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Test Kitchen notebook

November 06, 2002|Emily Green

Perfect caramel

(it's not hard to do)

To achieve caramel worthy of the Brittany effect, you need the best butter and cream. This used to pose a problem in L.A., where good fresh cream was as rare as hen's teeth. Then six months ago, the Straus Family Creamery of Marin County began sending its fresh cream south. It is so sweet, so rich, it could have even the most hardened futurist extolling the virtues of the good old days. A 16-ounce bottle is $2.99, plus $1 bottle deposit, at Whole Foods Porter Ranch, Torrance, Woodland Hills, Park La Brea, West Hollywood, Hillcrest and San Diego.

Equipment: The done-ness of caramel sauce and caramel ice cream can be "eyeballed," but candy thermometers are essential to making caramel candy. The boiling point for soft candy is 240-250 degrees; for medium, 250-255 degrees; and for hard, 262-267 degrees.

Fancy kitchenware shops sell digital candy thermometers, but simpler models without batteries and moving parts that can drop into molten sugar are best.

Finally, keep a pot of water with a pastry brush on hand to moisten the sides of the pan if they overheat and begin to burn the caramel.

Safety: Cooking sugar is one of the more dangerous activities in the kitchen, capable of inflicting some of the most serious burns. Do not be tempted to lean over the pan to smell the caramel, do not taste it directly from the cooking pot and add all ingredients -- butter, cream and flavorings -- slowly and carefully so they don't boil over.

Trouble-shooting: Sugar can crystallize if it is overcooked or heated unevenly. If this happens, and your candy tastes grainy, melt it down, adding a bit of water, stirring gently, to evenly re-cook. Then re-set.

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