Book Review: Caramel

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett

Depending on a reader’s teeth, the reaction to Carole Bloom’s Caramel will be either “Sweet!!” or “Seriously, this sweet?” If the former, this will be a book worth buying.

For these recipes are not for the faint of tooth. Many, starting with caramel sauce, cry out for a counterbalancing dash of salt or acid. But Ms. Bloom stays true to the sticky sweetness of a chewy caramel square, and she provides a compilation of caramel standards, plus unexpected ones such as caramelized white chocolate. Within the category of caramel—which, she says, is best defined as a flavor—she includes butterscotch, dulce de leche, toffee, brittles, thick caramel sauce, and classic candies.

The solid sugar hit of caramel, whether derived from melting and browning white or brown sugar, cooking sweetened condensed milk, or slow-baking white chocolate, will strike the palate first as pure sweetness—then, Ms. Bloom layers on much richness. A Bundt cake calls for 2 sticks of butter, a half-cup oil, five eggs, and 3 cups of light and dark brown sugar—plus caramel sauce poured over top. An angel-food cake loses a bit of its ethereal texture with more than a cup of sweetened coconut, 1 ½ cups dark brown sugar, and a bit of white sugar—again lapped with caramel sauce.

A sticky mix of caramel sauce and a touch of apricot jam fill a rich Linzertorte dough; chocolate tartlet shells hold caramel sauce topped with chocolate ganache; and a thick caramel fills chocolate sandwich cookies.

Ms. Bloom includes caramel ice creams, caramel whipped cream-filled cream puffs, cakes, tarts, and a host of caramel puddings and mousses, including pots de crème, crème brulee, crème caramel, and homey butterscotch pudding. She caramelizes pineapple chunks to go in parfaits of mascarpone mixed with caramel sauce, tops shortbread with a chocolate-caramel sauce, and covers dense brownies with caramel sauce and chocolate ganache.

Ms. Bloom writes reliable, straightforward recipes, but bakers should read through them carefully before beginning—always useful, but crucial here, as she gives no warning that a recipe may include unexpected delays. Even experienced bakers will be surprised by a seemingly ordinary recipe for a caramel pecan snack cake batter that requires 12 to 24 hours in the refrigerator, or pecan butterscotch slice-and-bake cookies that call not for a couple of hours of chilling, but 12.

The recipes do include helpful end notes that discuss keeping or freezing the desserts, substituting some ingredients, and cooking some elements ahead of time. Rustic photographs of many recipes enhance the clean layout.

As the author of 11 cookbooks, Ms. Bloom knows baking—and her audience. For true caramel lovers, these recipes will hit the sweet spot.

Caramel, by Carole Bloom (Released September 1, 2013, by Gibbs Smith; 224 pages)

This review first appeared online at the New York Journal of Books.

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