Monday, December 20, 2010
I cannot tell you how long I've been meaning to do this. Four, maybe five years? Since I decided to scale back on my baking this year, I finally had time to try homemade caramels again. I attempted these once several years ago - but I overcooked the caramel and ended up with a hardened mass once it had cooled. This time I might have been a little overly cautious - these are an eensy bit soft and could be just a smidge darker, but they are still dangerously delicious. As it turns out - as long as you don't burn the sugar, and don't cook the caramel to the point you can't chew it, there is a pretty good-sized range wherein success can be achieved here. I know this recipe will scare some of you - it scared me for the longest time, but honestly, the hardest part has been keeping my hands off of them long enough to get them to their recipients.
There are a few things you will need before you start. An accurate digital thermometer and cellophane or wax paper caramel wrappers are essential. You also need a large heavy pot and a wooden spoon, and one more thing - patience. The sugar can take a long time to turn the right shade of brown, and if you turn up the heat too high to get it moving, it can burn. If you overcook it, it will turn inedibly bitter - you'll know it's gone too far if it turns the slightest bit reddish. The good news is it's pretty hard to overcook the sugar in this recipe because it's tempered with some water and corn syrup. This helps it cook more evenly, and prevents crystallization. (If you object to corn syrup you can use brown rice syrup or Lyles Golden Syrup - they will serve the same purpose.) When you add the hot cream to the sugar mixture, it will take a few minutes to come to temperature, but when it starts moving, it will move fast - so definitely keep an eye on the thermometer as you stir. This recipe makes a lot, but certainly not a ton. I'm having absolutely no trouble giving them all away - and if I had the time, I'd make another batch!
Vanilla Bean Fleur de Sel Caramels - Edited 12.19.11
adapted from the Barefoot Contessa
3 cups sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup water
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 sticks good quality unsalted butter
1 heaping teaspoon Maldon or other good quality sea salt, plus fine fleur de sel for sprinkling. (I used Fleur de Sel de Guerande)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or half a vanilla bean (note they are added at different stages of the recipe) .
neutral vegetable oil or butter
special materials: candy or caramel wrappers , a probe thermometer, a large, heavy pot, parchment paper.
Line a 9x17 inch baking pan with parchment paper and very lightly coat the paper with vegetable oil or butter.
In a large, heavy pot with high sides (a stock pot is good for this), cook sugar, corn syrup and water over medium/high heat until the mixture turns a deep golden brown. Do not stir, just swirl the pot and tip it to see the color.
In the meantime, melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the cream, the seeds of half a vanilla bean (if using) and 2 tsp. sea salt. Bring just to a simmer.
When the sugar is cooked to the desired degree of doneness (based on the color) pour the cream mixture into the pot. The mixture will bubble up and steam vigorously. Cook, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, until the mixture registers 245 on a candy thermometer. Stir in the vanilla extract (if using) and generous teaspoon of salt.
Immediately pour the hot caramel into your parchment lined pan. Sprinkle evenly with the fine fleur de sel, and allow to cool until set. (It can also be refrigerated - coat it with lightly oiled saran wrap to prevent it from getting sticky.)
When the caramel has set, score and cut it into little pieces just a little bit larger than 1 inch square (don't worry about making them perfect - they'll squish in the wrappers) and wrap them in cellophane or wax paper squares. twisting the ends closed. (If you have a friend or two to help with this, it could be a great little coffee-klatsch activity.)
Store them in the fridge to extend their longevity - then give them as gifts and wow your friends with your homemade candy prowess!
p.s. - I also made Peppermint Bark. This recipe is the best on the planet. The contrast of the harder white chocolate against the slightly soft ganache filling is delightful. I use Peppermint Oil instead of extract (just because that is what I had) one drop in the white chocolate and 2 in the dark (per batch). I always at least double the recipe and recommend you do too - it disappears fast!
*EDIT* I've made these a few times since this post was written, and I have made a few edits to the recipe based on my experience. For one thing, I recommended vanilla paste for an addition - but I think vanilla extract and vanilla bean are more common and easier to use, so I've modified the recipe to use those. I also recommend cooking the sugar to a darker color, and adding a little less salt to the caramel mixture, since they will also be sprinkled with salt.