Some days it seems Chef Varin can’t quit smoking. It is a very hard habit to kick, especially when he is working on the josper or the hearth oven. “Being around live fire every day inspires us to think about how we can add wood flavor to what we cook constantly”. Chef Varin cures and smokes everything from salmon roe to ancient wheat, whole fish, and even desserts. In this edition of Smoke Signals, Chef Varin takes on caramel and teaches us why smoking isn’t just for the savory.
Chef Varin: One of the first desserts we put on the menu featured smoked caramel.
The wood you use for smoking, ranges from mild to strong. On the extreme end there are the pungent mesquite and hickory woods. On the other end are the milder fruit tree woods, such as cherry and pear, which are believed to impart softer, sweeter flavors.
Washington State produces 60 percent of the nation’s apples, so given that our restaurant is in downtown Seattle, applewood is a natural choice. Of the milder fruit tree woods, apple is said to have a smoky fruity flavor—which is why it holds up well for ham, beef, and game birds. For caramel, it adds character and depth.
Smoking caramel is a fun DIY project and may be done in an electric smoker, on the stovetop, or even in the oven (although it will make your oven sooty.)
1 c Butter
2 c Sugar
0.5 c Water
10.5 oz Heavy Cream
1.75 tsp Salt
Smoked butter: Cut butter into 1-inch cubes and freeze. Place frozen butter in a pan, then place in a pan of ice. Smoke butter with desired wood for 15 to 20 minutes, or until butter has a nice smoked flavor. Some butter will melt but try to avoid butter soup. Heat cream to just below boiling and set aside.
Make caramel: Place sugar and cup water in a saucepan over medium heat. As sugar melts gently swirl pan. Do not stir! If crystals form on pan dip a pastry brush in water and brush down the sides of the pan. Once sugar reaches the desired color, slowly stir in cream. Take care as the caramel will likely foam and possibly spatter. Add salt to caramel and stir until combined. Cool caramel slightly and add butter to caramel. Stir until emulsified.
You can use this smoked caramel in other dishes, but one of the best ways is poured over vanilla ice cream and topped with a drizzle of good olive oil. You can also add any additional flavors to the caramel by infusing the cream with split vanilla beans or star anise, or by adding whisky at the end.