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Sea Salt Adds Trendy Touch to Tradition

Sea Salt Adds Trendy Touch to Tradition

Karen Herzog | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Lorena Urena cuts a shiny slab of caramel into squares with a rolling pin of knives at Burke Candy in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood.

The sheen is a testament to the high milk-solid content of the mouthwatering, soft caramel that, minutes before, resembled molten lava bubbling in a kettle. Urena will dip each cooled caramel into tempered dark chocolate, then sprinkle it with sea salt to make Grandmother Reilly’s Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels, which sell for $18 per pound.

“The caramel recipe is a mix of my grandmother’s and Tim’s grandfather’s recipes,” said Julia Burke, who owns the family candy business with her husband, Tim. “The salt brings out the cream in the caramel. It enhances it.”

Though it’s a year-round flavor, caramel’s buttery rich texture and warm, golden glow are especially suited to fall. Think salty-sweet, and you’ve got the trendiest caramel pairing since the apple: sea salt. The appeal of sea salt caramels goes straight to the top – President Barack Obama developed a taste for them during a campaign stop in Seattle last year, when a supporter gave him a box of Gray and Smoked Salt Caramels from Fran’s Chocolates.

“Sea salt caramel is to die for,” said John Wise, director of operations for the Bartolotta Restaurant Group in Milwaukee. “When you go to France and Europe, you see it in ice cream and macaroons. That sweet-salty thing is unbelievable.”

The 160 guests who paid $150 apiece for a six-course Friends of James Beard Benefit Dinner last week can attest to the depth that sea salt caramel adds to ice cream.

A Caramel-Fleur de Sel Crème Glacée by master pastry chef Sebastien Canonne, co-owner of the French Pastry School of Chicago, was among a trio of decadent desserts showcased at the dinner, held at Bacchus restaurant, 925 E. Wells St.

Wise has a favorite sea salt caramel memory from a gala he attended in New York in 2008 after Adam Siegel, executive chef at Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro and Bacchus, won the James Beard Foundation’s award for best chef in the Midwest.