Caramel - even the word is delicious. As an ingredient in both savoury and sweet dishes it lends a decadent, indulgent flavour.
I adore caramel - the taste, the texture, the gorgeous warm and rich colour ... and winter is an ideal time to indulge. Even though caramel is most obviously associated with all things sticky and sweet, I have included a savoury recipe with a Vietnamese flavour to illustrate another way it can be used.
Making caramel is a little tricky the first time, if only because you need to watch it like a hawk. Turn your back and it can quickly be all over save for a burnt saucepan and a smoke-filled kitchen.
Boiling water and sugar can bubble away for what can seem like forever then suddenly it turns into a beautiful amber liquid.
I always turn the heat off when it is nearly at the stage I want because it will continue to cook. Adding cream to caramel at this point will turn it into a heavenly sauce but remember to pour carefully and stand back because boiling caramel can be blisteringly dangerous.
If you do have a burnt pan calamity, a handy tip is to fill it with water and return to the heat where the burnt sugar will boil away.
Dulce de leche, meaning sweet milk - comes from Argentina but is common through North and South America where it is used as a spread for breakfast, in pies or as a topping on icecream and cakes. An Indian version with cardamom and is served for dessert.
One of my favourite desserts is dumplings. Light and soft caramel balls simmered in a golden syrup sauce and served with cream - so incredibly decadent and delicious and a childhood favourite of mine, it is possibly to blame for my ongoing caramel obsession.
If you are short on time, caramel condensed milk can be bought to use in the ice cream recipe although it doesn't taste nearly as good. Because it is very thick it will need to be thinned down with cream before gently heating.