Today I made caramel from scratch for the first time, and it was the most delicious failure I’ve ever made.
Let me explain.
I really like to cook, but I hesitate to say I love to cook, because I feel like that statement conjures forth an image of someone who is always in the kitchen, always looking out for new recipes, and most importantly, always fiddling with those recipes, adjusting them and experimenting with them and sometimes inventing new ones when the ones they have don’t fit the bill.
That’s not me.
I love trying new recipes. I have a shameless love affair with Smitten Kitchen and I love reading her rhapsodic and funny commentaries on the new recipes (probably the reason I try so many of her recipes–she just makes them sound so good). I love trying a batter or a sauce or whatever you just made and having that moment of “oh my GOD that is so good. Did I make that?” I love cooking food for my family and friends, especially when it involves chocolate.
But I’m the kind of cook who cooks when the mood hits (and sometimes it deserts me for weeks at a time), and then almost always cooks from recipes. I’m not the cook who tastes something and says, “oh, it needs more [insert ingredient here]”. I’m not the sort of cook who improvises. I tend to follow the recipe, but I also tend to be super-cautious when it comes to cooking. I’m always afraid of over-cooking or under-cooking or burning something, and sometimes that caution is good, but sometimes it messes things up. And when I mess something up, I tend to beat myself up about it.
And this brings us back to the caramel.
I made it as part of a recipe for caramel brownies (smitten kitchen, of course), in which you basically make caramel candies that you then fold into and sprinkle atop the brownie batter. As soon as I saw the pictures of these brownies on her site (and seriously, if you haven’t been there yet, go now, it’s amazing) I knew I wanted to make them. The fact that you made your own caramel made it even more attractive–I always want to try to make things like that from scratch, but I usually chicken out because it takes too much time or too many ingredients I don’t have. This took about ten minutes and four ingredients, and it looked delicious. What could go wrong?
Making the caramel was super easy, so easy that I wondered whether I was missing something somewhere. Near the end, when I was supposed to cook the caramel several minutes “until it’s a shade darker” (whatever that means), but I smelled something burning and feared for my caramel, so I took it off the stove. It looked and smelled like caramel, and I figured it would be fine.
But alas, my caution came back to bite me yet again. The caramel was supposed to firm up after about half an hour in the freezer, but when I checked it was still soft. So I waited. And waited. After over an hour it seemed to have firmed up, so I took it out and began cutting it–only to discover that it was quickly devolving into a sticky, totally-not-solid mass, definitely not the sort of thing you can easily cut into squares. I scooped it up in sticky spoonfuls and put it in the batter anyway, because at this point I figured nothing was going to change. I must have taken it off too soon, and whatever chemistry goes on inside candy that makes it harden hadn’t had a chance to occur.
But before I could get too down on myself about my sad non-candies, I tasted the caramel.
Oh my GOD it was so good. Did I make that?
Everything Deb from smitten kitchen said about homemade salted caramel is true. It is amazing, and if you have sugar, butter, heavy cream and sea salt, and any affinity for cooking, you should make it. Because it’s delicious. I haven’t tasted the brownies yet (amazing feat of self-control!), but I’m betting they’ll still taste pretty good too.
It feels like this post should have some sort of moral at the end, like “I shouldn’t be so afraid to make mistakes in the kitchen, because sometimes the food’s awesome anyway, and even if it’s not, you still learn something”.
But mostly I’m just thinking that, thanks to my delicious failure, I have an excuse to make these brownies again. You know, so I can learn from my mistakes, and get it right. For science.