October 7, 2012

Easy Caramel Sauce

It's glorious fall! Aren't you excited? 

I have noticed that one of the menu crazes these past several months has been all things salted caramel. Salted caramel this and salted caramel that. Salted caramel ice cream, brownies, cupcakes, mochas - everything is "salted" caramel. I'm not quite sure what this adjective "salted" does to caramel itself. Good caramel is salted already. I throw sea salt in mine. Fancy caramels you get at beachside fudge shops are often topped with coarse salt grains so maybe that's where this salted craze comes from. Still, it makes me laugh. I can't see "caramel" on an item without it being described as "salted." I'm sure it's just one of those words to make plain Jane caramel seem more gourmet.

Well, this easy caramel sauce is anything but plain Jane, and yes, it contains sea salt, and YES it is extremely easy. The only quasi-fahhncy thing you need is a candy thermometer. I only say fahhncy because I had to go to the store to get one.

I originally prepared this sauce to top homemade cinnamon ice cream; since then, we have graduated to Maple View Farm's maple and chocolate chip. But regardless of what lies underneath your inherently salted caramel sauce, the sauce itself is absolutely delicious. The texture is velvety and impossibly smooth. Warm it up ever so slightly before pouring or have at room temperature with apple slices.

Easy Caramel Sauce

1 cup water
2 cups sugar
1 cup heavy cream
Pinch salt (fine or coarse grain)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Pour water into heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add sugar to middle of water so that sugar doesn't stick to sides of pan. Cover, then bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, remove lid and insert candy thermometer into center of the liquid. This is where you really have to start watching it.

Continue boiling until thermometer registers 300 degrees. Syrup should be light brown and fairly clear. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until thermometer reaches 350 degrees.

Meanwhile, bring cream and salt to a simmer in a small saucepan over high heat. Do not let the mixture boil.

When syrup reaches 350 degrees, remove from heat completely and add a little of the hot cream. The mixture will bubble vigorously so make sure you add just a little at first. Add remaining cream and wait until bubbling subsides. Whisk caramel gently until very smooth. Add butter.

Let caramel cool in pan or transfer into a glass jar. This sauce is perfect just slightly warm so if you can wait a few hours before pouring over ice cream, that would be ideal! I did not, and it melted my ice cream. Luckily, there was plenty left over; this recipe makes about 2 cups of delicious, versatile caramel. 

 Welcome fall and welcome caramel- and pumpkin-flavored everything!

October 2, 2012

Pizza Bianca

Fall challenge? More like fall fail!

Friends, my life this fall has been, as the young folks say, cray. The blog gods knew that as soon as I started a Fall Challenge I would get a new job at a high-energy arts program. Near-daily posts? Whatever. Not happening. Near-daily exhaustion with no regard for Fall Challenges anywhere? That's more like it.

And yet this is life - the very essence of life, in fact. This is the life that sends us unexpected curve balls, laughs at our plans, and makes us tired in those warm post-lunch hours. This is the life that gives you half-marathon training programs with 7 AM Saturday morning runs and no hope for catching up on sleep until those precious, hallowed, nap-inducing Sunday afternoons. It's a busy life, but one that still provides opportunity for excellent food and good company.

I made this bread a couple of weeks ago for my husband and his parents, as we watched Arkansas' disgusting defeat to Louisiana-Monroe. (Little did we know that this was just the beginning of Arkansas' spectacular growing pains.) This bread may be the most versatile, comforting, sustaining recipe I have ever posted, with the possible exception of banana pudding. Adopt this recipe into your repertoire!

Pizza bianca is an absolute delight in my life and should be in yours too. I didn't adhere to my self-set rules of the Fall Challenge but I embrace the fact that life gave me some even sweeter challenges this fall. The recipe looks daunting but it is extremely easy. All you need is a few hours and a Saturday afternoon and you are set.

Pizza Bianca

3 cups (15 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 2/3 cups (13.5 ounces) water
1 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons sugar
5 tablespoons olive oil

Fresh rosemary leaves
Parmesan or fresh mozzarella

Mix flour, water, and salt in a stand mixer on low speed for 4-5 minutes until no bits of flour remain. Scrape sides of bowl at least once during initial mixing process. Turn off mixer and let dough stand for about 20 minutes.

Sprinkle yeast and sugar on top of dough and mix on low until fully combined, at least a minute. Raise speed to high and knead for 9-10 minutes. Scrape sides once in the early stages of second mixing, to make sure yeast and sugar are fully incorporated.

Grease a large non-reactive bowl with 1 tablespoon olive oil and rub excess oil on rubber spatula. Transfer dough into greased bowl, scraping sides with oiled spatula. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let rise at least 2 hours, until tripled in volume. This is a pretty fluid dough so don't be surprised if it looks more liquid than your average bread dough or pizza crust. During the rising process, the dough will fill with bubbles and pockets of air, which makes for a light and crunchy bread.
If using a pizza stone, place in oven one hour before baking and heat to 450 F.

Coat a rectangular cookie sheet or pizza pan with about 2 tablespoons olive oil and turn dough out onto oiled sheet. Press dough into corners of pan. The dough should be fairly elastic, so if it resists being formed, let it rest for a few minutes and try again. Let formed dough rest in pan for about 5 minutes before baking.
Prick surface with a fork and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake for 20-30 minutes. Halfway through, add rosemary leaves and parmesan or mozzarella (if using). Crust should be golden brown and toasty. When bread is done, brush lightly with olive oil and let cool slightly before cutting into wedges.

Serve this with anything - steak, chicken, marinara sauce, or add your favorite toppings for a pizza. This recipe is truly one of the most versatile ones in my repertoire. It's up there with cornbread in terms of its uses so be creative!