Saturday, February 6, 2010

Salt... and Caramel!

We all know how important salt is, and that as humans it's something we need to stay alive.
It was very valuable back in the day, it's where we get the word "salary" because Roman soldiers were paid in salt. The beautiful city of Salzburg, Austria is named for salt- the river running through the city (the Salzach River) was important for transporting salt for a long time.
Salt was (and is) used for preservation and for flavor.
When baking, recipes usually call for a bit of salt which helps bring all the flavors together. Did you ever forget salt in a recipe and find when you tasted it something was missing? Not that you were missing salinity, but things just weren't quite right?
Salt is great- in the proper amounts, of course, but we all probably know at least one person who has to watch their salt intake because of hypertension.
Have you ever really tasted different kinds of salt? No, you don't have to eat whole spoons of it, but just a few grains. The difference in flavors can be amazing.

Clockwise from upper left: French Gray Salt, Cyprus Black, Murray River Pink Salt, Hiwa Kai Black and (center) kosher.

Regular iodized table salt is fairly harsh. If you compare it to a little kosher salt (with some water between!) you can really taste a difference. The kosher is much more delicate. Because of this I really prefer to use kosher salt when cooking.
Of course, we all need iodine- which is easier for people to get if they live near the coast because of the fresh fish. I remember reading something at some point (college or grad school? chemistry or some medical-type class? I don't know... my head is filled with random things that can sometimes be more appropriate for Trivial Pursuit) about people in the Appalachian Mountain region having iodine deficiency issues. Iodized salt was introduced in the early 20th century and there's now less of a problem with some of these things. But the topic isn't REALLY iodine here.
Yes- tasting salt! Not exactly a wine tasting, but many different and delicate flavors, which is why many salts are better used as "finishing" salts just prior to serving. As well as delicate flavors, they can also look very pretty and interesting.

Hiwa Kai Black Salt (with charcoal)

Cyprus Black Salt (also with charcoal- it actually has a delicate and flaky
pyramid shape)
... if you click on the picture you may be able to see more detail...

The Hawaiian Red Salt gets its color from clay.

On to caramels...

Recently many confectioners have been using salt to finish their candies- very often caramels.
The contrast is fantastic- smooth, chewy, milky, sweet caramel with a touch of crunchy saltiness.
I've recently been putting salt on caramels when I make them.
The caramel recipe is my grandmother's, but we don't know where it came from and it's (sadly) too late to ask her. I noticed there was no salt in the original recipe though.

Time to pull out the candy thermometer!
If you have a 1/2 sheet pan, I would recommend perhaps doubling the recipe. This way the caramel isn't too thin. However, you'll have more caramels to wrap. Also, it's best (in my opinion) to use the full-fat condensed milk. I don't know what went wrong (the milk? something wrong with the temperature? and I don't really have the time to check it out right now), but a while back I used fat free condensed milk and it didn't solidify too well. It did make some very nice caramel sauce though...
I want to experiment with using coffee and infusing the cream, but it's so hard to get past really good vanilla caramels.
Oh, I would also recommend NOT eating them all by yourself. Sharing is a good thing sometimes.


1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. heavy cream
1 c. light corn syrup
4 T sweetened condensed milk
4 T butter
1 T vanilla

Cook sugar, cream, and corn syrup in a medium pan over medium-low heat stirring constantly. When it reaches 230 degrees F, add condensed milk,  and continue stirring. Once the temperature reaches 240 degrees, add butter and vanilla (which will probably make the caramel sputter a bit) and remove from heat.

Pour caramel into a greased pan (with sides!) and let cool.
Cut into pieces, place on waxed paper squares and twist ends.


  1. Yum! I love the pictures of the salt. I didn't realize there are so many different types. I may have to try experimenting with the kosher salt for cooking.


  2. I recently heard that the phrase "not worth his salt" also comes from the Roman salary thing.

  3. I enjoy reading these posts and I like the technique tips! Look forward to reading more!

  4. I remember one time when your mom made these and we got to watch. . . so long ago, but SO yummy.

    Many times have I tried to duplicate this recipe, but to no avail. I'm sure that I don't cook it long enough in an impatience to "get that goodness into me"! Ha.

    That's okay though, it tastes great on ice cream...


  5. I made these caramels while snowed under & use them as currency to convince the neighbors to loan me a snow shovel. I used black Hawaiian sea salt for some of them, which my roommate loved! For the others, I found a delicate champagne smoked fluer de sel which is EXCELLENT. That one's my favorite! Thanks, Natalie.

  6. So I tried these with a lavender essential oil instead of vanilla, and it was wonderful. Very light and floral, and it was a big hit at the Passover Seder.