Fear. We are all familiar with its unpleasant mouth-drying, heart-palpitating visits, and with its capacity to severely limit our activities. It can range from an uncomfortable passing sensation to a debilitating lifelong phobia, and there really is almost nothing that does not awaken fear in somebody on the planet, from spiders (arachnophobia) to strangers (xenophobia) to open spaces (agoraphobia) to closed spaces (claustrophobia) to cats (ailurophobia). To those who do not suffer from a specific phobia, they can seem totally irrational and bizarre – take for example mageirocophobia. Would you believe it’s technically defined as a phobia of the kitchen – or more practically, a fear of cooking. When I first heard of it I thought it was some sort of culinary equivalent to man-flu, invented by a spouse who was particularly averse to helping out in the kitchen. But it is in fact a real condition, although in most people it manifests as some degree of anxiety rather than a full-blown, heart racing, hyperventilating phobia. And would you believe me if I told you almost every one of us suffers from it to some degree?
You see, mageirocophobia differs from person to person in terms of what exactly is feared, which range from social phobias to physical phobias. One of the most common manifestations is the fear of making people ill by inadvertently serving undercooked or spoiled food (“It was the salmon mousse“, as the famous Monty Python Meaning of Life sketch goes!); or fear of serving inedibly bad food, whether because of overcooking or overseasoning; or even causing harm to a guest by inadvertently serving something that they are allergic to or intolerant of. And then there are people like me who panic when they have to prepare things that might result in injury to themselves.
You see, I am a cut-myself-or-burn-myself kinda girl. Sharp knives are magnetically attracted to the soft flesh of my fingers, and I have a talent for brushing up against something that’s just spent an hour in the oven at 190 degrees Celsius. Although I know I can make dulce du leche by boiling a sealed tin of sweetened condensed milk, the very thought of the possibility that it could explode if it boils dry means that it’s something I’ll never knowingly attempt. Using very sharp knives gives me weird tingles of terror down the back of my legs until Nick nervously snatches the knife away from me and offers to help. Deep frying is something that has happened maybe, umm, three times in my kitchen since I moved into my own flat in 1998.
As with most of my fears, I blame my parents – I have vivid memories of my mom cooking fudge and warming us kids to stay Very Far Away from the stove as the boiling fudge was Very Very Hot. This admonishment has stuck with me all my life and although I’ve watched other people make caramel, I had never tried all by myself without adult (!) supervision… But I do love a properly salted caramel sauce to distraction and recently the longing got to be too much. (I also figured that for someone who had healed a broken femur and had a brush with skin cancer in less than 2 years, being afraid of a bit of molten sugar was starting to look a little lame!) So I downed a can of Man-Up, put on my big girl pants and headed for the kitchen where I discovered that, provided you have the right equipment, some common sense, and don’t allow yourself to be distracted, making caramel is easy peasy, and super rewarding. (Do have a look at my friend David Lebovitz’s great tips for making caramel!)
As I had agonised so long and hard about making the caramel sauce, I figured that I needed to use it in a dessert where it would be the star of the show so I went for a simple but classic pairing with vanilla ice-cream, adding toasted pecans for both texture and an extra savoury flavour. The end result, served at a lunch for friends, had a rather surprising effect on some guests as they clasped their bowl close to their chests and hissed “Mine!!” at anybody who approached them while there was still a hint of dessert left in their bowl. And if that kind of compliment isn’t worth facing your culinary fears for, then I don’t know what is!
- 1 cup pecans, some roughly chopped and some whole
- 200g white granulated sugar
- 90g salted butter, cut up into cubes
- 120ml double cream
- 1 tsp fleur de sel flakes
- Good quality vanilla ice-cream
- In a non-stick frying pan, toast the nuts over medium heat for 5-10 minutes, tossing a few times so that they brown all over. Watch them carefully though as they catch easily. Set aside to cool
- Heat the sugar over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan that is at least 15cm deep (when you add the cream later, the caramel will foam and you need to give it space to do so). Resist the urge to stir! Tilt the pan if there seem to be hot spots where the sugar is melting faster than in other places. Although the melting sugar will seem to form lumps, it will eventually melt into a syrup that will darken in colour as you continue to heat it. Be careful not to burn it though!
- As soon as all the sugar has melted and you have a completely smooth syrup, add the butter at once - watch out for splattering and bubbling as the sugar is really hot! Stir the butter into the sugar until it has melted completely (this should take around 3 minutes).
- Very slowly carefully, add the cream to the sugar in a thin drizzle, while stirring continuously. Once again, watch out as the mixture will splatter and and bubble up in the pan.
- Bring the mixture to the boil and allow to boil for a further minute, then remove from the heat and stir in the salt.
- Place as many scoops of ice-cream as desired in as many bowls as you have guests. Top each bowl with a generous helping of the hot caramel sauce and sprinkle with toasted pecans. Serve immediately.
Before serving, reheat in the microwave until a pourable consistency is reached.
If you enjoyed this recipe you might also want to have a look at my other recipes. Alternatively, if you are a fan of salted caramel, check out these salted caramel recipes from other bloggers:
- Salted butter caramels from David
- Spiced chai latte and salted caramel macarons from Meeta
- Flourless chocolate brownie with salted caramel from Rosana
- Gluten-free pear cake with pine-nuts and salted caramel from Sarah
- Vanilla cupcakes with salted caramel centres from Emily
- Chocolate cauliflower cake with salted caramel cinnamon icing from Kate
- Salted caramel & honeycomb ice-cream from Camilla
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