Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Joy's Coconut Caramel

At right, fresh pineapple doused with Coconut Caramel and coconut milk.

So it's a shade egocentric to name a recipe after yourself, but I'm really proud of this one.

Caramel is generally made by adding butter and cream to caramelized sugar. Not vegan, but the usual substitutes for dairy can impart an odd taste. After many experiments with soy creamer and Earth Balance, I scrapped the idea and started from scratch. Here, coconut milk adds a barely discernible taste and provides necessary fat, and since there are really only two ingredients, the flavor notes stay very pure. The resulting caramel is perfectly smooth, with a bit of elusive smokiness.

About Caramel:

Although this recipe is fairly simple, it does require some understanding of the caramelization process. When sugar is heated to the point of melting (with or without water), it begins to color and caramelize. If left as is, it will solidify into a hard mass. If water is added, it becomes a thin sauce. If water and fat are added, the caramel develops body and a satiny texture.
Since crystallization is the enemy of a good caramel, preventing it is important. There are several ways to do this:

-Incorporate an acid into the sugar/water mixture (lemon juice, vinegar, cream of tartar); this keeps the sugar crystals from joining together.
-Once heated, do not stir the sugar mixture, and don't touch it with anything (like a candy thermometer).
-Cover the pan until the sugar mixture is completely dissolved; the steam will wash any crystals into the pan.

Caramel can burn very quickly. But for a proper caramel, do take it to the closest point before it actually does. It should be the color of an older penny, and should smell a bit sharp. It might take a few tries to muster the courage, but it's worth it. The color can be tested by carefully dipping strips of white paper into the caramel.
Adding the water will make the caramel bubble up--use a pan with high sides and stand back. Caramel is extremely hot and can do serious damage, so you might consider wearing plastic gloves while making it.

Joy's Coconut Caramel
about 1 cup

1/2 cup cold water
one pinch cream of tartar, or a few drops of lemon juice or vinegar (I prefer cream of tartar, as it doesn't impart a taste)
1 cup evaporated cane juice
1/4 cup boiling water
3/4 cups full fat coconut milk (not light), at room temperature

Add the cold water, cream of tartar, and evaporated cane juice to a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Avoid Teflon, as the coating can be damaged by extreme temperatures. Stir the mixture briefly with a clean finger to dissolve any lumps.
Cover and cook over medium heat, swirling to dissolve, 3 to 7 minutes. When the syrup is completely clear, uncover and increase heat to medium-high. Cook until deep brown. Be patient; this can take around 10 minutes.
Immediately remove from heat and pour in the boiling water, whisking until smooth. Slowly whisk in the coconut milk. Allow to cool slightly before serving or storing. Keep in the refrigerator in a glass jar for up to a month.

This is excellent drizzled over Caramel Almond Bread Pudding