
  3. In a large sauté pan melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat. Add the apples and toss to evenly coat them with the butter. Sauté the apples until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add ¼ cup of the sugar and continue cooking until the sugar melts and the apples are caramelized, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
  4. Add the nutmeg, Calvados or apple brandy and lemon juice. Toss gently to combine. Set the apples aside. (The apples may be prepared up to 4 hours in advance, loosely covered and held at room temperature.
  5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  6. Gently unfold one sheet of the thawed puff pastry. Cut the pastry into 4 rounds. Transfer the pastry rounds to a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Using a smaller round cutter make a shallow indentation into each puff pastry round, being careful to not cut all the way through the pastry. Using a fork, evenly prick the center of each pastry inside the inner circle.
  7. Divide half of the apples into the center of the pastry rounds. Repeat with the remaining puff pastry and apples.
  8. Cut the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter into thin slices and scatter the butter evenly over the apples. Sprinkle the remaining 4 tablespoons of sugar evenly over the tartlets. Bake the tartlets until the pastry is puffed and brown and the apples are soft, about 15 to 18 minutes.
  9. Remove the tartlets from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Transfer to plates. Spoon some of the caramel sauce over each tartlet and serve.
  10. Serves 8
Marcel's Culinary Experience http://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/

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