Adding salt to sweet is the latest fad in the food world. Now I can’t go into a bakery or cafe without spying a salted dessert. Salted caramel was something I resisted for the longest time because I just don’t like caramel. And, if you’ve read the guest post Salted Caramel Chocolate-Chip Cookie Bars by my friend Emo.da:ns, you’ll know that I’ve tried making a salted caramel apple tart before which turned out pretty meh.
Yet, I secretly liked the combination of salt and sweet. I always add a pinch of salt to chocolate desserts, and fruit and savoury foods can be delicious. (Lemon chicken, anyone?)
For the salted caramel sauces and desserts I’ve tried, none of them managed to get the salty balanced with the sweet. I mean, it’s in the name, so I better damn well taste it! So this buttercream recipe was something I developed in trying to achieve that salty-sweet balance.
It’s a two-step process. First, you have to make a salted caramel sauce. Then you make the icing with the salted caramel. Don’t forget to taste the final icing. If the salt flavour is not coming through, then simply add more salt.
100g caster sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup heavy or whipping cream
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp fine salt or 1/2 tsp coarse salt
30g unsalted butter
50g unsalted butter
200g vegetable shortening
500g icing sugar
Makes about 4 cups of icing, enough to ice a 9-inch layered cake.
Step 1: To make the salted caramel sauce, start by adding the sugar to a pot or saucepan. Make sure your pot is large enough so that the sugar is able to spread out in a thin layer over the bottom. Add the water and stir to combine. Heat the mixture over medium-high heat. Do not stir once you begin heating or your caramel sauce will become gritty. You can swirl the pot occasionally to help the sugar to melt evenly.
Step 2: The sugar solution will look clear and begin to erupt in small bubbles.
Over time, the bubbles will grow bigger and slow down, and the solution will take a golden hue. Once the mixture takes on a dark amber colour, just like honey, take the pot off the heat and carefully add in the heavy cream and milk. Please be extremely careful because the sauce will bubble up quite violently at first.
Return the pot to the heat and stir in the salt and butter. Once the sauce boils, remove it from the heat and cool. I sat my pot in a bowl of ice water to help cool and thicken the caramel sauce more quickly.
Step 3: To make the icing, begin by beating the butter and shortening in a mixer on high until creamy and slightly lightened in colour. Then, sift in half the icing sugar, add half the salted caramel sauce, and beat well to combine. Sift in the rest of the icing sugar, beat to combine.
Step 4: Add in the salted caramel sauce bit by bit. You want to take the buttercream to a spreadable consistency. If you accidentally make it too runny, just sift in more icing sugar. If you’ve added in all the caramel sauce and it’s still too stiff, add milk until you achieve your desired consistency. Also, don’t be afraid to add more salt if you can’t taste it in the icing, though you might have to whip the buttercream for quite awhile to ensure the salt has dissolved.
Ice and decorate your cake. The icing can also be stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
I used the salted caramel buttercream to ice a chocolate birthday cake. It was a tiny 5-inch cake, so I used only half the recipe to ice and do some piping.
If you’re new to the salty-sweet fad, it can be disconcerting tasting something conventionally savoury in a dessert. I’ve come to like it because it makes desserts less one-dimensional.
Of course, you don’t have to make this buttercream icing. The salted caramel sauce alone is wonderful over ice cream, tarts, and cakes.