Caramel Sauce: A Sticky Subject

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. It may seem like just a gooey glob of cooked sugar on top of your ice cream, but caramel sauce deserves its just desserts, which is why we chose it as this week's Versus challenge. 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.

Photo by Julien Perry
The Rivals

Hot Cakes

Various farmers markets

The name Autumn Martin is synonymous 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 a mainstay at 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 under the covers wishing the snow away. Martin's Hot Cakes line includes a nice array of vegan dessert sauces, but we gravitated towards her most popular: the full of cream and 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 of the dairy is locally sourced. The taste is similar to burnt sugar, like the crust of a creme brulee. 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 'salted caramel sauce' doesn't stand out at all, rather, it just adds to the balanced flavor of the entire batch.

Photo by Julien Perry
Fran's Chocolates

1325 1st Ave., 682-0168

When it comes to chocolates, it's hard to beat Seattle's chocolate maven, Fran Bigelow. It's her salted caramels that the Obamas keep on hand at the White House and what 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 Autum'ns 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 caramel sauce is made from cream, sugar, corn syrup,cream of tartar, salt and vanilla. No butter. Fran's 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 of these ladies know how to turn out a fine jar of caramel sauce. Fran's has the more traditional caramel flavor while Autumn Martin's Hot Cakes delves into a unique 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.

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