But what’s the deal with this Fleur de Sel? Let’s take a look… There are two methods typically used to harvest salt for human consumption: mining and sea water evaporation. Mining involves digging deep into underground salt deposits that have been left by ancient salt water lakes, rivers, and oceans. The salt can be dug out of the ground – much like coal or other minerals. It can also be removed through a fracking process, similar to oil, where water is pumped into the ground above a salt deposit, then the salt infused water is pumped back out. Alternatively, salt can be harvested from ocean water, through a collection and evaporation process. Fleur de sel production utilizes this procedure, but the process is much more time consuming. It involves scooping thin sheets of salt that rise to the surface of shallow pools along the coast of France.
Because of the labor intense processes involved with harvesting Fleur de Sel, it is considerably more rare and therefore more expensive than average table and sea salts. It forms naturally only under certain weather conditions, and it must be skimmed off the surface by hand – using special sieves. Ordinary sea salt is made by evaporating sea water and then collecting the remaining salt. Fleur de Sel is first and foremost, salty – but it also contains a host of other nuances that make it so special. It has a fairly high moisture content (not totally dry) and retains some of those mineral sea brine flavors. Because the cost of Fleur de Sel is fairly high, it’s best used as a garnish, rather than something you’d mix into a recipe. Plus, you don’t want to lose those beautiful crunchy crystals!
Now, for the caramels! Here’s what you’ll need:
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1/4 cup light corn syrup
• 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
• 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1 teaspoon fleur de sel, plus extra for sprinkling
• 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• parchment paper or wax paper, for wrapping
1. Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan (or loaf pan) with parchment paper, then brush the paper lightly with oil (or lightly cover with cooking spray), allowing the paper to drape over 2 sides.
2. In a deep saucepan (6 inches diameter by 4 1/2 inches deep) combine the sugar, corn syrup, and 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to boil until the caramel is a warm golden brown color. Don’t stir – just swirl the pan to mix. Watch carefully, as it will burn quickly at the end!
3. In the meantime, bring the cream, butter, and 1 teaspoon fleur de sel to a simmer in a small pan over medium heat. Remove from the heat, set aside and keep warm.
4. When the caramelized sugar is the right color, very slowly add the cream mixture to the caramel while stirring – it will boil up violently. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon and cook over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until the mixture reaches 248 degrees F (firm ball) on a candy thermometer. Very carefully (it’s hot!) pour the caramel into the prepared pan and refrigerate until firm. Just as the caramel begins to set, sprinkle on the Fleur de Sel. Don’t be stingy! The sweetness of the caramels can handle just about any amount of salt.
5. When the caramels are cool, use the parchment paper to pry the sheet from the pan onto a cutting board. Then use a large knife to carefully cut the caramel into squares of your desired size.
Any way you use Fleur de Sel is guaranteed to make your food shine. Its iconic appearance, crunch, and flavor gives a chef automatic credit – that they choose the best ingredients the world has to offer. When it comes to luxury, the word means it’s usually pretty expensive. But it doesn’t always mean that. Sometimes it just means it’s rare or of unusually exquisite quality. And that describes our Fleur de Sel perfectly. An easy to find and totally affordable luxury, that you’re never going to want to go without again. Enjoys those caramels – the absolute definition of affordable luxury!