There's a fearlessness that's required for making a good caramel sauce, a willingness to dance on the line of disaster, a sense of that split second before deliciously dark and bitter becomes 'Help! Fire!'. The photo on the right - that's where the timid stop, if they make it that far. Add the cream at this point and you end up with a namby-pamby pale, overly sweet goo. You might as well just buy a jar of Kraft.
The color you see in the pot is deceptive, it looks darker than it really is. You can test it with a spoon or a twist of paper, but even then, it's not the best way to know. The best way, the exciting way, is to wait for the smoke. Not a faint wisp, but some serious smoke rolling across the boiling sugar. Today the smoke went from a bit to filling the kitchen within a couple of seconds. I poured in the cream and the rich dark smell filled the room. The smoke slowly dissipated (I'd forgotten the new hood has an amazing exhaust system) as I stirred the lump into a smooth sauce. Hours later, when it had cooled enough to taste, Chef pronounced it the best batch I've ever made. He said I'd learned the secret - cook the sugar until about one minute and fortyfive seconds before it bursts into flame. Add the cream to stop the cooking, stir until smooth. Add the other ingredients.
Take your caramel to the bitter edge, wrap it in dark chocolate. Add a few grains of good salt.
Pop it into your mouth, bite through the chocolate shell and let the liquid caramel engulf your senses. Surrender completely.