Caramel and salt are a great combination.
Things tend to go in trends, and this is no different. The combination wasn't always popular here, and it's rise has been fairly recent. Still, it's a great combination.
The salt tempers the sweetness of the caramel, adds a little change in flavor that sort of helps to amplify the caramel (I am aware of the temper vs. amplify contradiction here).
Salt also adds a little interesting crunch to the smooth caramel.
It's even better with dark chocolate. The bitterness of the chocolate tends to round things out.
Milk chocolate and caramel, to me, don't taste that great together. The combination is TOO sweet- a barrage of sugar that doesn't have enough complexity. So, it's something I can safely steer clear of, and that's just fine by me.
However, there are some people who WILL NOT touch dark chocolate. There are also people who hate caramel with salt- they say it just seems wrong, and sometimes it seems that they say it in such a way to convey that it goes against their moral fibers.
It's sad, really. They should stand up against something more... relevant.
This is not a recipe for those who shun dark chocolate, or abhor salt with their caramel. So sorry.
There are so many types of salt out there, and they're all good for different things. Many are best as finishers because of their color or texture.
Grey salt is fairly coarse and crunchy (good choice), while another option, fleur de sel, is very delicate both in texture and flavor. I guess it all depends on what type of contrast you feel like and what's available to you.
I recently came across this little NY Times article from 2008. It might make for an interesting little foodie read
Slightly adapted from Saveur, Issue #119, from Marlow & Sons
1 1/2 c flour
1/4 c plus 1 T dutch processed cocoa powder
1/4 t kosher salt
10 T unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into pieces
1/2 c plus 2 T confectioners' sugar
2 egg yolks, room temperature
1/2 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 c sugar
3 T light corn syrup
1/4 t kosher salt
6 T unsalted butter
6 T heavy cream
2 t vanilla extract
1 T crème fraîche or sour cream
1/2 c heavy cream
4 oz bittersweet chocolate
Gray sea salt or fleur de sel for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine the flour, cocoa powder, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Mix in egg yolks and vanilla. Mix in dry ingredients until combined. Transfer the dough to a 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom and press the dough evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Place the crust in the freezer 20 minutes.
Prick the crust all over with a fork and bake until cooked through, about 20 minutes. Transfer the finished crust to a rack and let cool completely.
In a 1 qt. saucepan, whisk together the sugar, corn syrup, salt and 6 T water and bring to a boil. Have a pastry brush and water on hand for brushing down the sides of the pan if necessary. Cook without stirring until a candy thermometer inserted into the syrup reads 340 degrees F. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter, cream, crème fraîche (or sour cream), and vanilla. The mixture will bubble up, but continue stirring until the caramel is smooth. Pour the caramel into the cooled tart shell, let cool, and refrigerate until firm (at least 3 hours).
To make the ganache, bring the cream to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Place the chocolate in a medium bowl and pour the hot cream over it. Let the chocolate and cream sit about one minute and then stir with a rubber spatula until smooth. Pour the ganache evenly over the caramel and smooth the top as necessary. Refrigerate at least 1 hour more until set.
Sprinkle the tart with grey salt or fleur de sel, slice, and serve chilled.
Tip: If you run the knife under hot water, then wipe dry between cuts, the tart will cut more easily.