I first discovered salty sweets in high school when someone at my lunch table salted my Snickers bar just to be an asshole. The same concept behind a chocolate covered pretzel made what could have turned out to be a total waste of an 85-cent candy bar into a Joliet Catholic Academy taste sensation. We experimented- salted Three Musketeers Bars, salted Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups… but the caramel and peanuts-meets- chocolate and salt brought us all back to the classic every time. Plus, after Three Musketeers they were the easiest to steal when the lunch ladies were distracted by flirting with Charlie Dubnick. (He was charming.)
I’ve pretty much been salting my desserts ever since, opting to bake with salted butter even though Martha strictly prohibits it, and teaching everyone at Earwax Cafe to salt the vegan coconut bars from Chicago Diner to make them still taste good even after they’ve been in the case for two weeks.
Whenever possible I like to pick up Fleur de Sel bon bons from Vanilla Patisserie, and whenever it’s not possible, I at least pick them up at Trader Joe’s. (Not as creamy or luscious, but they do the job.) Tony downright refuses to eat chocolate that costs $2 per bite (thank you to Tim for inventing the “per bite” method of food quality control) so he never gave Dimitri Fayard’s wondrous creations a shot, but at $6 a box he was happy to devour the Trader Joe’s version with me recently.
So when a hard-to-impress guy like Tony suggests a frosting flavor, I listen. And thus, salted caramel frosting was born. Not quite a buttercream, not quite an Italian meringue, it’s rich and creamy, salty and terrible for you- just like everything that’s worth living for. Be patient when you cook your caramel, and don’t be shy with the course salt on top and you’ll be rewarded with something that’s just as much at home on your favorite chocolate cupcake as it is on a gingerbread pear cake.
You will need:
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1 1/2 sticks butter
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup powdered sugar (possibly 1 1/2 cups)
Stir sugar and water together in a small saucepan, bring it to a boil and cook without stirring over medium-high heat until it turns dark amber. About 6-7 minutes.
Remove from heat and slowly add cream and vanilla, stirring with a wooden spoon until smooth. Cool for 25 minutes.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and salt until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add 1 cup powdered sugar and beat until well mixed. Turn the mixer off and add the caramel. Beat frosting on medium-high until mixed well. Add more powdered sugar if it seems soupy. Cover and refrigerate about 45 minutes. Your frosting will likely still be more liquidy than you like. Switch to your whisk attachment and whip the frosting until it’s light and fluffy. Top with course sea salt (French gray sea salt from Penzeys is nice.) Voila!