After making caramel FOUR times on Christmas Eve, I finally learned how to make it without burning the sugar. That means I had to throw away a lot of caramel. The first time, I made Aunt Bill's Brown Candy from the Bon Appetite magazine. It turned out good, but it had a strange tang to it. Next I needed caramel for my cake. I was making the Chocolate Cake with salted caramel and ganache icing, also from Bon Appetite. I burned that caramel, and it made me realize what tasted so weird in the candy. We made it again, and burned that batch too! The fourth time, my husband and I both stood over it and watched intently, determined to learn how to make good caramel. What happens is, as you are cooking the water and sugar, it goes from clear to yellow to amber and immediately to dark brown. Amber to dark brown (and very smoky) takes just a few seconds. Mine was smoky and burnt before I removed it from the heat and added the cream. So this time, I removed it just before I would have thought it was done and way before the time was up on the timer. Right as it became a darker yellow. Finally! We had ourselves a kick-ass caramel. It was awesome by itself, but it really dressed up the cake into something special.
So, my advice to anyone making caramel is to cook it on a lower heat than the recipe (my recipes all called for high, so I ended up doing a medium high). And watch it like a hawk. Pull it off and add the cream just. right as. it thinks about becoming amber.
Here's the recipe I used:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cp heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, diced
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp lemon juice
large pinch of French grey sea salt
Stir sugar, 1/4 cup water and corn syrup in deep medium saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves.
Increase heat to medium; cover pan and cook 4 minutes. Uncover; increase heat to medium high. Boil without stirring until syrup is just turning amber.
Remove from heat! Add cream (mixture will bubble). Whisk in butter, then sour cream, lemon juice and pinch of sea salt. Cool completely.