What Makes a Great Baking Caramel?

Like many foods, baking caramels can have strong sentimental associations that inspire nostalgia. They were a treat your grandmother might have used in a favorite baking recipe, and caramel’s buttery notes can help bring fond memories back to life. High quality baking caramels are sweet but not cloying. They blend a caramel flavor (cooked sugar notes) with dairy or browned butter notes. Specifically, the candies have a caramel brown color and may be shiny. A caramel note from cooked sugar, dominates the aroma and flavor profile. There are supporting dairy notes such as butter, cream or the nuttiness from browned butter. Some vanilla may be present. Sweetness is the dominating flavor and may be accented with some salt. There may be bitter but no sourness. In application as a topping layer over chocolate brownies, the flavor profile stands up to the other ingredients. The caramel component of the application blends easily with the other components – it is easy to bite, has a resistance to the teeth that complements the other components, and it dissolves at a comparable rate as the other elements.

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Tasting terms

  • sweet

    One of the basic tastes; often considered pleasing while exhibiting characteristics of sugar. Example: Honey, ripe fruits and syrup all have a pronounced sweet component.

  • cloying

    Disgust or sicken (someone) with an excess of sweetness, richness, or sentiment.

  • flavor

    A combination of a food's basic taste and its accompanying aroma, flavor is the distinctive taste of a food or ingredient while it is in the mouth. Along with aroma, appearance, texture and taste, flavor is one of the five dimensions considered by ChefsBest Master Tasters. Example: Chocolate chip cookies should have a moderate chocolate flavor accompanied by a slightly lower level of complex dough flavor that includes egg, flour, vanilla and brown sugar notes.

  • aroma

    The smell that emanates from food. Along with appearance, texture, flavor and taste, aroma is one of the five dimensions used to evaluate a product. Example: Brownies should have an aroma that includes chocolate as well as egg, toasty and sweet notes.

  • salt

    One of the basic tastes; tasting of or containing salt. Example: Potato chips, sea water and cured meats all have a strong salt component.

  • bitter

    One of the basic tastes; often considered harsh and unpleasant in abundance, but a key basic taste for foods like coffee and dark chocolate. Example: Unripened fruit, aspirin and coffee all have bitter components.