I wanted to try making (salted) caramel sauce with muscovado sugar, but I couldn’t find any hint if it was even possible; the most I could find was someone supposing that it would be impossible or inedible because the molasses would get burnt, and some recipes that included some part of muscovado sugar into a much bigger quantity of normal caramel.
But I wanted only muscovado sugar!, so I decided to try and document the experience.
Normal caramel gets interesting at about 170 or even 175 degrees Celsius. Well, muscovado got burn as soon as it hit 125 degrees - and the stainless steel saucepan I used was impossible to clean afterwards (protip: I left it with some aggresive pipe-cleaning chemical for the night, and in the morning everything came out very easily!). Curious that, because when I burnt normal caramel it came out quite easily with just water.
Next try I stopped as soon as I saw 117 degrees in the thermometer. Mine takes maybe a couple of seconds to update, and at the moment the temperature was starting to raise quickly, so maybe it was even a bit higher. At that point I dumped the butter in and started stirring. The result had some slightly burnt note, but was pretty good; next time I think I will stop at 115 just in case.
If you don’t have a thermometer… well, I have seen people saying that for normal caramel it’s easier to pay attention than to use the thermometer, and either check the color or better smell the change. I don’t think any of those hints work with muscovado. First, the sugar will RAISE LIKE HELL as soon as you reach 100 degrees. Really, I don’t remember normal sugar raising much, but muscovado got to about 5 times higher than it was a moment before, in a disturbingly bubbly way. Then it stayed like that, making BIG bubbles and a good quantity of steam. The color stays milk-chocolate brown, and the smell pretty rich.
And that is the one hint I can think of if I had to do it without a thermometer: the very moment that you feel any burnt note in the smell, stop. The problem is that you will be wondering for a feels-like-a-very-long time if it is smelling burnt already, because the smell is anything but simple; you know that moment when the normal sugar is getting almost too dark and starts smelling savoury, with notes like toasts or bacon? That’s how this will be smelling all-the-time.
So, another hint to know when to stop: the milk-chocolatey color of the bubbling mass will start to turn darker, and you will notice that the mass shrinks a bit. If you see any streak of something getting decididedly darker and thicker, almost-but-not-quite black, stop it. Probably you are already past the point anyway…
About the taste: it reminds me a lot of some kind of concentrated maple syrup, but with the buttery texture. I tried this caramel sauce with pancakes, and could compare the typical butter+maple syrup with the caramel. The caramel was decidedly better.