When I moved to Japan, I triple-checked that I had the following three things in my checked luggage: my favorite book, an internet router and a jar of the Argentinian confection dulce de leche. Though dulce de leche isn’t quite caramel, I knew that I’d have to content myself with finding a good sugary spread to compensate until I go back home.
So you can imagine my excitement when I learned about Caramelife. The latest confection shop in the trendy Jiyugaoka neighborhood had everything to pique the curiosity of those with a sweet tooth. I had the chance to attend the pre-opening reception where I got to try their products. Turns out that caramel is a lot more complex than you might think. Starting from conventional pairings and slowly working our way down to more unconventional ones, I went home that night inspired to recreate them all in the comfort of my kitchen.
Made in Shibuya and sold near Jiyugaoka Station, Caramelife dedicated itself to the sharing of all the pleasures of caramel, but not just any kind. Their specialty is the kind you spread or pour on your favorite dessert. At the small but adorable store, you’ll find four varieties: basic, butter, fruit and spice. Coming in a range from bitter to sweet, and with additional ingredients like honey fig, lemon cream or ginger you might start to see how you can slip a few grams of caramel into, well, almost everything.
It’s quite common to mix plain yogurt with jam to give it a little bit of taste. Caramel, on the other hand, brings a more elevated flavor and texture to the mix. One that caught my eye when I stopped by Caramelife was their apple cinnamon flavor, but their honey fig and mix fruit options would do just as well. They don’t only add flavor to yogurt but also a little bit of a kick, which is appreciated in the morning.
With Ice Cream
Whenever I have some dulce de leche in my possession, I would always take a few scoops of vanilla ice cream and mix a spoon (or two) of the spread to create my own caramel-flavored dessert. You can recreate a similar upgrade with most of the Caramelife lineup, including the fruit and spice varieties. For any kind of dessert, I would stick to the medium or sweet of their basic caramel. If you’re preparing a more complex dish like a flan or a cake, select your preferred bitterness and use as a coulis.
I’m not the biggest tea person out there, and a lot of them taste bitter to me. This doesn’t mean I don’t like the feeling of drinking tea. I like the lightness of it. Caramelife actually recommends some of its varieties as a sweetener, but not in the way you might be thinking of. Instead of mixing in the caramel, Caramelife recommends taking a small spoonful of lemon cream or butter caramel in the medium into your mouth and then a sip of tea. This created a whirl of flavor, pulling the best from the two ingredients.
The same degustation technique can be used with coffee. This is perfect when you want something a little more fun and flavorful than your regular black coffee. For coffee, you definitely don’t want to go overboard so sticking to the basic caramel in medium, mild or sweet. You can also just pour a little bit onto some whipped cream for simple decoration that will make it look just like your local Tully’s.
There are also a few ways to enjoy the varieties of spreads if you want a little snack. Particularly great when sharing amongst a group of friends or family, a platter of fruits is the simplest combination to enjoy their basic caramel. Pick your favorite among the range, from bitter to sweet, and dip bananas, grapes, cantaloupe and even grapefruit. While I didn’t try it on site, I suspect that a drip of Sweet of Butter caramel on a slice of fruit cake could also be a smart way to elevate the dessert if need be.
This is where Caramelife took us through a new world of caramel pairings. So far, everything they had introduced us to was something that seemed like a natural fit. While I was still glossing over the variety of spreads they offered, they brought forth a basket of fresh bread. Guilty of sometimes dipping sliced toast in dulce de leche, I was intrigued to see how their bitter or sweet basic caramel could possibly work with something right out of the bakery.
There are some simple rules to follow to make the most out of this combination. For bread that carries a little more moisture like your standard breakfast slice, go for a sweet butter caramel. If you love a good baguette, try to add some flavor with one of Caramelife’s fruit caramel spreads. Those with a sweet tooth should go ahead and buy a buttery croissant to dip in a dish of basic caramel for a simple treat.
This was the pairing I was most wary about, but I was happily surprised when I dipped a cube of gouda into a drop of bitter caramel from their basic caramel range, took a bite and loved it. It goes without saying that cream cheese especially goes well with sweets, but Caramelife introduced us to another combination that I don’t think I’d had seen before. The secret to a perfect cheese-caramel bite is to look for an equilibrium between the strength and bitterness. The stinkier the cheese, the more bitter the caramel.
Photos courtesy of Caramelife