Many competent cooks seem to be terrified of making caramel. Why? It’s a doddle. There are only two things that can go wrong: burning it (due to inattention) and crystallising the sugar. The first problem is easily solved: don’t take your eyes off the caramel while it is cooking, and remove from the heat as soon as it is the right colour. As for the second problem, I discovered long ago that using sugar cubes instead of granulated sugar ensures that the sugar will melt smoothly and evenly without crystals forming. So give it a go! This sauce is excellent with ice cream, but useful for all sorts of other things as well — try it with apple slices fried in butter for example.
85 g butter
225 g sugar, preferably cubes, otherwise granulated
100 ml cream
1/2 tbs fleur de sel (flaked sea salt)
Use a larger pan than you think you need, because it will bubble up when you add the butter. No messing about with non-stick pans either: a dark lining will prevent you from seeing when the caramel is ready. And measure out all the ingredients before you start.
First, melt the sugar to make caramel. If using cubes it’s easy — as they warm over a moderate heat, use a wooden spoon or spatula to crush them, and they will easily melt into a pale golden caramel. Usually by the time all the sugar has melted, the caramel is almost done, so just cook it for a little longer, without taking your eyes off it. If using granulated sugar, heat it slowly in a dry pan. Don’t stir until it has melted, but shake the pan occasionally. Then raise the heat to caramelise it. You need to watch it like a hawk — it can burn in seconds.
When the caramel is the shade you want (not too pale — I like mine a light mahogany colour), remove from the heat instantly and add the butter all at once. Keep your hand well out of the way, as the caramel will bubble up fiercely. Stir briskly till the butter has melted, then add the cream in the same way and stir. Stir in the sea salt flakes. Don’t taste it at this point — it’s hot!! Leave for 5-10 minutes to cool before pouring into a glass jar — this fills one 350 g jam jar. It will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks at least; warm it before using, as it stiffens once cold.