Rich caramel spiked with sea salt is one of life’s best flavour combinations. From cheesecake to apple pie, take your treats to the next level with these moreish recipes.
There was a time, not so long ago, when sugar cravings would prompt us to make a pitstop for a bar of dark chocolate or a fruit-studded pastry. But for several years now, our favourite flavour of sweet treats has been unmistakeable: salted caramel.
Believed to have been invented in France in the 1970s, salted caramel was once an elite rarity. But it wasn’t until after the millennium that the sweet-salty mix really started to seduce our senses in the UK. Thanks in part to Barack Obama’s penchant for salted caramel truffles, Nigella Lawson’s pronouncement (on the front cover of Stylist) that she was “obsessed” with the stuff and the growing popularity of the South American treat dulche de leche, the confection went mainstream.
These days, salted caramel remains a culinary obsession, from the swirls on our morning mochas to rich martinis and caramelised ice cream. One 2016 study by the University of Florida even suggested that the pleasure we get from eating salted caramel is addictive – which explains why our taste buds just can’t get enough.
Always searching for new and exciting ways to eat salted caramel? These recipes will go straight to the top of your list of lockdown bakes. Natalie Paull’s chocolate caramel bars topped with toasted walnuts and a salty sprinkle are the perfect snack if you’re looking for an afternoon pick-me-up, and we’d say they also make a neat treat if you’re heading out for a walk with a flask of something hot.
For an elevated dessert, Tim Lannan and James Annabel’s salted caramel cheesecake sweetened with coconut cream, dates and peanut butter is an innovative twist on the cream cheese classic. And if you’re all about warming pastry in wintry weather, Annie Rigg’s apple and salted caramel pie proves that sharp fruit offset by sweet, salty sauce is a taste sensation. Sugar rush incoming…
Annie Rigg’s apple and salted caramel pie
Annie says: “This is the pie of the moment – all the fashionable places, cooks and cookbooks have a recipe for an old-style apple pie slathered in salted caramel and topped with all manner of intricate, fancy pastry lattice. And – not to be left out – here is my version. Using a combination of sweet and sharp tasting apples gives a good contrast to the caramel sauce. Tangy crème fraîche in my opinion is a perfect accompaniment, or failing that some stonkingly good vanilla ice cream.”
For the sweet pastry with rye:
- 250g plain flour, plus extra for rolling out
- 50g white rye flour
- a good pinch of salt
- 175g unsalted butter, chilled and diced
- 2 tbsp golden caster sugar
- 1 medium egg yolk (save the white for glazing)
- 1 tbsp cider vinegar
- 2 1⁄2 tbsp ice-cold water
- milk, for brushing
For the salted caramel:
- 50g caster sugar
- 1 tbsp hot water
- 75g double cream
- 50g light muscovado sugar
- 25g unsalted butter
- 1⁄2 tsp vanilla bean paste
- a pinch of sea salt flakes
For the filling:
- about 1.25kg apples – an equal mix of tart bramleys and crisp, sweet eaters such as braeburns
- 1 1⁄2 tbsp golden caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
- 1 tbsp cornflour
- juice of 1⁄2 lemon
- 4 cloves
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- a grating of nutmeg
- a round pie dish with a base measurement of 20cm
To prepare the sweet pastry, tip the rye flour, plain flour and salt into a bowl. Add the butter and, using a round-bladed or palette knife, cut the butter into the flour until the pieces are half of their original size.
Now switch to using your hands to rub the butter into the flour. Working quickly, pick up handfuls of the flour and butter and allow it to pass across your fingertips, gently pressing and rubbing the mixture as it falls back into the bowl. Still working quickly, continue rubbing the butter into the flour until there are only very small flecks of butter remaining.
Add the sugar and mix. Make a well in the middle of the mixture, add the egg yolk, ice-cold water and cider vinegar and mix using the palette knife until the pastry starts to clump together. Gather into a ball using your hands and very lightly knead for 10 seconds until smooth. Flatten the pastry into a disc, wrap in cling film and chill for at least 1 hour until firm.
To make the salted caramel, put the caster sugar and water in a small saucepan. Set over a low–medium heat to dissolve the sugar without stirring. Bring to the boil and continue to cook until it turns into an amber-coloured caramel. Slide the pan off the heat, add the cream, muscovado sugar, butter, vanilla and salt. Return the pan to a low heat to re-melt the caramel and gently bubble, stirring constantly, until smooth. Pour into a bowl and leave until cold.
Divide the pastry in half, with one portion slightly larger than the other. Roll the larger piece out on a floured surface into a disc that is larger than the pie dish by about 5cm all round. Carefully line the pie dish, allowing the excess pastry to hang over the edges.
To make the filling, peel, core and thinly slice the apples. Tip the slices into a large bowl with the sugar, cornflour, lemon juice, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg and mix well. Scoop one-third of the mixture into the pastry-lined pie and top with one-third of the caramel sauce. Repeat this layering, very slightly mounding the apples up in the middle for the last layer.
Take the remaining pastry and roll out into a neat disc, about 2-3mm thick and with a diameter at least 5cm wider than the top of the pie dish. Using a ruler and a pizza or pastry wheel – or a knife if that’s what you prefer – cut the pastry into neat strips.
Carefully pick one of the longest middle strips and lay it across the middle of the apple-filled pie, from top to bottom (vertically). Lay 2 slightly shorter strips either side of this. Taking another of the longest strips, lay it across the middle (horizontally), picking up the horizontal strips numbered one and three to lie underneath. Repeat this on either side horizontally, but this time picking up strip number 2 to lie underneath.
Make sure that you keep the lattice even, neat and the strips lying close together. Repeat this lattice, alternating with horizontal and vertical strips and keeping the over and under strips even.
When the whole of the pie is covered, carefully lift up the strips on the edges, brush the edge of the pie with milk and press the lattice strips to seal. Using a sharp knife, trim off any excess pastry and use your fingers to crimp the edges decoratively.
Chill the pie for 30 minutes while you preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas 5, placing a solid baking sheet on the middle shelf to heat up.
Brush the top of the pie with lightly beaten egg white, sprinkle with sugar and cook on the hot baking sheet for 30 minutes, then turn the pie around, turn the oven down to 170°C/330°F/Gas 31⁄2 and cook for a further 25-30 minutes until the pastry is deep golden and the apples are bubbling and tender when tested with a skewer. Leave to cool slightly, then serve with crème fraîche or ice cream.
From Pies & Tarts: For All Seasons by Annie Rigg (£22, Quadrille), out now
Natalie Paull’s chocolate caramel bars with a salty sprinkle
Natalie says: “I’ve never been able to refuse these chocolate bars because that squishy caramel filling floors me every time. I strew the top with toasted walnuts and salt flakes to balance its shocking sweetness. A little insider info regarding the base: use melted butter to bind it. It creates a perfectly crumbly cookie layer that’s a cinch to smooth evenly into the tin. There are a million ways to make these, but these are the best bars, bar none.”
Makes 14 bars, each 3cm × 11cm
Takes: about 1 1⁄2 hours to make and bake, then more time to cool down.
Keeps: for 1 day at room temperature (if not peak summer), then refrigerated for 1-2 weeks.
For the base:
- 180g unsalted butter
- 220g plain flour
- 50g icing sugar
- 2g (1⁄4 teaspoon) fine sea salt
For the caramel filling:
- 380g sweetened condensed milk
- 50g dark muscovado sugar
- 100g dark corn syrup
- 100g unsalted butter
- 2g (1⁄4 teaspoon) fine sea salt
- 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped (or 1 teaspoon vanilla paste)
For the topping:
- 40g raw walnuts
- 200g dark chocolate (60–70% cocoa)
- 15g unsalted butter
- 2g (1⁄2 teaspoon) sea salt flakes
Preheat the oven to 160°C/320°F. You will need a 23cm square, 5cm deep cake tin. Cut two pieces of baking paper as wide as the tin and long enough to cover the sides, with some excess paper overhanging. Spray the tin with cooking oil spray and lay one piece of paper across the base of the tin and up the sides, then place the second piece on top (to form a crosshatch). The paper will allow you to lift the slice out of the tin easily.
To make the base, melt the butter and leave to cool a little. Put the flour, icing sugar and salt in a heatproof mixing bowl and stir to combine. Pour the butter into the dry ingredients and mix with your hands to form a sticky paste. Press the mix into the prepared tin and smooth it out with an offset spatula.
Bake for 45 minutes until the base is a tan biscuity colour. If any bubbles form under the base while baking, just prick them with a skewer to gently deflate them. Place the walnuts (for the topping) on a baking tray and toast them, at the same time as the base, for about 20 minutes, or until deep golden brown.
Clean the mixing bowl. Choose a saucepan that will allow you to nestle the bowl on top, without it touching the water below. Fill the pan with 5cm of water and bring to a gentle simmer on the stovetop.
From Beatrix Bakes by Natalie Paull, (£22, Hardie Grant), out now
Tim Lannan and James Annabel’s salted caramel cheesecake
Tim and James say: “Did you know that people in the Netherlands call peanut butter pindakaas, which literally means ‘peanut cheese’? We’re not entirely sure if that sounds disgusting or delicious, but we are sure that peanut cheesecake is most definitely delicious, especially with the addition of salted caramel. This recipe is actually made with coconut cream, instead of the usual cream cheese. It has a few different elements but it’s absolutely worth it – we’re sure of that too.”
For the crust:
- 185g mildly sweet biscuits (eg digestives)
- 75g unsalted butter, melted, or 75ml coconut oil
- 75g sugar
For the filling:
- 400ml tinned full-fat coconut cream
- 155g raw cashew nuts, soaked in water for at least 6 hours or overnight and drained
- 135g pitted dates, soaked in water for at least 6 hours or overnight and drained
- 1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt
- 90g smooth peanut butter
For the coconut salted caramel:
- 400ml tinned full-fat coconut cream
- 80g coconut sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon coconut oil
- 1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract
For the topping:
- peanuts, whole or finely chopped, and edible flowers, to garnish
Grease a 25cm springform tin and line the bottom with baking paper.
To make the crust, crush the biscuits to crumbs in a food processor or blender. Transfer to a large bowl and mix with the butter and sugar. The mixture will be thick and sandy. Press firmly into the prepared tin, covering the bottom and a little way up the side. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
To make the filling, pulse all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth, scraping down the side as needed. Pour the filling over the chilled crust. Gently tap the tin on the work surface a few times. Freeze for 1 1⁄2-2 hours, until set.
Meanwhile, prepare the salted caramel. Combine the coconut cream, coconut sugar and salt in a medium saucepan over a medium-high heat. Bring to the boil, watching carefully to ensure it doesn’t boil over, then immediately reduce the temperature to low and simmer gently for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Now begin to stir more frequently, to incorporate the darker caramel bits from the bottom, until the sauce is a dark amber colour and is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the coconut oil and vanilla extract. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Pour as much of the salted caramel sauce over the set filling as desired, then gently tap the tin on the work surface a few times to even out the caramel layer.
Return to the freezer for another 20-30 minutes, until the caramel layer has set, then garnish with peanuts and edible flowers to serve. The leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
From Peanut Butter: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Midnight by Tim Lannan & James Annabel, (£11.99, Hardie Grant, £11.99), out now
Photography: © Nassima Rothacker; Bec Hudson; Kate Berry
Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.