Brown sugar caramel for pineapple upside down cake advice
May 15, 2020 5:08 PM   Subscribe

Recently I made this pineapple upside down cake. And it was tasty! But I have questions about the brown sugar caramel because the recipe is fairly vague and googling it mostly gives caramel sauce recipes with cream and such.

When I made it after cooking for 4 minutes the caramel still seemed grainy (like the brown sugar hadn't dissolved) so I guessed that I didn't have the heat up high enough. I turned it up and left it a while longer and the brown sugar did dissolve (though it didn't combine with the butter) and got to a point where if I took a bit out on a spoon it would harden quickly to a solid.

My questions are:
* Is there a good way to tell when the skillet is at the right temperature?
* What am I supposed to be looking for to know when it's done?
* Am I correct that the brown sugar supposed to dissolve and not be grainy?
* Are the brown sugar and butter supposed to combine together or is there supposed to be a lot of visible butter at the end?
* The result was good, but it was also quite sweet. I believe with a normal caramel if you cook it longer (darker) it gets less sweet. Would the same be true here?
posted by unus sum to Food & Drink (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like the sugar recrystalised - this can happen when some sugar on the side of the pan turns back to crystal and then falls back into the pan, it sets off a kind of chain reaction. In this case, the solution, counter intuitively, is to add a bit more liquid and redissolve the crystals.

When I'm making caramel, I always start with a cold pan - you always increase the heat but if you burn the sugar everything is ruined. The butter is definitely meant to combine with the sugar, how much did you stir it? Ideally you end up with a bubbly, brown froth about the colour of tan leather shoes. Oh, Here's an actual picture instead of random shoe pictures.

It terms of when it's done, you can get candy thermometers etc, but honestly if you're not making fudge, you don't need them. I go by colour. For a tarte tartin or upside down cake, I don't want it super dooper dark as it will continue to cook (albeit not a tonne) in the oven, and additionally, I want some of that syrup soaking into the batter/pastry and if my caramel is to thick that won't happen.

You are correct that the more you cook it the more bitter it gets. Be careful though, this is a dangerous game to play as the caramel and turn in an instant and burnt sugar is disgusting.
posted by smoke at 5:47 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]

Sounds like you might benefit from looking at the "Sugar stages" section of this article. If you don't recognize (or don't feel confident in recognizing in the heat of the moment, you do have to be pretty reactive) the relevant changes you're going to need a quick-read thermometer. Thermoworks is having a sitewide sale ATM.
posted by praemunire at 5:49 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]

In this video, Glen (the chef) talks about making a caramel sauce and why it's a good idea to use more than one kind of sugar. Sauce prep begins at about 2:40.
posted by SemiSalt at 7:23 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]

When I've made a similar cake, the goal wasnt to get the sugar all the way to caramel before baking, it's just to get the butter and brown sugar to lay evenly in the pan. It wont be grainy after it bakes, and if you cook it too long on the stove top you risk having the caramel burn in the oven. Honestly my usual recipe involves melting the butter, sprinkling the brown sugar on top and then arranging the pineapple slices on top - no cooking at all, and it comes out perfectly every time. I use this method for caramel pecan cinnamon rolls and it works for that as well.

Brown sugar caramel is certainly sweet. Longer cooked caramel is slightly less so. But cooking longer, as you discovered, will make it increasingly hard, hence the butter. Pro tip - you dont need a thermometer, just drop a small spoonful into a glass of water and see what the caramel does, just like our grandmas did :)

I think you should try making a white sugar caramel, and stopping it with butter. Dark caramel temperature is 350°+, and since that's the temp this baked at I think it might be ok. Maybe dont take it all the way to super dark so it can still finish during baking tho. You'll have to experiment a bit there. Good luck!
posted by ananci at 7:52 AM on May 16 [5 favorites]

Thanks everybody, a lot of good info and things to try. We actually already have an instant read thermometer and I just hadn’t thought to use it, so that will be a good tool for future experiments.
posted by unus sum at 4:53 PM on May 17

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