Just another food fad?
Salted caramel achieved fad status a few years back. At first some viewed it with a little suspicion. Salt on a dessert? But the strangeness of the idea took hold, and even mainstream cooks like Nigella Lawson were raving about it by the mid-noughties.
As is typical of fads, almost as soon as salted caramel had established its popularity, some people started to question whether it had had its day and was now as passé as a sundried tomato or a Thai-style green curry. And, also typical of fads, people started jumping on the bandwagon with inferior imitations, helping drag down the perceptions of those who were latecomers to its sweet and salty delights.
But the idea of combining several taste sensations is nothing new. Aficionados of Thai cuisine will know that for centuries it’s been based on the judicious blending of five basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and spicy. And even in Britain’s less flamboyant culinary tradition, the idea of matching salt and sweet is at least as old as drinking port with Stilton.
(That said, flavours should complement each other, marrying into a partnership greater than any of the individual parts. Alternatively, flavours can be used in a similar way to accent colours in decorating or art. It’s the dash of something different which adds the finesse and highlights the essential character of the main element. Think of a tiny splash of red in a blue-hued painting, or a smear of horseradish on a slice of roast beef.)
Although salted caramel doesn’t go back as far as port and Stilton, it certainly wasn’t new at the time the fad started. Probably originating in Brittany in the late 1970s, it later gained popularity in America, and subsequently found its way back across the Atlantic to British shores.
But in any case, why would anyone pass up the chance of eating something delicious just because it’s no longer the exclusive preserve of the fashion police or the boho food critics who dare to tell us what’s hot or not to eat? Who cares if it’s “old”, if it works? And salted caramel works for sure.
Artisan du Chocolat salted caramels
Back in 2002, Artisan du Chocolat invented their own original sea salted caramels for Gordon Ramsay’s menu at Claridge’s. These epitomise the best of the breed. After all, above all else, Mr Ramsay demands the best quality of everything (except manners). So, what sets these apart? Surely a caramel is just sugar and water and if you add salt it becomes a salted caramel, right? Not exactly.
Here’s what Artisan du Chocolat have to say about theirs:
A sweet liquid caramel with a pinch of Noirmoutier Island’s grey salt, captured in a cocoa dusted shell of intense dark chocolate. The pure untreated grey salt, harvested by hand from clay marshes, holds a wealth of minerals and trace elements that enrich its taste. It is the balance of flavours – sweet, saline and mineral – and of textures – crunchy, liquid and velvety – that make these salted caramels the bees’ knees.
Impressive. But what’s the tasting experience and mouthfeel? Not Delia and the tasting team were keen to try!
What the photo above doesn’t show you is the aroma and the cocoa powder coating of these delicious little caramels. When you unleash them from their sealed container, the aroma smacks you in the olfactory organs. It’s just like snorting chocolate. I kid you not, and we know because we’ve snorted chocolate before. (Yes, it’s legal.) Mr Not Delia wrote about our experience of doing that a few years ago after we’d stayed at the Pavilions pool villa resort on Phuket.
Even before you put these in your mouth, you can taste them. The ever-so-slightly downside of this powder with a punch is a wee bit of mess from the powder. The official photo is pristine, but regardless of all the brushing and dusting I was doing in the process of taking my own photographs, I gave up trying to get a cocoa dust-free shot. The art of food photography, eh?
OK, but you’re unlikely to be trying these things with a view to using them as photographic models. What do they taste like? Phwoar! Intense. It’s interesting that “intense” was the most used adjective, as this is how Artisan du Chocolat themselves describe their chocolates.
The intensity starts with that cocoa powder, which is also the first texture sensation. It’s dry and velvety, with plenty of bitter chocolate flavour and not even a hint of sugariness. But bite through the firm and substantial dark chocolate shell and you release the sweet liquid caramel inside, with that hint of pleasantly gritty salt to leaven the unctuousness of the caramel.
Make no mistake, these are caramels for grown-ups. You wouldn’t dream of using a soppy cartoon bunny to advertise them. Or of giving anyone else your last one.
Little spheres of eye-opening, heads-up, taste and texture. I loved ’em. We all loved them.
It doesn’t end here…
Over the next week, we’ll be tasting, and writing more about Artisan du Chocolat’s incredible chocolate. The salted caramels are only the start. Edible chocolate humming birds, anyone? And the crème de la crème of Easter eggs. You’ll be impressed!
Buy the chocolates!
You can buy these superb chocolates from Artisan du Chocolat online here:
Artisan du Chocolat: Original sea salted caramels