At Hot Cakes, Autumn Martin makes caramel sauce that’s darker and smokier than the stuff you buy at the grocery store.

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IN WINTER, there’s something about caramel sauce that is totally fitting. So fitting, in fact, you just want to drink it.

Autumn Martin, the owner of Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery, explains how to make sipping caramel, a decadent winter treat. It starts with quality “true” caramel sauce. “Most caramel sauce available at grocery stores isn’t real caramel,” she says.

The sweet sauce most of us are familiar with typically is made by heating the sugar with other ingredients. However, the traditional technique is to caramelize the sugar by itself, essentially to begin to burn it, before other ingredients are added. Martin follows the old-school method.

Every small batch of Pacific coast sea salt caramel sauce is unique, but “there’s still a satisfaction and a perfection in it,” says Dj Alton, caramel maker for Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery. (Johnny Andrews and Corinne Chin / The Seattle Times)

At Hot Cakes, a skilled artisan makes 30-pound batches by hand in a copper pot over a flame, carefully stirring the sugar and adding more, using sight and smell to judge when the sugar is caramelized. “I don’t know of anyone else who does it this way,” Martin says. Chances are Hot Cakes’ caramel is darker and smokier than what you are used to.

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Once you have true caramel sauce, simply heat it with cream and top with whipped cream and salt for a delicious, rich beverage.

Martin started to explore caramel-making as head chocolatier at Theo Chocolate, where she developed a line of caramel confections. In 2008, she started her own business, selling take-and-bake molten chocolate cakes at farmers markets.

In 2010, she developed a line of caramel sauces made from organic ingredients and grass-fed Washington dairy. Her new Wilderness Collection features White Sage, Juniper and Campfire flavors. These are excellent in beverages and on fruit, desserts, popcorn or ice cream. The seven-ounce jars also make lovely holiday or hostess gifts ($14).

“The line was borne out of a desire to get people to think about the outdoors and the wild when they least expect it — when they’re eating dessert,” Martin says. Ten percent of Wilderness Collection sales goes to charitable organizations that preserve wildlife and wild places in Washington.

A regular caramel sauce, Pacific Coast Sea Salt, is available for $12. For those who are dairy-free, Hot Cakes sells a silky vegan caramel, made with hemp and coconut milks ($12). Any of these sauces makes a fabulous sipping caramel — or you can make your own, old-school style.

Who needs hot chocolate?

 

Sipping Caramel

Serves 3

½ cup salted caramel sauce (recipe below)

1 cup half and half (or more, if desired, to cut the caramel)

Cream for whipping for garnish

Chunky sea salt for garnish

1. Combine the caramel sauce and half and half in a small saucepot. Heat over medium-low, whisking until frothy and hot.

2. Pour into 4-ounce Mason jars or similar containers. Top with whipped cream and sea salt.

 

Salted Caramel Sauce

Makes about 1 cup

¾ cup cream

¾ cup sugar

1 teaspoon unsalted butter at room temperature

½ teaspoon salt

1. Warm the cream in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.

2. In a heavy, medium saute pan, melt the sugar over medium heat. As the sugar begins to liquefy, stir continually. It will begin to change color and caramelize rather quickly. When the sugar has reached an even, light-amber color, watch for a bit of smoke to rise from it. This shows the sugar is done being caramelized. Immediately add the heated cream gradually, whisking after each addition. Be careful, as the cream might bubble rapidly.

3. Remove pan from heat, and thoroughly whisk in the butter and salt.

4. Cool completely.

Note: Caramelizing sugar is a hot process and can be dangerous. Use caution, and do not touch the sugar while it’s cooking.