Phoebe Raileanu of Casper Fermentables breaks down two essential dessert sauces.
When you think sauce, chances are the first thing that comes to mind is something tomato or dairy based. While savory sauces are usually fully integrated into the dish, dessert sauces are sometimes only served as a garnish. “People don't think of the toppings they get with a dessert as sauces, but they are,” says Phoebe Raileanu of Casper Fermentables in Austin, TX.
Instead of using a traditional Saucepan however, Raileanu prefers our Stainless Clad Saucier. “The Saucier has those rounded sides, which are a lot easier to get your brush into,” she says. “Especially when you’re making caramel, there's a lot of brushing and like pot maintenance that has to happen. So it’s beneficial to have a Pan that's really accessible.”
Chocolate and caramel are two of the most foundational flavors in dessert, forming the holy trinity along with fruit. Here, Raileanu discusses the distinction between chocolate sauce and ganache as well as the differences between caramel, caramel sauce and butterscotch. Follow along with her video below, and try your hand at either recipe yourself.
Often featured alongside fruit like strawberries or raspberries, chocolate sauce is a dessert staple. If it’s labeled “chocolate syrup”, like the chocolate component in a mocha or a bottle of Hershey’s, then it contains corn syrup, but true chocolate sauce is even simpler. “At a restaurant, they sometimes bring you a little pitcher of chocolate to pour over your dessert. Usually that's just straight up melted chocolate,” explains Raileanu.
To melt chocolate, you need a double boiler set up. This involves placing a large, heatproof bowl atop a Saucepan of simmering water. Just like when you’re steaming, you don’t want the water to touch the bottom of the bowl, but provide gentle and even heat. Break or chop your chocolate into smaller pieces, and place them in the bowl. Turn off the heat and stir gently with a rubber or silicone spatula. Once the chocolate is almost all melted, remove the bowl completely from the heat and finish stirring it on the counter or table until the chocolate is smooth and glossy. “Chocolate sauce will solidify as it cools,” says Raileanu. “If it doesn’t, that means that butter or cream has been added.” This makes it the perfect dip for some fresh strawberries.
Hot fudge is thought of as an ice cream topping, while ganache is usually associated with baked goods, but they are both chocolate enriched by dairy. “If you’re looking for a spreadable chocolate that you're using for a cake, then you'll want to add butter to make a softer chocolate, but that’s not quite a ganache,” says Raileanu. What makes ganache is adding cream, so you can pour and dip as well as spread it.
To make ganache, simply place your chopped chocolate in a large, heatproof bowl. Heat the cream in the Saucier over medium heat. You need it to be hot but there’s no need to bring it to a boil. Make sure you’re stirring it every so often and keeping an eye on it so it doesn’t scorch. Remove from heat and pour the cream over the chocolate. Let it sit for a minute to soften, then mix using a folding motion until the cream is fully incorporated and a silk sauce has formed.
You can adjust the consistency of the ganache by the ratio of chocolate to cream. For fully pourable ganache, use a 1:2 ratio. 1:1 will yield a thick glaze, while 2:1 can be molded into truffles. A homemade ganache is also a great way to elevate a store-bought Bundt cake, madeleines, or donuts.
When sugar goes through a Maillard reaction, it darkens and caramelizes, just like meat or vegetables do. At its most basic, that’s all caramel is—cooked sugar. Because of that, making caramel can be tricky, but becomes easier with a little practice. To make caramel that can harden into a bird’s nest for a dramatic spun sugar topping, all you need is granulated white sugar and water. This is sometimes referred to as dry caramel.
Combine the sugar and water in a 2:1 ratio in the 2QT Saucier over low heat until the sugar has fully dissolved. Once you have a simple syrup, increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Resist the urge to stir as the syrup begins to turn golden brown. During this process, it is helpful to have a pastry brush that you can dip into some reserved water and paint the sides of the Saucier so nothing sticks. You can stop the caramelization by removing the Saucier from heat and placing it in a cold water bath. The color will affect the taste of the final product. A darker caramel will be more bittersweet. Use the caramel immediately as it will harden as it dries. Raileanu suggests using it to make your own homemade caramel corn.
Butterscotch is actually a flavor rather than a separate process. “It’s just like regular caramel except that it’s made with brown sugar,” explains Raileanu. “Brown sugar has molasses in it, so butterscotch will automatically be darker and have a little deeper flavor. It also often contains vanilla.”
Just like ganache, caramelized sugar becomes caramel sauce when you add cream and/or butter. This also keeps the mixture from hardening right away, which makes it a slightly more versatile topping. “ When you add butter, you get into the candy stage, if you add butter and cream, you're in caramel sauce land, and then you add butter, cream and vanilla, you’ve got butterscotch,” says Raileanu.
To make caramel sauce, start by following the instructions above for wet caramel. When the sugar mixture reaches a dark amber color, remove the Saucier from the heat and carefully pour in the cream. Be very careful as the sugar may bubble up. Using a whisk, incorporate the cream before adding in some cubed butter and a hefty pinch of salt. Mix until fully combined into a pourable consistency.
You can easily make this a butterscotch sauce instead by using brown sugar instead of white and adding in some vanilla (beans, paste, or extract) with the butter and salt. A little butterscotch is a great way to elevate even the simplest store-bought vanilla ice cream.
Now that you know two basic dessert sauces, feel free to riff on them, adding in liqueurs or experimenting with coconut milk in place of cream. Whatever you decide, these sauces are sure to improve your next dessert.