Caramel catastrophe

Chocolate souffles with creamy caramel sauceI am d-u-m-b. Last Tuesday was my dad’s birthday. My mom wouldn’t be home until the weekend, so I planned a Saturday dinner to cook for him. I had hoped to secretly make his favorite dessert, chocolate soufflés with creamy caramel sauce, while he was at the airport picking up my mother.

All was going according to plan… I whipped up the soufflé batter, put it in the ramekins, and tucked them way back in the fridge. I had Henning do the dishes to get rid of the evidence. I started to make the creamy caramel sauce. And then I sat down to enjoy a glass of wine with Henning and Sebastian while I waited for the sugar syrup to brown. I paid no heed to a subtle warning from Henning, knowing that I had everything under control. Come on, I’ve made this dessert and this sauce at least five times before.

“Maia, something is boiling in the kitchen…”
“I know, it’s supposed to boil” *sips wine*
“Uhm, ok.” *worried look*

A few minutes later, I went to check on it. A huge column of smoke was rising from the pot and Good Lord, the sugar was blacker than tar. Oops. I turned off the heat and set the pan aside to cool for a bit. I started a new batch of caramel and then I took my mom’s lovely All-Clad pan to the sink to clean it. We all know that liquefied sugar is extremely hot, right? I knew this, and not wanting to add skin to the list of things that had been burned, I decided to cool the caramel off by running some cool water over it. Of course, the sugar solidified into one giant carcinogenic coal-flavored Jolly Rancher, seemingly permanently welded to the pan. Oh fuck. What should I now? I whined to Henning and Sebastian, who just laughed at me.

I chipped at the caramel with a spoon for a while and got absolutely nowhere, so I filled the pot with water and set it over medium heat on the stove. I was relieved to find that the Jolly Rancher from hell did indeed begin to melt. Meanwhile, my second batch of caramel bubbled away on the next burner. All seemed to be under control, so I chatted with Henning and Sebastian for a while and, well, you can guess what happened.

Yes, I burned the second batch, too. Because I am a total idiot. Isn’t there some saying for that? Repeating the same stupid behavior? At any rate, I should be banished from any activity involving melted sugar. At least while there are distractions like wine and good friends around.

Third time’s a charm, though. I stood over the pot with resolve and watched that damn sugar like my life depended on it. The sauce came out beautifully, though my secret was given away when my parents walked in the door and asked why the kitchen reeked of burnt sugar.

But the soufflés were damn tasty, even if they weren’t so much of a surprise.

Chocolate soufflés with creamy caramel sauce
From Gourmet, via Epicurious

For creamy caramel sauce

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
6 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a heavy saucepan simmer sugar, water, corn syrup, and a pinch salt, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Boil mixture, without stirring, until a golden caramel. Remove pan from heat and add cream and vanilla (sauce will bubble and look strange, but just keep stirring), stirring until combined well, about 1 minute. Cool sauce to room temperature (sauce will thicken as it cools).
Sauce keeps, covered and chilled, 3 weeks. Bring sauce to room temperature before serving.

Makes about 3/4 cup.

For soufflés

1/4 cup sugar plus additional for coating ramekins
8 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
7 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Butter six 1-cup ramekins (4 by 2 inches) and coat with sugar, knocking out excess sugar.

Finely chop chocolate. In a small saucepan melt butter over low heat. Add cream and bring just to a boil. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, stirring until smooth. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and stir in yolks.

In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat whites with cream of tartar and a pinch salt until they just hold stiff peaks. Gradually add 1/4 cup sugar, beating until just combined. Stir one fourth whites into chocolate mixture to lighten and fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.

Divide soufflé mixture among ramekins and smooth tops with a knife. Run tip of knife around edges of soufflés to aid rising. Soufflés may be made up to this point 1 day ahead and chilled, loosely wrapped in plastic wrap.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Bake soufflés on a baking sheet in lower third of oven until puffed and surfaces are cracked, about 20 minutes.

Top soufflés with sauce and serve immediately.

Serves 6.



  1. Posted May 21, 2007 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Looks like everything turned out great in the end. Making caramel kind of terrifies me. It just turns on you so quickly.

  2. Posted May 21, 2007 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Mmmmm…carcinogenic coal flavored jolly rancher… I actually made caramel yesterday too, but the hard kind, just with sugar. I was amazed that I didn’t burn it!

  3. Posted May 21, 2007 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    Is it ok if I laugh? It’s funny because it’s not me. I’ve done this on more than one occasion, don’t feel bad.

    You may want to look into making dry caramel next time, it is so much quicker and if you’re going to make a sauce from it, you don’t need it to be clear. It’s a bit scary at first, but there’s nothing too it once you get the courage.

  4. Posted May 25, 2007 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Wow, thanks for sharing….I think we all have our share of cooking catastrophies, and you have a great sense of humor, and quite brave to share it with us. I’m glad things turned out.

  5. Posted May 27, 2007 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    howie- yep, all was well in the end!

    Alice- It’s strange… I’ve never burned caramel before, but I managed it twice in one night!

    jef- Don’t worry, I don’t feel bad. I mostly thought it was funny, though it did thwart my secret surprise plan.

    Kirk- Yeah, I’m glad they turned out ok in the end, too. They usually do!

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