Baking in my household has been exam focused over the last three weeks, my kitchen filled with whisked sponges and beaten custards, marzipan roses spilling over my dining table. Suppers have been simple and unceremonious: my mum’s thoroughly inauthentic spag bol, eggs in various different guises, and my old failsafe, peanut butter noodles.
Now that exams are over, and all that’s left is a quick, clumsy bash at gumpaste flowers and cake decorating, I can turn my mind again to cooking properly and thoughtfully, using it as a form of headspace and quiet time. I feel slightly overwhelmed at the idea of a couple of weeks where the fridge isn’t filled with ludicrous cream-covered cakes or absurd entremets, knowing that the nutritious respite will be short-lived. Unsurprisingly, I don’t have any particular desire to knock up a fat cake or big blocks of pastry.
So I find myself looking to my pantry shelves. With breathing space to spend some quality time with my hob, I want to restock those shelves that are starting to look a little sorry for themselves, depleted by eager hands and slices upon slices of toast.
Calling them pantry shelves makes them sound grander than they are, frankly. The reality is a few boards of oiled wood that I bullied Sam into erecting for me, standing above my noisy washing machine, in the tiny space between my kitchen and my garden. I precariously balance big jars of jam and marmalade amongst outsize cake tins, all bearing painstakingly typed Dymo labels. I love my little pantry shelves. They make me feel like I am forging a deliberate future, one which involves pickled onions and kimchi and damson jam. One of the first jars to cement its place on those shelves was a small pot of salted caramel: thick enough to spoon out like Nutella, but once slightly warmed, silky and pourable. And, of course, properly salted, no half measures here.
I’ve used salted caramel in recipes before, but it has never taken centre stage. I so love having a pot to hand to use whenever the occasion (or, really, any excuse) arises, that I decided it was about time to give it the attention it deserves.
It goes like this:
Makes: 1 0.25l jam jar of caramel
Takes: 10 minutes
Bakes: No time at all
120g double cream
1/2 teaspoon really good salt (I use maldon)
1. First, measure out all your ingredients. Cover the base of a frying pan with a little of the sugar, and place over a medium high heat. As the sugar begins to melt, add a little more of the sugar, stirring it with a heatproof spatula, encouraging the rest of it to melt. Continue until you have used all the sugar. The sugar should be a rich mahogany colour, and just beginning to smoke.
2. Remove the pan from the heat, and add the cream a little at a time, stirring it into the molten sugar. Adding it bit by bit helps it caramelise properly. It will bubble up as you add and stir it, so be careful. Return briefly to the heat and stir to remove any lumps, adding in the salt.
3. Allow to stand for 2-3 minutes, then stir in the butter. Leave to cool for fifteen minutes, then decant into a jar.
4. Ta dah!
Icing on the Cake