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3 Questions- 2 about caramel, 1 about "light cream"

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1. Is it really necessary to use a pastry brush and water to brush down the sides of the pan as you make caramel? I do it, but every time, I wonder if it's really necessary. The one good thing is that at least it keeps me by the pan and not wandering away, only to burn it.

2. I made a caramel sauce last night that tastes really good. (1/2 cup water + 1 cup sugar, boiled over medium heat until golden brown; slowly add 1 cup warm heavy cream; let simmer for 2 minutes, and remove from heat and add 1 t. vanilla) Anyway, it ended up really runny, even though it tasted great. Would it have thickened up if I would have kept it simmering a while longer once I put the heavy cream in it? Or was it just meant to be a thinner sauce? It did thicken up some once I let it rest, but it's still pretty thin.

3. What is "light cream"? I've seen recipes that call for it, but every store I've ever been to has had only heavy cream and half and half. I know that half and half is half milk and half heavy cream, so I didn't know if that was considered light cream or not.

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  1. I can't help you with your first two questions, but I can somewhat get to the third. Light cream is not half-and-half. It is packaged like heavy cream -- those little 1/2 pint containers, usually in a different color than the heavy cream. Somewhere on the packaging is the % number (of fat?, I assume). I think it's creamier than half-and-half, though I'm not sure exactly how that fits on the % scale. I do know that one place where I had breakfast had light cream for coffee instead of half-and-half and it acted in the coffee more like heavy (heavier?) cream would, not like regular half-and-half.

    1. For #1, I usually put a lid on the pan when it starts to boil, which creates condensation that washes down the side of the pan. In my experience, this is enough to prevent crystalization, which doesn't seem to occur once the sugar turns amber.

      For #2, I'm not sure how runny it is, but I usually use a 1-to-1 ratio of sugar to cream, but you can adjust that to make your caramel thicker - use a little less cream to make a thicker sauce, rather than continuing to cook it once the cream is added.

      And no real clue about #3, aside from the previously mentioned issue with % of fat. You'll get a richer caramel using heavy cream than light cream.

      1 Reply
      1. re: cyberroo

        I should have clarified that in my post- the light cream was for an ice cream recipe; the caramel recipe called for heavy cream.

      2. The USDA regulates dairy products.

        By law creams are categorized by their percentage of milk fat.

        Heavy cream has a milk fat content of between 36 and 40%
        Light whipping cream, 30 to 36%
        Light cream (also called coffee or table cream) 18 to 30%
        Half and half is 10 to 12% milk fat.
        Whole Milk is 3.7% milk fat.
        Then there are 2% and 1% milks and...
        Skim, which must be less than 0.5% milk fat.

        3 Replies
        1. re: C. Hamster

          Okay, now I am really going to have to study the milk and cream section at the store next time. I'm fairly certain I've never seen anything labeled as light cream, so I'll be sure to check out the percentages. Thanks for the info.

          1. re: Katie Nell

            I grew up with "light cream" in New England, but have never seen it here in the south (at least in the conventional grocery stores), so it may be somewhat regional. I have mixed half and half and heavy cream with good results. I think your best bet is, as you said, check the % and just find something close.

            1. re: Scirocco

              Well, I have to take that back. I just came back from my local Food Lion (NC) to get heavy cream and low and behold, there was light cream next to all the others. It must be relatively new there because it's never been there when I looked for it before. Also, they do not show the milk fat % on the carton (it was FL brand), so makes it a little more complicated to figure it out. :-/

        2. Hi Katie Nell!
          I never brush the sides with water and have had no problems...accept once. The last time I made my caramel apples, the caramel was grainy (but has only happened 1x in 12 years!).

          Regarding the thickness of the caramel...it was probably intended to be a thin caramel sauce. If you want it thicker, add a bit less liquid next time.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Funwithfood

            Thanks everyone for the help! The caramel was very well received at our ice cream sundae day at work- no one mentioned it being too thin, that's for sure!