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Jun 30, 2013 01:13 PM

Caramel Sauce without Cream or Butter

I'm currently doing a SNAP challenge wherein we eat on a limited budget ($84 for two people) for a week. The process is interesting. Anyway I wanted to make pancakes this morning and realize we had no syrup. I mean I did have a bottle of real maple syrup in the fridge that I wasn't allowed to use, but I had bought a small bag of sugar just in case. So I thought, why not make a caramel sauce and cut up a banana for our pancakes.

Got the sugar nice and caramelized, and added canola and whole milk instead of butter and cream, and the sauce went super grainy. I took an immersion blender to it, and really reduced the graininess, to the point that my boyfriend didn't notice, but I knew it wasn't as smooth as it should be. So I thought about it, and I realized normally when I add the butter it melts at a certain pace and as I whisk emulsifies then I add the milk while the canola never seems to incorporate.

So then I tried again. This time I said no to canola and melted some cream cheese into the milk hoping to up the fat content and benefit from the guar and xantham gum in the cream cheese -although I realize those are small amounts. Still went grainy.

Now I'm willing to keep experimenting, but I'm getting yelled at for using up ingredients when we're supposed to be careful. I'm pretty sure the addition of corn syrup would solve the the graininess, but I'm not allowed it for the challenge. So I'm wondering, should I heat up the milk, let the sugar cool more, maybe melt the cream cheese in the liquid sugar then add the milk? Ideally I'd like a sauce that was just sugar and whole milk. I was reading through On Food and Cooking for any ideas and while a lot of time was spent discussing discussing the properties of sugar as it "melts" and that the the browning milk solids also contribute to flavor, but not how the dairy behaves when it hits the hot sugar.


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  1. A caramel sauce made with just sugar and whole milk is essentially dulce de leche. Haven't made this particular one myself, but here's Martha Stewart's recipe that includes baking soda and salt.

    If it's for pancakes, you can also make a thin syrup with your caramelized sugar and water. This would be like the syrup that appears in creme caramel. I do this frequently with fruit, e.g., apples or peaches, to make a topping for bread pudding though I do enrich it a little bit with butter.

    ETA: And please do let us know what you've served during the SNAP challenge.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      was thinking dulce de leche too.


      are you going to eat pancakes everyday? it's a lot of milk and sugar for a single purpose on such a limited budget.

      1. re: hotoynoodle

        No we weren't planning on it. My original recipe I used 1/2 c sugar, 1/4 of milk and 3 T of canola. My second attempt I did another 1/2 c sugar with 1/2 whole milk. So I was trying to be conservative with the quantities :).

        We were planning on pancakes today and at the end of the week on Saturday. It's also a little weird because you're basically supposed to by everything for one week on the challenge. So my boyfriend talked me into pancake mix instead of flour since then we wouldn't have to buy baking soda.

        I'm not sure where the line is. Does baking soda count as a spice because you're not supposed to count spices or condiments? Can I use red wine vinegar to make a simple salad dressing? I had thought about dulce de leche but my recipe included baking soda too which I wasn't sure was allowed.

        It might be the solution though.

      2. re: Melanie Wong

        It's true; I could just dilute the caramel with water.

        I should. I'll make an omnibus post when its over. Today was pancakes with bananas and caramel, a nectarine, and cream of potato soup with toast (dry). We're going to saute some chicken livers and have salad too tonight.

        The rest of the week is going to be sandwiches for lunch. Dinners should be fun though.

        1. re: mujeresliebres

          Oddly enough I just made Alton Browns dulce de leche. It came out great. It can be used to sweeten coffee, spread on toast,as a dip for fried dough,or grilled fruit.It would be great on top of goat cheese on some grilled flatbead. It takes about 3 hours but is so worth it.
          I do not know what SNAP is but I am on a tight budget and this is how I have to eat and feed my family all the time. I make everything from scratch and work full time.

          1. re: BarbaraC28

            It's the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (food stamps). We typically cook from scratch most nights, but we go to Costco and buy chicken breasts and seafood. We both work full-time too.

            There have been a lot of congress people and political figures doing it recently. Look up SNAP challenge. My boyfriend and I decided to do it because there have been so many people doing it and doing really stupid things - like buying canned beans instead of dry or buying freaking bottled water or buying a single hard boiled egg at a deli for $1.

            We want to demonstrate the challenge is possible and you can eat really well too.

            1. re: mujeresliebres

              am surprised the snap benefit is that high. i cook from scratch and don't usually spend as much as this per week on food.

              1. re: hotoynoodle

                Well, the maximum SNAP benefit is designed to cover a complete, varied, healthy diet of home cooked food at typical supermarket prices. If you accept less variety than they estimate, or you go to cheaper supermarkets, or buy more things on sale, or just enjoy cheaper food, then it's definitely possible to get by on less.

                Also that was for two people and the challenge doesn't involve economies of scale. The challenge is to buy oil, greens, flour, milk etc for the week not for the month. Since we can't use existing we have to buy new which is expensive.

                Additionally we are both giving up free food we get at work including coffee, lunch, and snacks. Also having been super poor in the past sometimes it is hard to come up with the money (or transportation) all at once to get the best deal on flour or olive oil etc. We don't even have olive oil in the budget for our plan. But again this is a 1 week challenge not a year long slog.

      3. Another thought is to go a different route. Take some of that milk, put it in a jar, put the lid back on the jar VERY securely, and keep shaking the dickens out of it. Just keep shaking and shaking. Take turns if need be. You'll end up with a small amount of butter from the milkfat solids (you don't need a LOT for caramel, do you?) and the liquid will be uncultured buttermilk and can be used as well I suspect. Once the butter forms you'll want to rinse it well to get all the milk solids out (they'll help it burn if there's too much). You might want to google it and see if you can use it for baking recipes.

        And if you need help stretching your limited dollars for the challenge, my sister says the best sites for that are the Mormon / LDS homesteading sites. She always says those ladies are the most frugal folks, they really know how to get maximum bang out of everything, and they're used to making do with very little.

        5 Replies
        1. re: ePressureCooker

          While it is whole milk, I would hate to give up milk for the rest of the week to get any sort of yield of butter from it.

          Additionally, while I have been trying to demonstrate that we can have really amazing food that takes a little more work, the challenge is supposed to reflect the fact that many SNAP recipients simply have less time to prepare food. I'm not sure its cost effective in labor or materials for anyone to take supermarket whole milk and attempt to make butter :).

          What kills me is I have freaking butter sitting in my fridge, and I'm not allowed to use it. I would love to find a way to make caramel sauce without expensive cream and butter though.

          1. re: mujeresliebres

            Why can't you use butter?

            In Los Angeles, I'm pretty sure the 99 cent store chain takes SNAP and they sell butter. So it's not like a snap person couldn't have butter if they were a careful shopper...

            1. re: happybaker

              Well, again we were limited in our options. We opted for a quart of canola oil for $2.50 and make it our primary oil for the week. So we've already done our shopping, and we have $2 left for I don't know an emergency for the rest of the week.

              The oil was a contentious issue. Do we buy a tiny bottle of blended canola / olive oil? An extra tiny bottle of canola and get butter? Or something else? This isn't that butter cannot be bought on the challenge just that we didn't buy any; so I'm trying to work around it.

              Additionally there isn't a dollar store around us that sells food that I'm aware of - well maybe Big Lots! but I've never seen butter there. And the idea is that you shouldn't be going to half a dozen stores to get the best deal on everything. We went to two, armed with sales circulars, that are both on a bus line and 1/2 a mile away from each other.

            2. re: mujeresliebres

              Ah gotcha, I hadn't anticipated the time limitation. I assumed only a small amount of butter was needed for the caramel. ;D

              Have you considered using a little bit of fresh fruit instead? You could use whatever's in season right now to keep the cost down, and obviously butter is out, but maybe you could cut it into small cubes, poach it in a little water, and top the pancakes that way? Just a thought.

              It would be interesting to know if there is a "vegan" way of preparing caramel, given the price constraints.

              1. re: ePressureCooker

                We actually did buy a ton of fresh fruit :). Hence the no butter. We got bananas, nectarines, and apples. It's enough that we can both have two pieces of fruit a day if we want. I know I'm complaining about the caramel, but we were trying to get fresh veg and fruit too ;).

          2. For the future, you could do a thick simple syrup (just sugar and water) and add a flavoring for pancake syrup.

            Here's a recipe for cinnamon simple syrup, you can use the sticks or ground.


            Or here's this -


            Good luck on your quest!

            2 Replies
              1. re: happybaker

                And if you're allowed to use spices (I think I saw something above that said it was allowed) I would think maple extract or imitation maple extract would be allowed as well, if you happen to have any and really miss that pancake syrup.

              2. If you carmelize the sugar then add the milk, you can continue to cook it over low heat until the graininess smooths out. Butter adds a mouth and flavor component you won't get from oil. I would just leave additional fat out if you can't use butter.

                2 Replies
                1. re: maxie

                  So it would just go away? I've always made caramel by adding the butter then whisking in the milk and pulling it off the heat.