Entertainment

Caramel combo

Lorena Urena cut a shiny slab of caramel into squares with a rolling pin of knives at Burke Candy in Milwaukee's Riverwest neighborhood. The sheen is a testament to the high milk-solid content of the mouthwatering, soft caramel that, minutes before, resembled molten lava bubbling in a kettle. Then the cooled caramel pieces each will be dipped into tempered dark chocolate, followed by a sprinkle of sea salt to make Grandmother Reilly's Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels, which sell for $20 per pound.

"The caramel recipe is a mix of my grandmother's and Tim's grandfather's recipes," said Julia Burke, who owns the family candy business with her husband, Tim. "The salt brings out the cream in the caramel. It enhances it."

Though it's a year-round flavor, caramel's buttery rich texture and warm, golden glow are especially suited to fall. Think salty-sweet, and you've got the trendiest caramel pairing since the apple: sea salt.

The appeal of sea salt caramels goes straight to the top — President Obama developed a taste for them during a campaign stop in Seattle, when a supporter gave him a box of Gray and Smoked Salt Caramels from Fran's Chocolates.

"Sea salt caramel is to die for," said John Wise, director of operations for the Bartolotta Restaurant Group in Milwaukee. "When you go to France and Europe, you see it in ice cream and macaroons. That sweet-salty thing is unbelievable."

Caramel apples are a fall tradition, too. Lose the stick, and you have another fall favorite, caramel apple pie.

Susan Wallace, pastry chef for the BlackSalt seafood restaurant in Washington, D.C., makes a caramel-apple streusel pie that draws rave reviews, warmed and served with ice cream.

Jake Replogle, chef and co-owner of Haute Taco, in Brookfield, Wis., shared his recipe for a popular, silky smooth dessert with a touch of caramel. Born and raised in Cuernavaca, Mexico, Replogle grew up eating flan made by his aunt.

"It's one of those desserts, a very traditional family recipe that people are used to eating at home," he said. "We make it at Haute Taco from scratch from a family recipe I tweaked, adding half-and-half cream for richness."

The tricks to making great flan are achieving the amber color and "getting it into the ramekins quickly," he said. "Have everything ready to go, and if you get it right the first time, you're lucky."

Haute Taco's Caramel Flan

1 cup sugar (divided)

1/3cup water

1 cup milk

1 cup half-and-half

1 vanilla bean, scraped

4 large eggs

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place five (6-ounce) ramekins in a pan that will allow you to cover the ramekins three-fourths of the way up with water.

Add 1/2 cup sugar and 1/3cup water to a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Begin to cook over medium heat. Do not disturb initially. After all the sugar begins to boil, watch carefully so that no spot is caramelizing more. You may need to swirl the pan. Once you have achieved an amber color, remove from heat and pour into ramekins.

In clean saucepan, mix remaining 1/2 cup sugar, the milk, half-and-half and vanilla bean. Using a candy thermometer, heat liquid over medium heat to 120 degrees, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and set aside to allow vanilla to steep into milk, another 5 to 10 minutes.

In bowl, whisk eggs until thoroughly mixed and slowly begin to add milk mixture to eggs to temper them. Once all milk mixture has been added and mixture is thoroughly combined, pass through a chinois (cone-shaped sieve) to remove undissolved sugar. Pour into ramekins.

Pour warm water into pan holding ramekins and bake in preheated oven 50 minutes, or until custard becomes almost firm. (It will finish cooking in the water bath.) Remove from oven and let cool in water bath. Remove ramekins from water bath and refrigerate until cool.

To serve, run knife around outside of each flan and invert onto plate. Tap and flan will fall out. Makes five (6-ounce) servings.

From Jake Replogle, chef and co-owner of Haute Taco in Brookfield, Wis.

The Wichita Eagle—09/22/10

Caramel-Apple Streusel Pie

The classic flavor pairing of caramel and apples in a pie is served at BlackSalt, an upscale seafood restaurant in Washington, D.C.

Streusel:

1/4cup granulated sugar

1/4cup packed brown sugar

3/4cup flour

1/2teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided

1/2cup (1 stick) butter, cubed

1/2cup chopped pecans

Apples:

2 tablespoons butter

4 or 5 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced 1/8inch thick

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2teaspoon ground nutmeg

Pie filling:

3/4cup sugar

2 tablespoons flour

3 eggs

1 1/2 cups sour cream

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2teaspoon salt

1 prebaked 9-inch pie shell

Caramel:

2 cups granulated sugar

1/2cup water

1 cup whipping cream

Prepare streusel topping: Combine 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar, brown sugar, flour and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in a mixing bowl. Add the cubed butter and combine (using two forks or your hands) until butter is the size of peas and streusel is crumbly. Mix in chopped pecans. Chill.

Prepare apple mixture: In skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add sliced apples, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and nutmeg. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly soft but still firm. Remove pan from heat, remove apples to a bowl and chill until cool, about 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare pie filling: In bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, eggs, sour cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, vanilla and salt. Stir in the cooled, cooked apples. Transfer to pie shell. Bake in preheated oven 20 to 25 minutes, or until filling is slightly set.

Sprinkle prepared streusel topping on top of pie. Return pie to oven and bake an additional 20 to 25 minutes, until topping is golden brown. Cool pie completely.

Prepare caramel sauce: Place 2 cups sugar with water in saucepan set over medium heat. Heat until sugar has caramelized (dark amber in color). Slowly whisk in the cream (be careful of steam). Continue whisking until combined. Let cool slightly before serving with pie. Pie may be served cold or heated, with ice cream and caramel sauce. Store pie in refrigerator.

The Wichita Eagle—09/22/10

Fleur de Sel Caramels

Dark caramel is enhanced with fleur de sel, a large-flake crunchy salt, in this chewy candy recipe from Dede Wilson's new cookbook, "Unforgettable Desserts: More Than 140 Memorable Dessert Recipes for All Year Round"

2 cups sugar

2/3cup light corn syrup

1/2cup water

2 cups whipping cream

1/2cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces

1/2teaspoon fleur de sel, plus extra

Line 8-inch square pan with aluminum foil. Smooth out wrinkles and generously butter bottom and sides. You'll also need 64 small fluted paper candy cups.

In deep, heavy-bottomed 5-quart pot, stir sugar, corn syrup and water together. (Make sure it's a very deep pot so you don't have a boil-over problem.) Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, swirling pot once or twice to combine ingredients, but do not stir. Boil until mixture turns a medium amber color; watch closely, as color will deepen quickly.

Within the next minute or so the caramel will turn a very dark mahogany brown, the bubbles will turn tan in color and wisps of smoke might appear. Immediately remove from heat and add the cream, butter and 1/2 teaspoon salt. The mixture may bubble up furiously; just let it sit a moment to subside. Place back over medium-high to high heat and swirl pot around a few times to combine ingredients. Clip on a candy thermometer and boil until mixture reaches 250 degrees, swirling mixture several times during boiling to make sure the temperature is consistent throughout. Immediately pour mixture into prepared pan without scraping bottom of pot.

Allow to sit overnight or until firm enough to cut. Cut into 64 squares (8 rows by 8). Place each one in a fluted paper cup, sprinkle a few more grains of fleur de sel on top and offer as part of a petits fours array. Or, wrap individually in waxed paper or cellophane, twisting the ends. Makes 64 caramels .

The Wichita Eagle—09/22/10

Salty-Sweet Caramel Nut Bars

If you like salted butter caramels, you'll love these nutty bars. Drizzle them with melted semi-sweet chocolate if you want to add decadence.

1/2cup (1 stick) plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (divided)

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

3/4cup flour

Pinch of salt

3 tablespoons whipping cream (divided)

1 cup salted mixed nuts

1/4cup packed dark brown sugar

1/4cup honey

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides; mist it lightly with vegetable oil spray.

Prepare crust: In large bowl, using electric mixer, beat 5 tablespoons of the butter and the granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add flour, salt and 1 tablespoon of the cream and mix until dough begins to form. Dough may be sticky. Rub a little bit of flour onto your fingers and use them to press dough evenly into baking pan, forming crust. Poke crust all over with fork.

Bake in preheated oven 20 to 25 minutes, until crust begins to turn light golden brown. Remove from oven and place on wire rack. Leave oven on.

Prepare filling: On cutting board, using a chef's knife, chop nuts roughly. Don't make them very small, just chop a little bit to break them up. With paring knife, cut remaining 6 tablespoons butter into several pieces and place in saucepan. Add brown sugar and honey. Cook mixture over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, until butter melts, brown sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil. Stop whisking and let mixture bubble 1 minute. Stir in chopped nuts. Remove nut mixture from heat and stir in remaining 2 tablespoons cream with whisk.

Spread nut mixture over crust and bake 20 minutes, until caramel bubbles. Place pan back on wire rack and let cool 2 hours. (Don't touch until it's cool; the caramel is extremely hot.) When cooled, cover pan with foil and refrigerate 2 hours.

Use foil overhang to lift bars out of pan and place on cutting board. Carefully remove foil and cut into 12 to 16 bars.

From "You Made That Dessert? Create Fabulous Treats, Even if You Can Barely Boil Water," by Beth Lipton (Globe Pequot Press, $19.95)

The Wichita Eagle—09/22/10

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