Many caramel recipes perilously advocate a dry-heat method that often results in a gritty mess, clouds of black smoke, shrieking smoke alarms and ruined pots.
There is an easier way: Just add water, then remove it. Water helps the sugar dissolve and melt evenly without getting grainy. And if you don't stir while the water is evaporating - stirring can cause the sugar granules to pop up, stick to the side of the pot, crystallize and fall back into the syrup - you can further avoid grittiness.
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Left behind will be an evenly melted pure sugar syrup free to continue rising into the flavour zone. And if there's some butter, cream and vanilla waiting at the end, even better.
1 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces
1 cup heavy (35 per cent) cream
Splash of pure vanilla extract
Pour water into a saucepan. Gently sprinkle in sugar, taking care to avoid the edges of the pan. Begin heating over a high heat. Don't stir! Allow the sugar to dissolve into the water to form simple syrup. As the heat increases, the water will gradually evaporate and leave behind a pure melted sugar syrup. Once the syrup starts to turn pale gold, gently swirl the pan to keep the colour even. When it has reached deep golden brown, add butter and whisk in until the sauce is smooth. Add cream and pure vanilla extract and whisk until smooth. Pour into a jar and refrigerate until thickened. The sauce will keep for up to a month in the refrigerator.
Michael Smith is the host of the Food Network's Chef at Home, Chef at Large and The Inn Chef.