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It all started at an Izakaya restaurant in D.C. I ate there in 2015 and if I could remember the name of the place, I’d tell you. But honestly, I can’t even remember what all I ate there—except dessert. Because dessert was an ice cream sundae with miso caramel sauce. It was an unforgettable experience in my food memory. 

If you’ve ever had salted caramel, you already know—that stuff is the jam. OK, so take what all makes salted caramel amazing and magnify it by (at least) ten. Now we’re talking miso caramel. As counterintuitive as it may seem, sweet without salty just isn’t as powerful. But miso delivers so much more than mere saltiness. In a dessert context, it delivers something transcendent (in my opinion). 

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But wait, what is miso? 

Miso Caramel-Apple Pie

Good question. Miso is fermented soybean paste. It’s a key ingredient in various East Asian cuisines, particularly in China and Japan. The umami-rich paste comes in a variety of flavor intensities, generally distinguished by its color. 

  • White: This is the most commonly called for, and the most approachable for first-time users. White miso undergoes a relatively short duration of fermentation, so it is the mildest in flavor. White miso has a delicate flavor with a light sweetness that makes it incredibly versatile. This is typically what you want to use in desserts. 
  • Yellow: Yellow miso has been fermented a bit longer; thus, has a slightly stronger flavor. This is your middle-of-the-road miso, still well suited for all sorts of recipes—its flavor presence is easily identifiable but not overwhelming.
  • Red: Red miso has the longest fermentation time and yep, you guessed it—the strongest flavor. This is the miso you'll want to work your way up to using for heartier dishes with bolder flavors.

As noted above, white miso is the variety I reach for in dessert applications. Its mild sweetness makes it a natural match. You can find miso paste shelved near the tofu in the refrigerated section of many grocery stores, or online.

How do I use miso to amplify my desserts?

mr-Miso-Glazed Pineapple Upside-Down Cake image

Miso lends an unparalleled salty-laced richness, along with the most gentle and intriguing twang, to sugary creations. Shortly after my instant infatuation with that first miso caramel sundae, I began work developing a miso caramel sauce of my own and I’ve never looked back. I’ve since discovered there aren’t many desserts that aren’t improved by miso’s “something special” factor. Some of my favorites include: Miso-Glazed Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, Miso-Walnut Sticky Buns, Miso Caramel-Apple Pie, and Miso-Sesame Skillet Blondies. Of course, you can do as I did and start by whisking a couple of tablespoons into your favorite caramel sauce recipe and go from there. Pour it over brownies with ice cream, drizzle it over a pound cake or a cheesecake, no one would be mad if you poured it on over some bread pudding—your caramel, your call.  

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