Caramel Sauce Problem

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Joined Dec 4, 2016
For fifteen years I've been making a simple caramel sauce. 1 quart of sugar in a wide pot, stirred as it heats. When it caramelizes and reaches the right medium brown, I slowly add a quart of heavy cream, stirring constantly. When that's blended, I slowly add another quart of sugar.

We refrigerate, then reheat later, first on the griddle until it melts, then in a bain marie for service over pancakes. When served, it's a thick liquid; at room temperature, it is thicker and stickier and barely flows.

Lately we've been having a problem. It feels like I'm making it the same way, but now when it cools it is hard and barely flexible. Color and taste are the same as always.

My first thought is overheating, but to the best of my understanding I'm doing it the same as always. Can anyone shed light on what's happening or help my process?
 
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Joined Sep 17, 2018
Maybe the fat content of the heavy cream has changed since you state that nothing else in the process has? Did you change vendors/brands? On a side note I cheat and put karo syrup in my caramel.
 

chefpeon

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I'm just wondering why you add additional sugar at the end?

peachcreek peachcreek asked whether you used a thermometer, then I re-read your post. It implies that you don't. The most logical explanation is that there are various shades of "medium brown", and the difference of a degree or two makes all the difference in final texture, and eyeballing color isn't accurate enough if you want consistent results. If you use a thermometer every time there's no guesswork involved and your results will be consistent. This is also important if you delegate this task to another person. Your version of medium brown will probably be a bit different than their interpretation of medium brown.
 
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24
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Joined Dec 4, 2016
I don't use a thermometer— that is, I didn't until today. My bad.

Corn syrup smooths it out? How much do you put in?

We have changed brands of cream several times without issue, and during this problem. Nowadays we are pretty steady with 40% heavy cream from Restaurant Depot. I think it's more likely the temperature, but I'll try that next.
 

chefpeon

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Corn syrup smooths it out? How much do you put in?
From David Leibovitz:
Corn syrup is an invert sugar, which means that it prevents sugar crystals from forming. Microscopically, sugar has jagged edges and when you melt it, sugar liquefies. But if you keep cooking it to a syrup, those jagged edged-fellas want to re-attach themselves to others. Corn syrup acts as interfering agent, which ‘interfere’ with that process. Honey, agave, and the like, don’t have the same properties.
If making a caramel, and a recipe calls for corn syrup, you can substitute a dash of lemon juice or cream of tartar, which performs nearly the same function.
 
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Joined Dec 4, 2016
Thanks for the explanation!

I add extra sugar at the end because that's our typical batch size, and that's how I was shown how to make it.

I tried a smaller batch today, same proportions, and added some Karo. It came out much better, but still not perfect. I had to step out in the beginning, and I think my assistant overheated it during the melting stage.

Still, we used to heat it hotter and it stayed liquid, though very thick, at room temperature. Would more milk fat help?
 
3,674
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Joined Dec 18, 2010
It sounds to me like a lot of process control problems. The biggest, perhaps, is adding sugar at the end... an invitation (if not a guarantee) of crystallization.

“Doctors”, as these additions are often called, will help but there seems to be other factors that they just won’t fix by themselves.

if it was “overheated” it would smell burnt. You need a good recipe, which can be found in virtually any cake or confectionary cookbook.

forgive my bluntness... but it might be time to stop guessing and take a professional approach to your problem.
 
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Brianshaw, a professional approach is what I'm trying to do, starting with Google and Cheftalk. Up to now, we've been following a method we were taught and which has worked for six years. While it was working, we had no reason to question it.

I'm open to suggestions of good cookbooks which have caramel sauces in them.

What I meant by overheated is heated beyond the range where it gives us what we want in terms of stiffness at room temperature. That's far from burnt.
 

chefpeon

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I think brianshaw brianshaw has a good point, but rather than overcomplicating things, I would offer two pieces of advice:
Adding in additional sugar at the end is unnecessary and just invites trouble (crystallization); and
Adding extra cream (more liquid) will solve your consistency issue. Make a note of how much cream you have added so you will know for future batches.

Also, from a professional standpoint, having the recipe written down (ie proper temperature, and ingredient amounts) as well as the exact technique will prevent loss due to human error.
 
3,674
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Joined Dec 18, 2010
Also use a thermometer on reheat (if you continue that practice) to make sure your not exceeding 238 degF.
 
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Joined Dec 4, 2016
Gotcha.

I personally use an infrared thermometer held close, and that's where I got that my line cook was overheating during the initial melting. I'm gathering there are more sensitive/accurate thermometers, too.
 

chefpeon

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Gotcha.

I personally use an infrared thermometer held close, and that's where I got that my line cook was overheating during the initial melting. I'm gathering there are more sensitive/accurate thermometers, too.
I used an infrared for a while, but because it only takes surface temperature, it's of limited use to me. I would never use it for cooking sugar because it isn't precise enough, and if there's any one thing you need in regard to cooking sugar, it's a super accurate thermometer.

The BEST thermometer out there is a Thermapen. It's highly accurate, super sturdy and super quick. I resisted getting one for the longest time because of the price point (about $100 give or take), but it's so worth it. Saves me so much headache.
 
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Just ordered one. They are on an overstock sale, the new MK-4 is 12% off (even less for two) and the classic is $16 less.

I've worked around the limits of the infrared by stirring vertically before measuring, but it sucks at reading SS things— a soda keg in a 40° walkin for a week reads at 65°— something about the shiny surface seems to distort the reading, and I haven't found a way around it.

I'll start again on this next week with the Thermapen. Thanks again for all the help, folks.
 
24
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Joined Dec 4, 2016
Update: The Thermopen works GREAT! More accurate than the IR, quicker too. I love the precision.

And along the way, I found out what was wrong with our sauce. We have a new cook who was preparing for the day by taking it out of the walk-in and setting it on the flat top to heat up. I came in and it was smoking and boiling madly. No wonder it was setting up hard as a rock!
 
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