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Byline: Natalie Haughton Food Editor

Caramel is chic and trendy - and it ranks right up there with chocolate and vanilla as a favorite flavor these days.

Mention caramel, and thoughts often turn to caramel corn, turtle candies or a coating for crisp fall apples. But beyond that, restaurant pastry chefs are featuring it in all sorts of creations on dessert menus - to the delight of customers.

There's something decadent and luxurious about caramel - especially when the sauce is drizzled over ice cream, bread pudding, cake, fruit slices and pie, turning it into something outrageously delicious.

``Caramel gives chocolate a run for its money,'' says Sherry Yard, pastry chef at Spago Beverly Hills, adding that many diners are wild about it. ``We've always had caramel items on the dessert menu.''

Currently you'll find the Halsey - a dessert version of the Twix bar with a dense caramel hidden in the center. The restaurant also features a chocolate dobos torte with praline caramel cream filling, caramel candies on a cookie plate and milk chocolate caramel truffles on a chocolate plate.

Even the Emmy Awards Governors Ball menu last Sunday featured a caramel dessert - pear caramel with ladyfingers. It was a layered creation with ladyfingers, pear mousse and creme brulee (with caramel in it) topped with sauteed diced pears and served with caramel sauce on the side, notes Alain Vergnault, director of pastry for Patina Group, the event caterer.

Food companies have also gotten into the act with an array of caramel and dulce de leche items. Dulce de leche, which hails from Argentina and means ``sweet from milk,'' is a caramel made with whole milk, sugar and baking soda. However, many make it by simply caramelizing sweetened condensed milk slowly on top of the stove or in the oven (never in an unopened can) until thick and golden-brown or amber-colored (directions included here).

Haagen-Dazs introduced Dulce de Leche ice cream in 1998, and it's one of the company's best-selling flavors nationwide. Now they also offer a Dulce de Leche ice cream bar with ribbons of caramel dipped in caramel coating, Dulce de Leche frozen yogurt and a Creme Caramel Pecan ice cream. At Starbucks, you'll find a rich, delicious caramel sauce in its caramel Frappuccino (a cold drink with coffee, milk, ice and caramel) or caramel Macchiato (a hot drink with milk, espresso, vanilla and caramel). And last year M&M's launched a dulce de leche caramel variety candy.

Although most pastry chefs don't view making caramel as a big deal, it can be tricky and frustrating for home cooks because it has a tendency to crystallize, ruining the entire batch, says Rochelle Huppin Fleck, president of the Chicago-based Chefwear and former pastry chef at Granita in Malibu.

Also, many recipes offer conflicting information - and the dos and don'ts can be confusing. Do you cover the pan at the beginning, brush down the crystals on the sides of the pan, use lemon juice or corn syrup, or add hot or cold liquid such as cream to the mixture to make sauce?

To get a handle on the easiest and most foolproof way to make caramel at home, we turned to Shirley Corriher, author of ``Cookwise.''

``Caramel is melted, broken-down sugar. The process starts with one sugar - table sugar (sucrose) - but by the time you have dark, almost black caramel, more than 128 different sugars and related compounds have been formed, each one with a different color, smell, taste and chemical formula,'' she writes, adding that a light caramel tastes very different from a dark one.

The two classic methods of carmelizing sugar are dry (without any added water) or wet (moistened with water). In addition, ``there is a modern wet method - microwave caramel,'' she adds.

Corriher advises using the wet method for best success, as it gives cooks more control and can yield a light or medium caramel, almost impossible to make using the dry method (which results in a dark caramel because it cooks so fast). With the wet method, you stir at the start to dissolve the sugar, then boil undisturbed until you reach the color desired.

The secret to never-fail caramel, notes Corriher, is to add a little lemon juice (or another acid such as vinegar or cream of tartar) and/or corn syrup to the sugar-water mixture - both of which prevent crystallization (keep in mind that for crystals to form, a substance must be pure). ``I am too chicken, so I use both,'' says Corriher.

When you add a drop of something acidic, some of the sugar breaks into glucose and fructose - so instead of having one pure sugar (table sugar), you have three different sugars - and thus no crystallization can occur. When using corn syrup, which is primarily glucose, you're adding a somewhat different sugar - and again the mixture won't crystallize.

Therefore, there's no need to cover the pan with a lid for the first few minutes of cooking or to wash away any crystals on the side of the pan, says Corriher.

Caramel in the microwave oven is quick and easy, adds Corriher - and that's her preferred way of making it. You simply cook the wet sugar mixture (using less water than when cooking on top of the stove) in a microwave on high power to the desired color, watching carefully. Corriher uses 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup corn syrup, 4 to 5 drops of lemon juice and a tablespoon of water, if needed.

Whatever method you choose, watch caramel carefully (don't walk away) as it can turn color (from golden to black) in an instant. Remove the caramelized sugar from the heat when it is lighter in color than desired, as it continues to cook and darken off the heat.

``People chicken out and take the caramel off too soon because they are afraid it is going to burn,'' notes Fleck, adding that it should be removed from the heat when it is a golden amber color. Dark amber has a bitter taste. To judge the color, often difficult to see in the pot, put a few drops of the caramel on a white plate, suggests Fleck.

Remember that caramel is very, very hot (more than 338 degrees F), so no matter how tempting it is, don't touch the caramel, as you could burn yourself.

Regardless of what the recipe says, always heat (to boiling) the liquid (such as cream, water, fruit juice, etc.) to be added to the caramelized sugar - and whisk it in slowly off the heat (we found over the sink is a good place as it bubbles up vigorously), advises Corriher.

``Always remember with caramel, color equals flavor,'' says pastry chef Yard of Spago. If the carmelized sugar is too blond, she notes, it is going to taste like sugar - and the whole point is to have a bitter, sweet and carmelized flavor.


1/3 cup water

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon corn syrup

1 cup whipping cream, heated to boiling in microwave oven (about 1 1/2 minutes)

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

In a 3-quart heavy saucepan, combine water, sugar, lemon juice and corn syrup. Cook over medium high heat, whisking constantly until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil.

Boil over medium to medium-high heat, without stirring 6 to 7 minutes until a golden amber color. Remove from heat (I take pot to sink). Slowly and carefully whisk in cream (mixture will bubble up vigorously) until blended. Return pot to medium heat and whisk a minute or two until smooth. Whisk in butter and vanilla. Cool to room temperature. Store in covered container in refrigerator until serving (reheat in microwave oven, if desired, to warm). Serve over poached pears, sliced oranges or apples, assorted flavor ice creams, warm bread pudding, flourless chocolate cake slices, pie slices, etc. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.


1 stick (1/2 cup) butter

1 cup granulated sugar

3/4 teaspoon lemon juice

1 cup heavy whipping cream, heated to boiling

1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

In a 3-quart heavy saucepan, melt butter. Add sugar and stir with a wooden spoon. Stir in lemon juice. Cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly until mixture boils. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally until mixture is a deep golden brown.

Remove from heat. Carefully add cream, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly (mixture will boil up vigorously). Return pot to heat. Cook, stirring constantly, a minute or two, until smooth. Stir in vanilla. Cool to room temperature. Store in covered container in refrigerator until serving (warm in microwave oven, if desired, before serving). Serve over or alongside all kinds of desserts. Makes about 1 3/4 cups.

Shared by Rochelle Huppin Fleck.


For an easy caramel topping or dip, simply heat a can of sweetened condensed milk using the following directions. For safety reasons, heating the unopened can (an old cooking method) is NOT recommended. Instead use one of the following methods.

OVEN METHOD: Pour 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk into a 9-inch pie plate. Cover with foil; place in larger shallow pan. Fill larger pan with hot water. Bake at 425 degrees F 1 1/2 hours or until thick and caramel colored.

STOVE-TOP METHOD: Pour 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk into top of a double boiler; place over boiling water. Over low heat, simmer 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until thick and caramel colored. Beat until smooth.

MICROWAVE METHOD: Pour 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk into a 2-quart glass measuring cup. Cook on 50 percent power (medium) 4 minutes, stirring briskly every 2 minutes, until smooth. Cook on 30 percent power (medium-low) 20 to 26 minutes or until very thick and caramel-colored, stirring briskly every 4 minutes during the first 16 minutes and every 2 minutes the last 4 to 10 minutes.

From Eagle Brand, maker of sweetened condensed milk.


2 cups cream-filled chocolate cookie crumbs

6 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

1 (14-ounce) bag vanilla caramels, unwrapped

1/2 cup milk

1 cup chopped pecans

3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla

3 eggs

2 (1-ounce) squares semisweet chocolate, melted

Mix crumbs and butter; press onto bottom and 2 inches up side of a 9-inch springform pan.

Place caramels and milk in a small microwavable bowl. Microwave on high power 3 minutes or until caramels are completely melted, stirring after each minute. Stir in pecans. Pour 1/2 of caramel mixture into crust. Refrigerate 10 minutes. Set remaining caramel mixture aside for later use.

Beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Add eggs, one a time, mixing on low speed after each addition just until blended. Pour over caramel mixture in crust.

Bake in preheated 325-degree oven 1 hour 5 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes or until center is almost set. Run knife or metal spatula around side of pan to loosen cake; cool before removing side of pan. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

Top with remaining caramel mixture just before serving. Drizzle melted chocolate over cheesecake. Store leftover cheesecake in refrigerator. Makes 1 cheesecake; 12 servings.


This fast five-ingredient bar cookie recipe is terrific. I've adapted it to use chocolate cookie crumbs instead of graham cracker crumbs like the original. Tasters raved. Although the recipe calls for a jar of caramel topping, I've tried it with dulce de leche, chocolate or fudge and butterscotch ice cream toppings - and it's delicious.

1 1/2 cups chocolate cookie crumbs (I use crushed Oreo cookie crumbs, which are available in a box in supermarket baking sections)

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted

2 cups (a 12-ounce package) semisweet chocolate chips

1 to 1 1/4 cups chopped pecans

1 (12-ounce) jar caramel ice cream topping

Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan with butter. In a medium bowl, combine cookie crumbs and melted butter; stir until well mixed. Press evenly in bottom of prepared pan. Sprinkle evenly with chocolate chips, then top evenly with pecans. Place caramel topping in a microwave-safe container (you can melt caramel in the glass jar it is packed in with lid removed). Microwave until warm, about 1 minute, stirring after 30 seconds. Drizzle evenly over pecans.

Bake in preheated 350-degree oven 10 to 12 minutes or until chips are melted. Set pan on wire rack to cool. Then refrigerate until cold. Cut into bars. These are best served right out of the fridge (they get sticky and gooey at room temperature). Makes about 54 cookies.

Adapted from Quick Cooking magazine.


1 cup butter OR margarine

1 (1-pound) package brown sugar (2 1/4 cups packed)

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)

1 cup light corn syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla

Line a 9x9x2-inch baking pan with foil, extending foil over edges of pan. Generously butter foil; set pan aside.

In a heavy 3-quart saucepan, melt 1 cup butter over low heat. Add brown sugar, sweetened condensed milk and corn syrup; mix well. Carefully clip candy thermometer to side of pan.

Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until thermometer registers 248 degrees F, firm-ball stage. Mixture should boil at a moderate, steady rate over entire surface. Reaching firm-ball stage should take 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove saucepan from heat; remove candy thermometer from saucepan. Immediately stir in vanilla. Quickly pour caramel mixture into prepared baking pan. When caramel is firm, use foil to lift it out of pan. Use a buttered knife to cut candy into 1-inch squares. Wrap each piece in clear plastic wrap. Makes 81 pieces or about 2 3/4 pounds.

CHOCOLATE SHORTCUT CARAMELS: Prepare Shortcut Caramels as directed above, except melt 2 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate with butter.

NOTE: Quickly stir 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans into caramel before pouring into pan, if desired.

From ``Better Homes and Gardens Candy.''


90 pecan halves (about 1 1/2 cups), toasted

1/2 of a 14-ounce package (about 25) vanilla caramels

1 tablespoon water

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate pieces, melted

Line a baking sheet with foil. Butter foil. On a prepared baking sheet, arrange pecans in groups of three, placing flat side of pecan halves down; set baking sheet aside.

In a heavy 1-quart saucepan, combine caramels and water. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until caramels are melted and smooth.

Remove saucepan from heat. Drop about 1 teaspoon melted caramel mixture onto each group of pecans. Let stand about 20 minutes or until caramel mixture is firm. With a narrow metal spatula, spread a small amount of melted chocolate over top of each caramel center. Let stand until firm. When firm, remove candy from baking sheet. Store tightly covered. Makes 30 pieces.

From ``Better Homes and Gardens Candy.''


6 quarts unbuttered, unsalted popped popcorn

1 cup peanuts OR pecans OR almonds, OR a combination of nuts (optional)

1 cup butter OR margarine

1/2 cup light corn syrup

2 cups firmly packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

Set 2 (15x10-inch) jellyroll pans or a large roasting pan aside. Place popcorn and peanuts in a very large bowl. In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, combine butter, corn syrup, brown sugar, salt and cream of tartar. Place over high heat and stir with a wooden spoon until mixture comes to a boil. Stirring occasionally, let boil 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in baking soda. Immediately pour over popcorn and nuts, turning to coat each kernel. Spread mixture in pan(s) and place in preheated 200-degree oven 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely. Store in an airtight container to retain crispness. Makes 6 quarts.

From ``Candy Making,'' by Ruth A. Kendrick and Pauline H. Atkinson.

Caramel desserts are good to goo

Caramel fanciers can satisfy their dessert cravings with some of these inspired Los Angeles-area restaurant creations. Indulge and enjoy.

--The Cheesecake Factory, Woodland Hills, Sherman Oaks, Thousand Oaks (and other locations) - dulce de leche cheesecake; dutch apple cheesecake with warm caramel sauce; chocolate pecan turtle cheesecake with caramel sauce.

--Saddle Peak Lodge, Calabasas - warm banana and walnut bread pudding with Wild Turkey caramel sauce.

--Morton's, West Hollywood - banana walnut beignets with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce; apple tart with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream.

--Linq, West Hollywood - bittersweet chocolate terrine with roasted bananas and caramel sauce; apple galette tart with caramel sauce and vanilla bean ice cream.

--Moonshadows, Malibu - mud pie (chocolate wafer crust, coffee ice cream) with caramel sauce.

--Hollywood & Vine Diner, Hollywood - banana cream pie with caramelized bananas.

--Chaya Brasserie, Los Angeles - warm apple tart with ginger, brown sugar, caramel sauce and honey ice cream.

--Josie, Santa Monica - caramel pot de creme; apple pie with apple chips and caramel swirl ice cream.

--Ruth's Chris Steak House, Woodland Hills - banana cream pie with caramelized bananas.

- Natalie Haughton

Get your caramel apples here

To order caramel apples (as pictured in photo) from Erin's Gourmet Apples, call (800) 931-9157. Plain caramel apples are $3 each. Caramel apples with chopped almonds are $3.50 each. Shipping charges depend on the amount ordered.

Erin's also offers fancier apples made to order - ranging from cashews with dark chocolate to macadamias or peanuts with milk chocolate to walnuts with dark and white chocolate - and more. Log onto for prices and more information.

- N.H.


4 photos, 2 boxes


(1 -- cover -- color) Chocolate cake topped with mocha chip ice cream and homemade caramel sauce.

(2 -- 4 -- color) Clockwise: from far left: caramel candy, caramel apples and caramel corn

Photos by David Sprague/Daily News


(1) Caramel desserts are good to goo (see text)

(2) Get your caramel apples here (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Recipe
Date:Sep 25, 2002
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