Updated: Oct 10, 2018
I first remember seeing recipes for and including salted caramel back in the late 00s, after Haagen-Dasz introduced the variety of ice cream in 2008, followed by Starbucks selling a salted caramel hot chocolate shortly afterwards. It's a flavour that's stood up to the test of time and been hugely popular ever since...and thankfully too!
Its origins can be traced back to late 1970s northern France, where a chocolatier from Brittany called Henri Le Roux was trying to create a chocolate that would distinguish his business from others. The region is famous for its salted butter and Le Roux wanted to highlight the ingredient, and after months of testing came up with a recipe for a salted butter caramel with crushed nuts.
The chocolate that Henri had created won many awards and gradually the flavour made it's way across the globe, first appearing in high-end restaurants and patisseries, and then slowly being assimilated in to every day recipes.
The scientific basis as to why we love it so much as described in this article. It's because of the combination of sweet, salty and fatty flavours that we can't get enough of it and keep satisfying all of the different taste receptors in our mouth, spoon after spoon. It's one of the most popular flavours I get asked to add to a cake filling or drizzled over the top, and it's really simple to make!
200g Caster Sugar
110g Unsalted Butter
120ml Double (Heavy) Cream
1tsp Sea Salt
1tsp Vanilla Essence
First we're going to melt the sugar. Add the sugar to a heavy based saucepan and place over a medium heat. A lot of recipes say to add water to dissolve the sugar, but if you're careful and keep your eye on the sugar, there's no need. I also prefer to use a saucepan with a long handle so that I can shake the pan while the sugar is melting rather than using a spoon (which can then get encrusted with and is a pain to clean).
As the sugar melts it will start to caramelise, turning in to a golden liquid and gradually getting darker. The sugar will clump together so shake the pan often to help any undissolved lumps to melt.
If the sugar is cooking too much before it melts and getting too dark, take the pan of the heat for a while and stir. This process make take a bit of practice as it is quite easy to burn the sugar which will result in a bitter taste. If this happens, start again on a lower heat (it is also possible to add more sugar to 'dilute' the over caramelised sugar, just be careful to adjust the quantities of the other ingredients).
THE SUGAR WILL BE EXTREMELY HOT, SO BE VERY CAREFUL!
4. In the past I added the butter to the caramel first, but I found it took a while to incorporate this in to the the caramel, and they'd often be a layer of fat that just wouldn't mix in. A much better way is to add the cream gradually, mixing constantly. Be careful as the mixture might splatter up.
5. Add the butter. Again the mixture will bubble up, so be careful. Let this boil for a minute, stirring continuously.
6. Take the pan of the heat and let it cool for 15 mins before stirring in the the salt and vanilla. The mixture will be quite liquid, but will thicken as it cools.
The caramel will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.
The consistency of the sauce in this recipe is good for adding to buttercreams as it won't loosen it and you'll still get a firm buttercream. If you doing this, straight after making the caramel allow it to cool for a couple of hours first, then add a small quantity of buttercream to the caramel first to loosen it rather than the other way round - adding the caramel to the buttercream will either melt it if the caramel's too hot, or cause the caramel to form in to small clumps and not disperse fully if it's to cool. This is process called tempering.
Other flavours like bourbon or rum work really well if you want a more 'grown-up' flavour. For a more pourable caramel simply add more double cream so that you get the consistency that you want.