I first tried making caramels last year around this time. They were chocolate salted caramels from Smitten Kitchen and my first attempt at candy making; I even bought a candy thermometer for the occasion. They were absolutely , astoundingly delicious; deeply chocolaty with a perfect offset crunch from the salt. But they were hard as rocks. It wasn’t anything that a little nuke in the microwave couldn’t fix, but still not my finest hour. (I also learned during this process that parchment paper and wax paper are not the same; wax paper, you see, melts- particularly when accosted with scalding-hot sugar. Oye) I still haven’t figured out if the problem was thermometer misuse or the recipe itself (I’m guessing the former; I’ll shoulder the blame), but regardless, I was determined to try again.
I get a good number of food magazines each month. Bon Appetit is debatebly my favorite, followed closely by Food and Wine and Saveur. Gourmet was my favorite, but it makes me sad to talk about its demise, so let us not. I also get the Food Network magazine, which is not at the top of my list. However, I do think that it regularly has some good creative ideas that I do appreciate; kind of like Every Day with Rachel Ray does. This month, along with a surprisingly awesome gift guide, it had a step-by-step photo recipe for salted caramels by Ina Garten. Oops, was the last recipe I posted also Ina’s? My bad and…oh well. As I had several Christmas parties to attend this weekend, and needed some hostess gifts, I decided to give them another go. I mean, each step was illustrated-how could it possible go wrong?
This time, I watched the temperature of the caramel like a hawk, since I suspected that was where I went wrong last time. I’m a little nervous around thermometers, particularly when they don’t penetrate too far into the liquid in question, and consequently stood tilting the pan and checking that the thermometer wasn’t touching the bottom, every 30 seconds or so for about 10 minutes. It was incredibly obsessive behavior. But it totally worked.
After setting the caramel in a parchment-lined 8×8″ pan in the fridge, Ina has you cut the resulting sheet in half and tighly roll them before cutting into 8 pieces each. Let me tell you, this method would result in the BIGGEST CARAMELS EVER. Honestly, although I could probably get one of these babies into my mouth, I very much doubt that I would be able to successfully chew it. Cali, you say as the voice of reason, perhaps you could bite it in half? Ok, sure, that’s an option, but since caramels are sticky I’d much rather start with bite-sized ones. I, therefore, ended up cutting each roll into 16 slices and, in some cases, cutting these in half. Instead of the allotted 16 caramels, I ended up with somewhere between 32 and 64.
So how were they already? AMAZING. So, so good. At room temperature, they’re soft and melty, but still a bit chewy. If you like them chewier than soft, then pop them in the fridge for a while (too long and they get pretty hard, but hey, they thaw quickly). I was unable to find fleur de sel in my hood, so I opted for some course sea salt and am fairly sure that was the right decision. The big, crunchy, salty crystals were the PERFECT juxtaposition to the soft , sweet, creamy caramels. If you were to wrap them in something prettier than the basic parchment I used, I promise they would be a delicious, elegant, holiday gift. But if you just have parchment, pop them in a pretty bag and go. I mean, no one I served them to this weekend complained.
Adapted from Ina Garten, Food Network Magazine. Makes 32-64 caramels, depending on size.
Next time, instead of rolling and slicing these, I think I’ll just fold the halved sheet in half and cut them into squares. These would probably be amazing covered in really dark chocolate. I guess I’ll be making these again.
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. light corn syrup
1 c. heavy cream
5 T unsalted butter
1 t. fine sea salt
Course sea salt for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Parchment for lining the pan and for wrapping the candies
- Line an 8×8″ pan with parchment paper, draping it over 2 sides. Brush very lightly with a neutral oil
- Bring the cream, butter and 1 t. salt to a simmer in another small pan. Turn off the heat and reserve
- In a small deep saucepan, combine the water, sugar and corn syrup and boil over medium-high heat. Boil, swirling the pan regularly (don’t stir), until the color is a medium golden brown
- Remove the sugar from the heat and slowly add the cream mixture; it will bubble up disturbingly, but don’t be scared. Also, please don’t burn yourself
- Stir in the vanilla and cook over medium-low heat until the caramel reaches 248°F (firm ball) on a candy thermometer (~10 min)
- Pour the veryveryvery hot caramel into your prepared pan and refrigerate until firm (1-2 hours)
- Use the over-hanging parchment to remove the caramel sheet and cut horizontally into 2 pieces
- Roll the caramel, length-wise, into a tight 8 inch log and sprinkle the log with sea salt
- Cut the log into 16 pieces by cutting the log in half, then cut each half in half etc etc… This is when you get to decide what size you like. If the pieces look too big for you, cut each of them in half. You’re smart and pretty, you can do it 🙂
- Repeat with the remaining half of the caramel
- Wrap the candies in 4×5″ pieces of parchment
- Store in the refrigerator