05/26/2015 11:44 am ET | Updated May 26, 2015

This Sweet Treat Is Even Tastier When You Burn It

burnt caramel

Now that salted caramel has gone from high-end to mainstream, chefs are playing with a new variation on the theme: (barely) burnt caramel. It's actually much tastier than you might think.

By Lynn Andriani

If you're the person who leaves marshmallows on the fire longer than everyone else to get a nice char, or the one who orders her bacon extra-crispy, we've got two words for you: burnt caramel. We're seeing it in candies and on menus lately, and loving how it adds an edge to sweets, bringing a touch of bitterness that's an offbeat yet fantastic complement to sugary flavors.

When cane sugar, cream and butter simmer just a touch past the usual state, the mixture becomes a deep golden color and turns into a caramel crunch. This would be just fine on its own, but the addition of just-sweet-enough chocolate makes it taste out of this world. Alter Eco's new Dark Salted Burnt Caramel Organic Chocolate bar drenches the caramel in dark cacao and finishes it with sea salt; while Poco Dolce's Burnt Caramel Bittersweet Tiles also go the bittersweet dark chocolate-sea salt route, but are formed into 2-inch-square "tiles" instead of a long bar. And then there are the Burnt Toast Caramels from Chocolate Twist. This eyebrow-raising combo totally works, delivering a rich, salty-sweet treat made with actual burnt whole grain toast that imparts a smoky, smoldering flavor.

Chefs are applying the overdo-it formula to caramel sauce, too. At The Oval Room in Washington, D.C., executive chef John Melfi serves lemon ricotta bombolini (think Italian beignets) with burnt caramel sauce; the light and citrusy fried dough is a perfect counterpoint to the rich caramel. He says that while there are many levels of burnt, from "lightly caramelized" to "totally blasted," he aims for moderately burnt, so it's a deep, dark brown color. The result is a nutty-tasting sauce that's great on anything from ice cream to rice pudding to custard and pound cake.

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    Guerilla Culinary Brigade
    You could spend an hour making classic American strawberry shortcake, but John Keller, chef at Co-Op Food & Drink in New York, has figured out a way to cut the process down to 10 minutes. His secret ingredient: store-bought biscuit dough that comes in a tube. Strawberries, sugar, heavy cream and vanilla help transform any brand of the humble supermarket product into a guest-worthy treat. Get the recipe: Quick Biscuit Strawberry Shortcake
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    At La Silhouette restaurant in New York, pastry chef Jeff Sytsma serves a peanut butter sabayon (a light, foamy Italian mousse) with warm chocolate cake. This more traditional version -- made with just brandy, water, egg yolks and sugar -- is a lovely complement to bright pink and orange winter fruits such as blood oranges, Cara Cara navels and grapefruit. Get the recipe: Citrus Salad with Brandy Sabayon
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    Chef Anthony Stewart of the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa in Miami transforms one of our go-to quick desserts -- a parfait -- by using unconventional ingredients, like apple juice concentrate and ginger root. Follow Stewart's recipe to keep it healthy or make it with vanilla bean ice cream instead of Greek-style nonfat plain yogurt for a richer dessert. Get the recipe: Banana Ginger Parfait
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    This dish may sound complicated, but Sabina and Lorraine Belkin, sisters and chefs/owners of Duo Restaurant & Lounge in New York, promise it comes together quickly: You can brown the bananas in just two minutes and cook the crepes in two more. In less than 10 minutes, you'll have the classic late-night Parisian street food right in your own kitchen. Get the recipe: Nutella and Caramelized Banana Crepes
  • Sparkling Lemon-Strawberry Floats
    Puckery lemon sherbet, crushed frozen strawberries and sparkling wine all poured into a single glass make for a gorgeous palate cleanser that falls somewhere between a slushy and a smoothie. A champagne flute or coupe is perfect for this dessert; top it with a sprig of mint.
  • Lemon Ricotta Bowls
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  • Warm Chocolate Pudding
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