"Its popularity may come from its effects on the reward systems of the human brain, resulting in 'hedonic escalation'". Wikipedia
Is this 'hedonic escalation'?
I was going to head this post with a rather good picture of caramel and salt - and I will use it further on, but then I saw a reference to a Nigella photograph which boosted the whole salted caramel thing in the UK. So I searched Google images, and there it was, so I couldn't resist.
It's a 2011 cover of a UK Women's magazine that began in 2009 and for this issue Nigella was guest editor. I have no idea whether this particular stunt was her idea or somebody else's but you can imagine what a furore it caused. Excellent for sales of the magazine I guess. And also it seems excellent for salted caramel, as some date the UK obsession with it from there. Previously a Marks and Spencer's attempt to market some salted caramel products failed miserably until they removed the word 'salt' from the packaging.
There was of course lots of criticism of the cover for exploitation of women and blatant sexualising of food. All of which Nigella denied of course, saying:
“Salted caramel provides utter giddy pleasure (and rapturous joy) because it has the 'holy trinity' (or unholy trinity) of salt, sugar and fat that creates something known as 'hyperpalatability,' which in turn leads to something food scientists and neuro-scientists tag ‘the bliss point."
The bliss point - good term - and I've looked it up - it is indeed a scientific term applied to food - as she explains, although, as she also implies:
"Applications of the bliss point in the food industry have been criticized for encouraging addiction-like behaviours around eating which may contribute to obesity and other health issues." Wikipedia
She said it took her an hour to wash it all off in the shower, and that she never tries to be sexy, flirt with the camera or speak in double entendres. Hmm. I really am not sure about that, at least in her TV shows, but her books are a whole other thing and very worth reading.
And here is my initial choice for the starter photograph. Arty in a much more refined way I think. I'm introducing it here with a similar, explanation of the appeal of salt and sweet.
"just what is so appealing about sweet and salty together? The simple answer? Layering. Layering two flavors equals twice the flavor. Sweet is pleasurable to our bodies because it signals calories and energy. Salt is pleasurable because it's a compound our bodies need to function. Salt is also a flavor enhancer. The trick, however, is to get the salt ratio just perfect. Too much salt will overstimulate your bitter and sour receptors, and the treat you're expecting will taste terrible. It's that sprinkle, that just-barely-there dash of salt in the sweet that awakens your taste buds and sends that pleasure to your brain." How Stuff Works
So that's enough on why we like it - Nigella was an absolute bonus - because I was really trying to find out where the whole craze came from. In spite of one website saying that there had been a written recipe back in the very early 1900s everyone actually seems to agree on a date of 1977 and this man Henri Le Roux. They differ slightly on how. Henri Le Roux was the son of a chocolatier who worked for a while in the US. Henri decided to follow in his father's footsteps, trained in Switzerland and set up shop in the town of Quiberon in southern Brittany. Brittany it should be noted is the home of salted butter in France. Way, way back in 1341 Phillipe VI established the Gabelle - a salt tax - which existed until 1946. As a result of this heavy tax, butter in France had no salt, except for Brittany (and a few other exempt provinces). Brittany being a large dairy producer became renowned for the quality of its butter.
Back to Henri Le Roux and the slight divergence in stories. Most people say that he sought to distinguish his candies from his competitors by using the local butter.
There was one variation on this story - more of the accidental discovery kind of thing:
"One story suggests that salted caramel was created by accident in France in the 1970s. A chocolatier named Henri Le Roux was making caramel when he accidentally added some fleur de sel, a type of French sea salt, to the mixture. Instead of throwing the batch away, he tasted it and was pleasantly surprised by the combination of sweet and salty flavours. He went on to create a salted caramel confection, which he called “caramels au beurre salé” or “salted butter caramels.” Yummy Comb
It was definitely Henri though and his caramels - a salted butter caramel with crushed nuts - were so popular that in 1980 they won the Best Confectionery in France award at a big Paris competition. And canny man that he is he registered CBS (Caramels au Beurre Salé) as a trademark, and now has several boutiques across the country.
But how did the rest of the world find out. Well in 1999 a Paris pastry cook called Pierre Hermé made some salted caramel macarons which became really popular, and by 2000 various high-end Parisian chefs began using salted caramel. Eventually word got to America and in 2008 Haagen Dazs and Starbucks latched on to the potential of salted caramel. The rest is history. Nigella was of the opinion, quite rightly I think, that the UK got it from America rather than France, and we probably did too. Now of course you can get salted caramel everything:
"The popularity of salted caramel has also inspired other sweet and savory flavor combinations, such as bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with salted caramel and salted caramel popcorn." Yummy Comb
Which brings me to my source for the post - this Salted caramel sauce in the June issue of the Coles Magazine. It's been sitting on my desk for a while now waiting for me to do something with it. I chose to think about it because it is indeed such a ubiquitous thing - not just in lollies and cookies. You can even get it in craft beer I believe. The Coles feature was in its How to Make ... section in which they show how to make various classic things
Felicity Cloake also has a go at the perfect sauce of course, and she will describe the various alternatives in choice of ingredients and how to do it.
And just to conclude if you fancy making something really unctuous with your newly perfected salted caramel sauce Coles also had a recipe for Chocolate caramel slice which I have to say looked pretty classy. I bet I wouldn't be able to get the chocolate to look that smooth.