One chef, one ingredient: caramel by Christophe Michalak
This week, Christophe Michalak, the head pastry chef at the Plaza Athénée in Paris, has chosen caramel.
Why did you choose this ingredient?
Christophe Michalak: Because it represents the quintessence of my love of good food!
What's your favorite memory or anecdote associated with the product?
CM: A salted butter caramel cream puff with a rich and fragrant delicate cream that melts in your mouth.
When is the ingredient in season?
CM: Because caramel is a flavor with a warming effect, it is better in fall or winter. That being said, I can eat it anytime!
What's the best way to prepare or cook it? Can you share a recipe?
CM: Cook 100 grams of caster sugar dry, without water. When the sugar melts and changes color, froth forms on the sides of the pan and the caramel is about 170°C. At this point, add 200 grams of hot cream with half a vanilla pod and a pinch of fleur de sel. Boil the mixture for a few minutes and then let it cool... Then you'll have a delicious caramel spread.
What other foods and ingredients does it pair best with?
CM: When it is paired with tonka beans, it tastes a bit like a "Carambar" (French caramel-based candy). It works very well with mango, chocolate, gingerbread, orange blossom...
What are the most common mistakes people make when cooking/preparing this ingredient?
CM: If it is overcooked, it is bitter and if it is undercooked, it is too sweet... cooking caramel is a very delicate process.
Do you serve it in your restaurant and in what dish?
CM: I like offering many takes on it: soft caramel, creamy caramel, light caramel mousse, crunchy caramel biscuits... I have also had an idea for a Banoffee-style caramel and banana Saint Honoré!
What wine or alcohol goes best with this ingredient?
CM: It goes very well with pastis, in moderation...