Homemade caramels combine sweet, salty flavors

June 25, 2008 11:21:56 AM PDT
We all remember making caramel apples as kids but those tiny squares of sweet caramel have come a long way. ABC7's Hungry Hound says a local company is now making some highly sophisticated caramels, which are popping up in gourmet and specialty stores all over the region. Up until recently, I never gave caramels a second thought. But then I noticed some pastry chefs adding salt to their caramel ice creams, and it opened up an entirely new dimension. The combination of salt and sweet is beguiling. And it's one of the reasons Das Caramels is having such success in penetrating an already-saturated sweets market in Chicago.

Katie Das just couldn't get rid of her sweet tooth. After working for Kraft and studying business in grad school, she and her husband opened their own business - Das Foods - which makes handmade caramels out of a nondescript warehouse in Wauconda.

"I loved chocolate but I also don't like the fact that it's very high in fat and carmels are sort of a sweet treat that is not so high in fat, just as satisfying and also can be quite exciting as well," said Katie Das, Das Foods.

Her caramels begin by heating cream, sugar, rice syrup, honey and butter in a small copper kettle. High-end salt balances the sweetness.

"We use French, hand harvested sea salt from ground, and that salt if very flaky and it's not very metallic-y and its hand harvested, beautiful salt. Works very well to balance out the sweetness of the caramel," said Das.

Once the proper temperature is reached, the hot liquid is poured out onto a cooling table, rapidly lowering the temperature, slightly hardening it. After about 30 minutes, the caramels are cut into long, rectangular strips. They're carefully fed into an antique cutting machine, which quickly portions and wraps them up, making them ready for packaging and shipment.

She currently offers seven flavors, but while we were there, she was working on a new one: chopped pecans and a little chipotle syrup gave the caramel a subtle note of heat and crunch.

"Any kind of spices, exotic spices work extremely well, bring some unexpected sides to the caramel that you otherwise wouldn't see," said Das.

Other great flavors include lemon and honey, chai latte or ginger and pistachio.

Das says by keeping production small, she can alter flavors and make changes much quicker than the big, industrial players.

"Our caramels are very quirky but they are also made with a lot of attention to detail, and the way to get there is to make it on a small scale," said Das.

While retail locations carry mostly caramels, if you shop on the company's Web site, you'll also find some high-end, gourmet salts as well.

Das Caramels

Available at:

Whole Foods
3300 N. Ashland

3640 N. Halsted St.

30 West Huron St.

7245 Lake St., River Forest

760 Waukegan Road, Deerfield

213 W. Grand Ave.

3000 N. Clark

670 Roosevelt Rd., Glen Ellyn

1950 Lincoln Highway, St. Charles

2106 Central St., Evanston

1456 Waukegan Rd., Glenview

Sam's Wine
1720 North Marcey St.

2010 Butterfield Rd. , Downers Grove

Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea
3123 N. Broadway St.

53 West Jackson Blvd.

The Goddess & the Grocer
25 East Delaware Place

1646 N Damen Ave.

2528 N. California Ave.

2312 W. Leland Ave.

City Olive
5408 North Clark St.

Paulina Market
3501 N. Lincoln Ave.

Pastoral Cheese & Wine
2945 N. Broadway

Link's Sweet Bean
1141 Greanleaf Ave, Wilmette

Bottle Shop
1138 Central Avenue, Wilmette

Schaefer's Wines, Foods & Spirits
9965 Gross Point Rd., Skokie

The Village Market
24 East Scranton Ave., Lake Bluff

Moveable Feast
321 Franklin St., Geneva