Michelle Grady on Nigella’s favourite culinary class-A drug…
Although many food fads come and go, there are a special few that stay the distance. Whether salted caramel will become a menu mainstay is perhaps yet to be seen, but it certainly seems like it is sticking around for the foreseeable – everyone from Hotel Chocolat to supermarket favourite Carte D’Or offer their own take on it. Starbucks also stocks a range of salted caramel treats – and when they start selling something, you know it has fully made the transition from high-end to mainstream. What’s more, Barack Obama has even revealed his penchant for a salted caramel or two – and who can blame him?
But where did this rather addictive treat come from? Well, despite many a sweet-and-salty confection originating in America, our friends across the pond can’t claim it as their own. Instead, we can attribute this one to France – or, to be more specific, Brittany. The medieval Brittany town of Guérande is famous for its salt ponds; this salt, called fleur de sel Guérande, is widely praised by chefs everywhere and is thought to be some of the best in the world. The area is also, funnily enough, renowned for its rich and creamy salted butter.
Canny pastry chef Henri Le Roux, aiming to create a buzz about his newly opened pastry shop, decided to combine these two local delicacies – and so salted caramel was born. Roux’s creation went on to win ‘Best Candy of France’ at the 1980 International Trade Fair for Confectionery, and it was further popularised by master patissier Pierre Hermé’s salted caramel macaroons in the ‘90s. Initially a preserve of fine-dining restaurants, the flavour is now seen gracing the menu of affordable independent eateries and high-street chains alike.
But what is it that makes salted caramel so popular? As Nigella Lawson so succinctly put it in an article for Stylist magazine, it is perhaps down to its heady and moreish ‘holy trinity of fat, sugar and salt’ – and the irresistible blend of sweet and salty flavours that has been pleasing our palates for centuries. As Nigella says, it is this mix that makes it the class-A drug of the confectionery world. And no doubt it will keep us hooked for a while yet.
If you’re in need of your next hit, try this recipe for salted caramel sauce from the lady herself:
75g best-quality unsalted butter
50g soft light brown sugar
50g caster sugar
50g golden syrup
125ml double cream
1tsp fleur de sel
Melt the butter, sugars and syrup in a small heavy-based pan and let it simmer for 3 minutes, swirling every now and again.
Add the cream and half a teaspoon of fleur de sel salt (not table salt!) and swirl again. Give it a stir with a wooden spoon and taste to see if more salt is needed, before letting it cook for another minute on the stove, then pouring into a jug for serving.
It really is that simple – now all you need to do is eat it! Perhaps drizzle it over ice cream, chocolate cake, apple crumble or chocolate brownies – the options are endless. You can even put it in hot chocolate. Just be warned – this sauce is highly addictive!