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September 18, 2020

Oh, caramel, the whole world loves you!

And everyone wants to know what you’re made of.

So, for Mesdames Johanne Sansfacon, Chantal Payant, Lynda Rhainds, Irène Mainville, Marcia Brideau and Lise Bouchard, as well as Anne Grenon, who is wondering if she should spread caramel on her morning toast instead of strawberry jam, let’s get to the (sticky) bottom of the “world’s best caramel.” 

Dear Anne, don’t get rid of your jar of strawberry jam just quite yet, because the only thing recommending this caramel is my own unabashed enthusiasm. Especially since I adore caramel – the one we serve in our restaurants, artisanal jars I find in specialty stores and, occasionally, at public markets – even though I had actually never made any until recently.

Truth is, I’ve always regarded caramel as a precious elixir, an extra-special treat, much like the chocolate crafted by Quebec’s own Geneviève Grandbois or the celebrated baba au rhum from faraway Poland. A specialty so rarified that I would never attempt to make it myself.

Now, confined at home, I am discovering the virtues of DIY ingenuity and creativity. I have dared to transplant branches, draw owls, decorate the house, string together pearls into pretty necklaces, write letters, and of course, to try new recipes, including the purported world’s best caramel.

I have discovered there is great satisfaction to be had in devoting oneself to a subject and bringing it to life or improving upon it. Manual work quietens my mind and uplifts my heart.

Putting our hands to work gives us enjoyment, but there is also the joy of contemplating the creation itself. Whether a delicious raspberry pie, a pretty fabric mask, a plateful of fudge, a splendid drawing or a woven ring of flowers to crown our head. They all give happiness. It’s as if tinkering here and there, doing things for ourselves fills us with a whole bunch of well-being hormones. I should know! All these hours of contented creative concentration have generated so much enthusiasm that, while flipping through an old food magazine that talked about caramel, I filled my chest with air and told myself I too was capable of making caramel. I looked through several recipe books searching for a recipe. There turned out to be many, and none of them were exactly the same.

Some said to add corn syrup to white sugar with a few drops of lemon juice; others to use brown sugar instead of white sugar; and others to add water and cream to the sugar and finish with a little butter.

Feeling a bit bewildered, I called a friend who is a professional cook. He suggested a pinch of potato starch to thicken it.

At that point, I began to suspect that caramel is like shepherd’s pie or Christmas tourtière – everyone has their own version. And theirs is the best in the world!

Caramel is an addictive treat that entices and comforts. It’s only when you apply heat and the sugar begins to burn that the colour, texture and flavour turn exquisite.

I’ve concluded that caramel is a little like life: a dangerous adventure, addictive and yet so seductive. Like life itself, the best caramel is the one we make ourselves: using our own ingredients, lovingly maintaining the warmth and tenderly savouring at home.

So please, forgive my boastful ways when I talked about this famous caramel. It was a little thrill to dare to try something that, in my mind, was beyond me; to overcome my fear of failing. For me, this caramel is the best in the world, simply because it was made in my own kitchen saucepan.   

You can decide which version works for you!

But for those of you who must know:

Pour about 2 cups of white sugar into a medium-sized saucepan on low.

Gently stir with a whisk until the sugar becomes liquid and begins to boil. It will gradually start to brown.

When it reaches the desired colour, add a cup of slightly warm 35% cream and a heaping teaspoon of cornstarch mixed with a little cream.

Mix until fairly thick and remove from the heat.

Allow to cool and give yourself a pat on the back – you dared! 



Pssst: It’s crazy how important this caramel has become for me. I think maybe it’s because I dared and believed in my ability to succeed. And maybe that’s the secret ingredient to every creation – to trust ourselves that we are capable of creating our own lives. Each one of us, in our own way, and with our own ingredients.