Versus: Caramel's a Sticky Subject

It's tough to make, but Autumn & Fran seem to have it down.

The Dish: Caramel sauce doesn't get enough credit. It's incredibly difficult to make at home (you know this if you've ever tried to make candy), and it takes a special talent to create the perfect consistency and taste. We picked two of our favorite locally made caramel sauces, both from female chocolatiers, to find out which one we'd prefer to get sauced on. The Rivals: Hot Cakes, at various farmers markets. The name Autumn Martin is identified with sweets. Prior to launching her own business, she was the head chocolate-maker at Theo Chocolate, and spent time as the pastry chef at Canlis. Now Martin and her Hot Cakes are mainstays of the Ballard farmers market and other places she can sell her homemade desserts. We found her at the University District farmers market on a very chilly Saturday afternoon while most people were still in bed wishing the snow away. Martin's Hot Cakes line includes a nice array of vegan dessert sauces, but we gravitated to her most popular: the creamy, butter-salted caramel sauce ($8). The petite little jar is filled with an amber caramel that can be eaten right away. The texture is smooth and creamy, even after being refrigerated for a week. It's made from simple ingredients: sugar, cream, milk, butter, and salt. Everything but the salt is organic, and all the dairy is locally sourced. The taste is similar to burnt sugar, like the crust of crème brûlée. You know when you boil sugar and water on the stove, like you're getting ready to make candy? It tastes like the smell that permeates the air when that happens. The salt in the sauce doesn't stand out at all; rather, it just adds to the balanced flavor. Fran's Chocolates, 1325 First Ave., 682-0168, DOWNTOWN. When it comes to chocolates, it's hard to beat Seattle's maven, Fran Bigelow. It's her salted caramels that the Obamas keep on hand at the White House and that Oprah gushed about back in 2006, before salted chocolates became a huge candy trend. But how are Fran's dessert sauces? If her classic caramel sauce is any indication, pretty damn good. Her caramel topping doesn't quite have the same consistency as Autumn's—it's a little grainy and much thicker, served best heated and drizzled on desserts and fruits. But like Autumn's caramel sauce, it's pliable enough to be eaten straight from the jar. You also get about twice as much caramel for a buck more ($8.99). Fran's sauce is made from cream, sugar, corn syrup, cream of tartar, salt, and vanilla—sans butter. It has more of a traditional caramel taste and texture, like a jar filled with those square caramel candies—the kind you unwrap, melt, and dip apples into for Halloween. It's chewy, sweet, and very nostalgic. The Champ: Both these ladies know how to turn out a fine jar of caramel sauce. Fran's has the more traditional caramel flavor, while Martin's Hot Cakes delves into a realm of deeper, toffee-like flavors. It's like an adult version of caramel sauce. And since we also adore the homespun charm of the jars she uses, we're naming Hot Cakes the saucy minx of this challenge. jperry@seattleweekly.com

 
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