Sweet Sauces & Caramel
Hot fudge sauce is the tall dark and handsome of the liquid toppings family. If it were at a bar, it would be the Hitch watching every other pick up line attempt fail while smirking into its G&T. If it were an athlete, it would be captain of the basketball team and quarterback of the football team.
Chocolate sauce begins with chocolate (cacao beans to be precise). Cacao beans have a very long and rich history beginning with ancient South American cultures. Aztec cultures were said to have ground the beans into a paste and created a rich drink similar to modern day hot chocolate. The bitterness of the drink was said to turn off the conquistador. In order to temper the bitter flavor of the chocolate, the conquistador’s added honey and/or sugar.
Winter Storm Bella will bring the first, heavy accumulating snow of the season for us here in Michigan and across the Midwest this weekend. Cold temperatures will be setting in with single-digit windchill values.
As we prepare for the winter storm this weekend, many of us will bundle up and hunker down by the fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate. Let's welcome this winter storm with something other than plain hot chocolate to warm us up. How about a caramel hot chocolate with homemade caramel corn instead? Now we're talking!
If you have never experienced the taste of a fresh fig now is the time to try one! Green Kadota figs have a very short growing season, typically late July to early September. The small green fruit produces a bright green exterior and a beautiful pink interior. The fruit is less sweet than its black counterpart, the mission fig. Green figs are the perfect accompaniment to a crisp glass of white wine or a delicious variety of gourmet cheeses. One of my favorite ways to serve this small fruit is dipped in rich dark chocolate sauce and rolled in chopped hazelnuts. Simple and elegant, this dessert is the perfect way to satisfy those sweet cravings without feeling too guilty.
The craft beer movement has been part of my life for more than 15 years. In my early 20's, I vividly remember consuming some of the most delicious microbrews in the Pacific Northwest, along with fresh salmon and some of the most delicious sushi I've had in my life. As life moved on, and the scenery changed from evergreens and fresh fish to wide open spaces and corn fields, our love of microbrews and craft beers evolved. The craft breweries were not as prevalent in the Midwest as they were in the Pacific Northwest, so we resorted to creating our own. A sudden move to sunny San Diego once again put us in the center of brewing innovation. Places like Stone and Firehouse Brewing changed our views on bold and unique brews.
I have been struggling to eat healthier, exercise more and limit the amount of sweets I consume throughout the day. Most days I am really good at it, but some days not so much.... I have expressed to you in previous posts that I have no problem eating chocolate cake, cold out of the fridge for breakfast, but I haven't told you my ultimate weakness! I love anything salty and sweet, especially sea salt soft caramels. I can't get enough of them, and all my healthy eating willpower flies out the window whenever I am near them. I made a batch to photograph, posted it to Beanilla and then sent them over to my neighbors. My neighbors were very happy to be the recipients of the caramels, and I was utterly proud of myself and my willpower. Yay for me!!!
Fleur de Sel caramels are soft and creamy, sweet and salty and relatively simple to make, as long as you bring the mixture to an exact 241 degrees using a candy thermometer. A few degrees either way can result in caramel hard candies or a delicious bowl of caramel soup. Delicious, but not what we are striving for!
Sunday is family day in our family -- a time to relax and enjoy one another's company. While living in San Diego, Sundays meant we ventured out to explore places or attractions we had not enjoyed before; a new farmers market, Legoland, Disneyland, various dog parks and beaches. Living in So. California was one big adventure, however I love being back in the Midwest! The pace is slower, the people friendlier, I actually know my neighbor (and have spoken to them) and the cider is real!! I know you are probably thinking, "Has she lost it? The cider is real?!"
I know what you are thinking..... That is a very long title for a dessert. Well, I have to agree, but I couldn't think of any other way to describe in one line the deliciousness that is Vanilla Fleur de sel Dulce de leche.
While living in California I had the opportunity to work for a non-profit that fed low income children. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had as a chef. The children were beautiful and it was a pleasure to introduce them to healthy eating while maintaining a budget. Every Wednesday I would go into the classroom and we would have a kids-kitchen cooking session. Often times I learned about a food item or dish that I had never heard of, due to the ethnic diversity of the children. Once monthly, I asked a parent to bring in a treat that represented their culture or family. This is how I was introduced to sweet, delicious dulce de leche.
"Dulce de leche is a sweet prepared by slowly heating sweetened milk to create a product that derives its taste from caramelized sugar. Literally translated, it means "candy of milk" or "candy [made] of milk", "milk candy", or "milk jam" in the same way that "dulce de frutilla" is strawberry jam. It is popular in South America, notably in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. In Chile and Ecuador, it is known as manjar. In Peru, Colombia and Venezuela, it is referred to as manjar blanco or arequipe, depending on regional variations. In Brazil, it is known by its Portuguese name doce de leite. Dulce de Leche is believed to have been created in Argentina in 1829 in Cañuelas, Buenos Aires”. (wikipedia.com)
The traditional way to make Dulce de leche is to slowly boil an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk. I find that this method sometimes lacks the complexity in other caramel sauces. So, I altered tradition and adapted my own recipe to include Beanilla Vanilla Fleur de sel. Vanilla Fleur de Sel
Beanilla's Vanilla Fleur Del Sel is hand harvested sea salt from the Brittany region of France. Ground Tahitian vanilla beans are added to the salt to add a sweet floral note. The Fleur de sel adds a complexity to the sauce and the perfect balance of sweet and salty. Dulce de leche beautifully complements classic vanilla ice cream, can be drizzled over cream puffs, used as a filling for chocolate tarts, added to chocolate truffles and sprinkled on caramels or just simply eaten straight off the spoon (my personal favorite!).