This is going to be a short and sweet lagniappe as it's a glorious day and my garden beckons. It's actually being written in anticipation of tomorrow when my column in the Times Dispatch is all about homemade ice cream. I've been in an ice cream making frenzy for weeks, as you'll see if you read the paper, however, my theory is that if you're going to make ice cream, you need to make a really fabulous something with which to bedeck it: caramel sauce.
I'm not sure why people are worried by using a candy thermometer, but I do think that's part of the disincentive for making caramel sauce. Let me just assure you, there's nothing complex or scary about it: it's just a great big thermometer you clip onto the side of your pan and it's big enough that you can actually read the numbers. I've always found it very exciting to use a candy thermometer because it gives me the illusion that I'm doing something scientific when really, I'm just playing around. The only real anxiety should be from working with some really devilishly hot sugar syrup, but if even I (the biggest chicken of 'em all) can manage it, you can too. The secret is using a really good, heavy bottomed saucepan which will dramatically reduce the likely-hood of your upending it all over yourself and the stove. Also, a little bit of concentrated attention is called for but, since I'm always advocating that one should live in the minute, this too is no big deal.
If you want to actually watch me make it, the video should go up at midnight on www.timesdispatch.com. Look for it under Clare's Kitchen. Rumor has it that there's a new intro for the video too, so drop me a line and let me know what you think. Just be careful about multitasking, caramel sauce and keyboards don't mix.
makes about 2 cups of sauce
1/3 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 14 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Place the water and the sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan to which you have attached a candy thermometer. Do not stir. Cook, without stirring, over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to medium and boil uncovered until the sugar turns a warm chestnut brown (about 350 on the thermometer), 5 to 7 minutes, gently swirling the pan to stir the mixture. Be careful with the bubbling brew as it's extremely hot! Watch the mixture like a hawk as at the end, it will go from caramel to burnt very quickly and you do NOT want it to burn--trust me! Mix the vanilla into the cream in a measuring cup with a spout. When the sugar looks appropriately mahogany, turn off the heat. Stand back to avoid splattering and slowly add the cream/vanilla mixture. The cream will bubble violently, adding to the exciting science-experiment-like quality of the endeavor, but do not be concerned. Even if the caramel solidifies, do not worry. Simmer it over low heat, stirring constantly, until the caramel dissolves and the sauce is smooth, about 2 minutes. Allow it to cool to room temperature (about 4 hours) and it will thicken as it sits. Do NOT taste it until then, because you'll burn the roof of your mouth off! Once it's cooled to room temperature, it will last covered in your refrigerator until it's all gone, which, take it from me, won't be long.
--adapted from Barefoot Contessa At Home by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter/Publishers)