How many of you have ever bought (pasteurized) whipping cream for some random project, shoved it in the fridge, and forgotten about it for a while? I certainly have. Now, I’ve fed my share of soured cream and spoiled dairy to the chickens, but I’ve also found that as long as the cream is simply soured (broken down, by lactic acid forming bacteria) I can still use it.
Now, keep in mind this is a post about what I have done, not what you should do.
So. Soured cream is not quite the same as sour cream. Well, actually it is, but while soured cream is soured by bacteria that won’t harm us, it can also have additional creepy crawlies growing in it if it’s been exposed to other sources of bacteria. Sour cream is cream that has had either lactic acid, or additional harmless lactose-eating bacteria added to give it a consistent and safe sourness.
Theoretically, soured cream was once regular cream, and assuming it was pasteurized (I don’t suggest doing this with raw milk) all of the harmful creepy crawlies were killed off in the process. After that, the cream was likely poured into a sanitized container and sealed. Assuming this container stays free of harmful creepy crawlies, it’s likely that the cream will stay fresh for quite long until it finally succumbs to the lactose-eating bacteria that is still present. I’ve been known to use slightly soured cream to make a particularly tasty topping for fresh fruit, and I’ve baked into bread, but there is one use for soured cream that surpasses all others…
Last summer I had ordered several containers of cream in anticipation of a big project, and unfortunately the project for which they were intended was forgotten… as were the containers of cream (I think they were behind a few other projects in the fridge, including the pickled radishes). By the time I discovered them, I found that I’d let over $12 of cream go to waste! Grrr…
After a brief brainstorming and a few google searches I had the perfect remedy, and it wasn’t feeding it to the chickens. Are you ready for this?
Salted Caramel Sauce!
I know, right? Soured cream doesn’t seem like the kind of thing to end up in a delicious ice cream topping, or drizzled over fresh strawberries, but it was a very successful experiment indeed.
Basically when making any caramel sauce, you bring sugar to the caramelization point (or sugar and water, depending on your method) and then you cut the caramelized sugar with a liquid – most often cream. The caramelization point is approximately 320º, and there are few harmful creepy crawlies that can live when exposed to temperatures half that temperature, so using soured dairy to cut caramel is (in my very unscientific experience) fairly safe.
I set about making “wet” caramel, which means you begin heating the sugar after moistening it with a bit of water. When it his 320º, instead of adding cream, I added the soured cream. It boiled and frothed and got super gooey and sticky and I was convinced I had ruined it, but sure enough after I stirred and stirred and stirred I was left with a thick and gloriously tasty caramel sauce that everyone should try at some point.
So tonight I decided I needed caramel sauce for a recipe I was working on, but we were out of cream altogether… but what did I find in the back of the refrigerator this time? An unopened container of sour cream! Divine intervention, that was.
I substituted sour cream for the soured cream that would have substituted for the fresh cream and within 20 minutes I was trying desperately to slap my own hand away from a cooling batch of delicious caramel. Seriously. I couldn’t stop licking the bowl. I was like a little kid. I’m still considering going back into the kitchen to see if I missed any spots…
Anyway, I wanted to share this recipe. I feel like it’s pretty indispensable when it comes to folks with sweet tooths. I think next time I may try it with buttermilk to see if there’s a difference in taste; will it be more butterscotchy? Hmmm…
Not-for-the-chickens Creamy Caramel Sauce
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
1 1/4 cups sour cream, soured cream, heavy whipping cream – at room temperature, or slightly warmed
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt (sea salt, fleur de sel, whatever you choose – make it flavorful, though)
- Measure everything out ahead of time. Trust me. You’ll want your cream on hand precisely when you need it – not ten seconds later.
- Place sugar and water in a medium sauce pan and stir to moisten the sugar and distribute the water. Heat this mixture over medium to medium-high heat, without stirring. I know you’ll want to stir it, but seriously, don’t. Agitation can cause the sugar to crystalize and then you’ll end up with a weird, chunky, sticky mess.
- If you’re concerned about crystallization, you can brush the sides of your pan down on the inside with water occasionally to keep sugar crystals from forming along the edge. I don’t usually do this, and I’ve only had it crystalize once… and I stirred it… A lot.
- Once the sugar begins to boil, place a candy thermometer in the mixture and slowly raise the temperature to approximately 320º, which is the point that sugar caramelizes.
- As soon as the sugar reaches the caramelization stage, slowly pour the cream into the sauce pan. The mixture will get super grouchy and sputter and boil and bubble. Using a wooden spoon or a metal whisk, stir quickly to incorporate the two liquids as they hit a mean temperature. If you get a big ol’ clod of thick caramel in the middle, remove the pan from the heat and work to scrape and scumble the clod around until it breaks up and begins to rejoin the rest of the liquid. If your sauce ends up kind of lumpy, fret not. Simply run it through a medium-fine mesh sieve (or even a colander would work) and it’ll turn out just fine.
- After the two liquids are combined fairly well, return the mixture to a boil just for a minute or so and then remove from heat.
- Add the vanilla and salt last, stir and then pour into containers. Keep the sauce refrigerated (though theoretically you could can it in a pressure cooker – or in a hot water bath if you’re daring and playing by ‘old school’ rules. Sugar is a pretty good preservative. Still, I don’t particularly condone the canning of dairy products via hot water bath!)
The sauce will thicken over the next few hours into a fantastic drizzley, sweet, sticky goo that is perfect for icecream, fruit, yogurt, bundt cakes… and spoons. I prefer spoons.