Last night I tried making caramel, emphasis on tried. I happily dumped a cup of sugar into a pan, turned up the heat, and stirred, stirred, stirred. Sniffing curiously, I noticed that there was an acrid smell mingling with the smell of melting sugar. It smelled like melting plastic…
“This isn’t heat-resistant, is it?” I asked myself aloud, lifting up my spatula.
“Caution! Not heat-resistant,” I read. I literally threw the melting spatula into the sink, grabbed a nylon spoon from the drawer, and started stirring again, of course.
After a while, I noticed that there were chunks of sugar that weren’t melting. Or maybe that was plastic. I decided that I needed to stir harder. Soon, I realized that I had done something wrong. I set the pan aside and looked up caramel making tips. All right, I wasn’t supposed to stir the caramel that much.
Armed with my new knowledge and a couple of other handy tips, I got out a fresh pot and carefully poured in a cup of sugar. I made sure that it was in an even layer and turned on the heat. As I stood there watching it carefully, I tried to hold off stirring. Finally, though, I just had to give it a stir! And then I stirred a little more, and a little more, and—well, I just couldn’t help myself! Soon, I had another pot of chunky caramel.
I tried not to panic. Instead, I turned the heat down low and just let the sugar cook.
“But,” I reasoned, “wouldn’t the sugar dissolve more quickly if I stirred it? Just a little stir couldn’t hurt, could it?” I don’t know whether the little stir hurt the caramel or not, but some of the chunks just wouldn’t go away! Finally, I just took the pan off the heat, worried that I was going to completely scorch the sugar.
I tossed some softened butter into the pan and tried to stir it in. I noted anxiously, though, that the caramel was already beginning to seize. Quickly, I added hot cream. Then, well, I won’t even bother saying that the caramel seized up. That doesn’t even describe it. Let’s just say that I had a pot of greasy cream with chunks of rock-hard caramel floating in it. Desperately, I returned the pan to the heat, telling myself that the heat would help it smooth out. I knew, though, that I was just deluding myself. I had another pan of ruined caramel on my hands, and nothing I could do would ever be able to fix it.
In frustration, I poured the cream down the sink and filled the pot with hot water to dissolve the sugar hardened onto the bottom. Then, I set it on the counter next to the other pan filled with hardened caramel. Would I ever be able to reclaim those pans from the caramel? I fleetingly had visions of me throwing two pans away with caramel forever glued to the bottoms. The hot water did its magic, though, and soon enough the sugar had dissolved.
I sat down at the kitchen table, wondering what to do next. I was trying to make the caramel for salted caramel buttercream to fill brownie sandwiches. Right then all I had was fifty-five brownie cookies. I decided to turn to my handy-dandy Cook’s Illustrated’s cookbook for filling ideas.
I finally ended up making vanilla buttercream. While the texture was beautifully silky, the frosting just didn’t have a strong enough flavor to stand up to the bold dark chocolate flavor of the brownie cookies. I decided to try adding extra vanilla. As I reached for the vanilla extract in the pantry, I saw a bottle of almond extract and decided to add some of that to the frosting, instead. It proved to be just what the frosting needed!
After much frustration and confusion (I still have no clue how to make caramel), I ended up with a fun and rich cookie, perfect to bring to the Fourth of July barbecue I was going to. If I ever figure out what I did wrong with the caramel, I’ll let you know. Or, if you know what I did wrong, please let me know! This is the recipe for the cookies and buttercream. The cookies were really good, and I bet the buttercream would be too if you know how to make caramel. Enjoy!