Hello and welcome to a special Thursday edition of Kitchen Catastrophes. By which, I mean, a recipe on Thursday, which is fairly unusual for the site. Not that posts on Thursdays are weird, they just don’t normally have recipes, and are called things like “Quick Tips” and “Culinary Compendiums”. Look, I don’t think any of this is relevant.
Naming oversights out of the way, let’s instead turn to Jon’s other major oversight of the week: spending so much time jerking off Poutine that he didn’t have room for the sauces recipes. Again, my apologies for that. The simplest explanation is I just didn’t give myself enough prep-time, and I realized the right course too late to enact it. However, it does give us more time to discuss the two sauces and their sources more in-depth. So, let’s keep a warier eye on the word count, and talk about how to make our caramel sauce and soft nougat. Let’s go alphabetically.
Karma-Karma-Karma-Karma-Karma Caramel, You Come and Go
Caramel, especially salted caramel, may be my favorite candy ingredient. Which is somewhat strange; since, like, if I listed my favorite candies and desserts, you wouldn’t actually see many caramel options. That’s because, like too many things I care about, I’m something of a snob about it. So yeah, I like Twix, but in most cases, I’ll avoid mass-produced caramel until I find that good shizznit, ya feel me?
"I feel you, my nigga."
Ummm. Thanks, Snoop? What...uh...what are you doing here?
"Heard there was some candy. Came to get some."
Oh. Cool. Cool. Help yourself.
Caramel has a moderately contested etymology, and an essentially un-discussed history. Which makes sense: caramel is just what happens when you heat up sugar. The instant people started cooking sugar, they found caramel. Humorously, the Wikipedia entry for the word caramel is basically the most direct and potentially best-played game of international telephone ever played: English takes the word from the French caramel, who in turn took it from the Spanish caramelo, who were probably taking it from the Portuguese…caramel. Look at that transfer! ONE letter changed ONE time! Now, where PORTUGAL got the word is of…some contention. The most commonly accepted answer is “well, the Latin word for ‘sugar cane’ is “calamellus”…I guess they just chopped the last syllable off and screwed up the first L.” Others say it’s from a different DIALECT of Latin, where it comes from… “canna” meaning ‘cane’ and “mella” meaning ‘honey’. So, almost the same dame argument. Then a couple people say it comes from Arabic (which, to be fair, isn’t AS weird as that may sound, the original word for ‘candy’, “qandi” is Arabic, and means “a thing covered in sugar.” So tying sugar things to Arabic isn’t too big a stretch.) where the word kora-mokhalla, or “ball of sweet”.
So we’re all pretty definite at least that it was an older language throwing around words that meant something close to ‘sugar’.
Now, if you’re not a caramel connoisseur like me, (and I swear to God ONE DAY I will spell connoisseur correctly on the first try, damn it!) you may ask yourself “what good does caramel sauce do me? I’m but a simple INSERT NATIONALITY AND/OR HOME ABODE cook, I don’t know what to do with something like that!” Let your modesty and/or nationalism restrain you no longer, for Caramel goes great on SO MANY THINGS
I don't like the implication this pictures is making.
For the record, caramel doesn't really go well on anything with hair. Takes forever to clean.
By which I mean mostly desserts. Don’t get me wrong, there are recipes for savory caramel meals (Vietnam has a Spicy Caramel Chicken recipe I intend to tackle one day, for instance), but most of those require a specific style of caramel, and the recipe we use is more built for desserts. But here’s some basic ideas for your caramel sauce:
- Pour it on ice cream.
- Dip or cook apples or pears in it!
- Drizzle it on nuts
- Drizzle it on Pretzels (let me pre-empt myself here: caramel works well with most salty, crisp snacks. Potato chips, popcorn, etc. )
- Use it as a glaze or sauce for: Pancakes, Donuts, coffee cake, banana bread, cookies, or any other sweet baked good.
- Inject it into Hot dogs to prank your friends!
- Use it as the layer divider in cakes
- Mix it with mustards to make a “honey”-mustard dipping sauce!
- Dissolve it in hot cider to add sweetness and mouthfeel!
- Coat your hands in it to hide your fingerprints as you commit crimes!
- Make a caramel fondue!
All these uses and more wait behind just 10-15 minutes of mildly panic-inducing work! What a deal!
Burn Burn like a Wicker Cabinet
Let’s all talk about the most worrisome part of making caramel: to do it, you gotta melt sugar. And sugar melts at HOT temperatures, and is made into types of candy at even HOTTER. This recipe alone has us going to around 345 degrees Fahrenheit, also known as “1.5 times hotter than boiling water”. This combined with the fact that sugar tends to cling to whatever cools it, makes it essentially the boiling tar of the culinary world.
"Someone bitching about boiling again?"
Guru Arjan Dev! What...what are you doing here?
"Heard there was candy. Came to get some."
Oh. Cool. Cool. Help yourself. I have got to get some better locks on these damn doors.
Interestingly, I deal a little better with boiling sugar than boiling oil, because sugar is much more viscous, so it’s less likely to “pop” in unexpected ways. While I’ve had probably just as many sugar burns as oil burns, they’ve all been much more obviously MY fault, and therefore less troubling.
This recipe is pretty damn simple. Set aside about 1 stick of butter, cut into small chunks (I basically cut the whole stick into about 24 cubes) to come to room temp. Also prep a cup of heavy cream and a tablespoon of flaky sea salt. You want Flaky sea salt, since it wastes a lot of space. If you use something like kosher salt, you want to at least halve that measurement. Then, get started on the scary part. Put 2 cups of sugar in a pan, and start cooking over medium-high heat.
Sugar’s a really temperamental subject to cook. It’s very reactive to humidity, and temperature, and will melt differently depending on the heat you subject it to. Normally, I just leave mine alone, shaking it every now and again, and eventually I get pot of molten sweetness, that browns over time.
My mother took a very specific instruction from the recipe we were reading, and took it to heart: “whisk it as it begins to melt[…} stop whisking once all of the sugar had melted.” She took this to mean, “Whisk continuously until completely melted” while I read it as “whisk it when you feel it’s needed, until it’s melted.”
As you can see, her method produced some interesting results. The big one, from my point of view, was that the ‘molten sugar’ part of the equation was SUPER short: basically, once we stopped whisking, the sugar was already at the color I’d call ‘done’, so I shrugged and just immediately hit step 2. If you don’t start at a dark brown sea of color, wait till the sugar is like, reddish-brown, or is about 345 degrees, and then go to step 2.
Step 2 is add the butter, and stir. This sounds really simple, but will be quite worrying: see, remember what I said about sugar being viscous and therefore not splashing much? Butter, on the other hand, has a fair bit of water, that is going to fucking boil the INSTANT it touched the sugar. There’ll be a seething mass of bubbles of 200-300 degree sugar mixture. The best way to be safe is just use a pan that’s like, 3-4 inches taller than the sugar. The bubbles will almost definitely not get that high.
Once the bubbles have died down, take the caramel off the heat, pour in the heavy cream, and stir as more bubbles kick up. Once they die down, stir in the salt, and boom, you’re done! If it’s a little thin at the moment, let it cool down and it’ll thicken up. Pour into a Tupperware container, and toss it in the fridge. You can use it any time for the next month.
And that’s the brown gravy substitute for the Dessert Poutine, so let’s check out our cheese-curd substitute.
The Nougat in Town
Nougat is similarly shrouded in mystery to caramel. The etymology is pretty direct, but who developed it, and certain other facts about it are just completely unexplained. Nougat comes from the Occitan word pan nogat, meaning “nut bread”. Occitan, by the way, one of the many languages that isn’t TECHNICALLY Italian, and a word that definitely sounds like it should have an X in it, instead of two c’s.
Nougat, normally stuffed with almonds or pistachios, is a classic Christmas treat in France, Italy, and Spain. And here’s the thing: I checked 15 or so sites, and all of them said “yeah, we all know that.” But no one had ANY suggestion for WHY this was true. Now, I have one pretty easy guess for why, and it’s a little…sad, I guess. Or maybe hopeful.
See, Christmas, especially in medieval Italy, was about JESUS. The pure son of God who redeemed Mankind, saving it from sin. And, well, as we all know, there’s only one color associated with complete and total purity.
Mauve? No, wait, Puce? Wait, which once is this?
White, of course, was the answer. And, back in the day, there were VERY few white foods. Think about it. White bread wasn’t really a thing until after the industrial revolution, and bread was STILL among the white things most people would run into. Chicken required the death of an animal, and cauliflower, for all I try, isn’t exactly the stuff of show-stopping dishes. Sugar, and the resulting white confections, were seen as nigh-miraculous. Spread over some warm toasted nuts, the nougat, which would be pretty expensive, could be conserved, letting everyone could hold a stunningly white piece of sweetness and warmth, which, to medieval people, would have been basically the perfect metaphor for the purity and gift of God’s love.
It’s a little sad, seeing how this was centuries of people to whom the greatest expression of God’s love would be, in essence, a candy bar. But hey, at least they had something, right?
Maudlin medieval meanderings aside, let’s whip this pristine piece of peculiar confection up and finish our Poutine!
If I turn my Nougat sideways, does that make it more ‘street”?
Luckily, nougat is almost as easy to make as caramel. Like I said, if I had the ability to time travel, I’d have placed these two first, since they’re easy to make, usable for more recipes, and keep for quite a while. It does have one slightly weird ingredient, that my family almost didn’t have. White Corn Syrup.
I have only just now realized that my ginger ale shares the name of Hedonism-Bot's manslave in Futurama. And if you think I wouldn't have restructured EVERY PICTURE JOKE IN THIS POST around that fact if I had known, then I fear you don't know me at all.
As a quick aside here: corn syrup and oft-maligned High-Fructose Corn Syrup aren’t the same thing. Basically, normal corn syrup actually has NO fructose (assuming, of course, that the specific brand of corn syrup you’re using is HFCS-free, which is…almost mind-boggling at the implications. They’re using processed corn syrup…to MAKE CORN SYRUP) and at least some of the negative aspects of HFCS are due to that higher Fructose level.
Anywho, it’s sugar, corn syrup, and water. Throw a couple egg whites in a stand mixer, and wait for the sugar-syrup to boil. Since you added water, it’ll boil around 212 degrees, and you want to let it KEEP boiling until it hits about 230 degrees. Then, while it keeps heating up, start the stand mixer for a minute or two, to get the eggs kind of frothy.
Once you hit 240 (And we’ll talk about why you want 240 for this one and 345 for the caramel next week) take the sugar off the heat, and pour a splash into the egg whites with the mixer going, to let the eggs “temper”, meaning “Mix up a little, so they don’t cook when you pour all that goddamn heat in the bowl.” Speaking of which, a SMART person would have taken the thermometer off the bowl when they brought it over, so it wouldn’t interfere with pouring the syrup.
A REAL smart person would include the thermometer in the picture, too, but I think the implications on my mental acuity are strong enough.
Anyway, about a minute after pouring the first splash, just slowing pour the syrup into the still-blending eggs, until it’s all in the bowl. And then kick the speed up to medium, and just let it whip into a creamy white froth for like, 2 minutes. Then hit it with some vanilla and salt, then whip until you think it’s thick enough and stiff enough. Let it cool down in the same bowl, and boom, you got yourself some sweet cheese-curd substitute for that dessert poutine.
I’d tell you the other uses for nougat, but, honestly…I didn’t look them up. What? I gotta do all the work around here? I explained the true meaning of Christmas for Medieval Italians, and almost burned myself 3 times! I CREATED DESSERT POUTINE. You can’t Google nougat uses for 30 damn seconds? Goddamn.
MONDAY: A SIMPLE PASTA DISH WITH PERSONAL DEPTH.
THURSDAY: SUGAR STATES. MEANING STATES OF SUGAR, NOT LIKE, STATES THAT GROW SUGAR.
Salted Caramel Sauce
Makes 1 pint
2 cups white granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
8 tbsps butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
1 tbsp flaky sea salt.
1. Pour sugar into a medium saucepan, and cook over high heat. Whisk either continuously, or as you feel is needed, stopping once sugar is completely melted. Cook to 345 degrees Fahrenheit, or reddish-brown.
2. Add butter all at once, stirring to incorporate, and being careful of intense bubbling. Once bubbling subsides, remove the pan from the heat, and add cream, stirring to incorporate, and being careful of continued bubbling. Finally, add the sea salt, stirring to incorporate, and you’re done!
Soft Vanilla Nougat
Makes roughly 4 cups.
3 egg whites
1 cup sugar
½ cup corn syrup
¼ cup water
1 tbsp vanilla extract (or two whole seeded vanilla beans, if you wanna be super swanky)
½ tsp salt
1. Place the egg white in a stand mixer with a whisk head. Just let them sit there as you handle the rest of the recipe.
2. In a medium saucepan, mix the sugar, syrup, and water to combine, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue boiling until the mixtures reaches roughly 230 degrees, which should be a little over 5 minutes or so. At 230 degrees, start the stand mixer at low speed, for a few minutes, to get the egg whites slightly frothy.
3. Once the syrup has reached 240 degrees, remove It from the heat, and prepare to add it to the egg whites by adding a small splash to the still-running mixer. Wait maybe 30 seconds, and then add the rest of the syrup by drizzling it slowly into the mixer.
4. Once all the syrup is in, mix for about 2-3 minutes, until the mixture Is white and foamy. Add the vanilla and salt, and whip for another 3-5 minutes, until stiff peaks have formed. Let cool in the bowl, and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to a month or two.