I love surprising, contrasting flavor combinations. Pour me a jalapeno-passion fruit martini, hot chocolate laced with chili powder, or a handful of chocolate covered pretzels any day and I will be quite pleased. I love being surprised with each bite or sip and discovering new combinations that I never would’ve dreamed would work well together.
So, it’s not a surprise that the words “salted” and “caramel” in the same sentence generally cause me to jump with joy. (When they are mixed, also, with the word “chocolate,” I enter my red zone, a scary, yet delicious place that we’ll have to discuss another day.)
The most incredible salted caramel combination that I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying was the ice cream at Molly Moon’s in Seattle last summer. That stuff was crazy. It was the most creamy, delicate, vibrant flavor of ice cream I’d ever had. The caramel and salt were balanced perfectly, toying almost hyperactictively with each other, and the flavors exploded, together, with each spoon full. I somehow managed to give Scott a taste without putting him into a head lock when he asked if he could try it. (I’m notoriously bad at sharing. Ask my mom.) I remember reaching the end of that cup of ice cream and wanting to turn back and go for seconds, but after a roasted onion sandwich at Paseo for lunch that day, and then the ice cream, there wasn’t room for much else.
It seems that the salted caramel combination is pretty popular these days, but I’ve found that it’s not always done properly. At its best, the combination is a welcome revelation, but the rest of the time, it sort of tastes like there might be maple syrup hiding beneath the surface or, worse, there is barely any detectable salt present. That’s a real shame.
When I acquired a bundt pan recently, thanks to a Williams Sonoma gift card from my grandparents (thanks!!) I wasn’t sure what to make in it first. Chocolate cake? Pumpkin? Sweet potato?!?!And then I saw a recipe for a salted caramel bundt cake, and my search was over.
This cake has an inherently subtle sweetness and elegance that makes it very approachable. It’s the sort of thing you can walk over to and taste a bite of, without feeling like you’re going to overwhelm yourself with decadence. The caramel is smooth and silky on top of the moist cake, and the salt is a little surprising at first, popping through the sweetness of the caramel, reminding you, in a not-so-subtle way that it’s there.
Baking the cake itself is a relatively straight forward process and doesn’t require all that much work besides dropping ingredients into the stand mixer and whirling away. The one bit of advice I can offer here is that you should try your best not to over mix the batter. It’s perfectly light and fluffy when mixed properly, but as soon as you go a little too far, you run the risk of making the cake too dense. Stop mixing the batter a few seconds before all of the dry ingredients are combined with the wet. Then finish it off carefully by stirring with a wooden spoon.
I didn’t use a candy thermometer to make the caramel and it turned out just fine despite this being my first time experimenting with it. The key to the caramel is to keep whisking and to not be afraid of it. (It’s bubbling, AHH!!!!!!!) As long as you’re on top of it and paying attention to it, the sugar will melt with the butter, form a luscious, thick caramel, and then you’ll remove the pot from the heat and gently mix in the cream. (Don’t do as I did, though, and be tempted to to stick your finger in the caramel pot once you think it’s cool. Ouch. Beginner’s mistake.)
I could hardly notice the faint burn in my finger when I sat down to take a bite of this cake, though. It was certainly worth the trouble.
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