If you're the person who leaves marshmallows on the fire longer than everyone else to get a nice char, or the one who orders her bacon extra-crispy, we've got two words for you: burnt caramel. We're seeing it in candies and on menus lately, and loving how it adds an edge to sweets, bringing a touch of bitterness that's an offbeat yet fantastic complement to sugary flavors.

When cane sugar, cream and butter simmer just a touch past the usual state, the mixture becomes a deep golden color and turns into a caramel crunch. This would be just fine on its own, but the addition of just-sweet-enough chocolate makes it taste out of this world. Alter Eco's new Dark Salted Burnt Caramel Organic Chocolate bar drenches the caramel in dark cacao and finishes it with sea salt; while Poco Dolce's Burnt Caramel Bittersweet Tiles also go the bittersweet dark chocolate-sea salt route, but are formed into 2-inch-square "tiles" instead of a long bar. And then there are the Burnt Toast Caramels from Chocolate Twist. This eyebrow-raising combo totally works, delivering a rich, salty-sweet treat made with actual burnt whole grain toast that imparts a smoky, smoldering flavor.

Chefs are applying the overdo-it formula to caramel sauce, too. At The Oval Room in Washington, D.C., executive chef John Melfi serves lemon ricotta bombolini (think Italian beignets) with burnt caramel sauce; the light and citrusy fried dough is a perfect counterpoint to the rich caramel. He says that while there are many levels of burnt, from "lightly caramelized" to "totally blasted," he aims for moderately burnt, so it's a deep, dark brown color. The result is a nutty-tasting sauce that's great on anything from ice cream to rice pudding to custard and pound cake.

Get the recipe: Burnt-Vanilla Caramel Sauce


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