Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Caramels are a particular weakness of mine. I would try to make them as an adolescent when my mother wasn't around because it seemed like a relatively simple mixture of cream, sugar, butter and vanilla. Now that I am a parent the idea of any tween of mine playing around with molten sugar is truly frightening...
Anyway. I was awful at it. I never made a decent caramel as a kid. I tried taffy too, but I always got the same result; something hard and scary that tasted like butterscotch. At that age I really didn't understand how important controlling the temperature or preventing crystallization was for candy making.
Since then, I've gotten slightly better and have purchased the prerequisite candy thermometer. I suggest that anyone attempting these caramels own one too, as it takes a lot of the guess work out of making them.
These are my favorite caramels, mostly because they are deliciously soft and chewy, yet firm enough to cut into clean, uniform pieces that wrap easily. Best of all, they are nothing like the 'caramels' I made when I was a kid.
Not So Humble's Fleur de Sel Caramels:
Makes 60-70 large caramels*
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups heavy cream (I use 40% minimum milk fat)
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoons salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon fleur de sel (Or gray/smoked sea salt if that is your preference)
Line a 9 x 9 cake pan with lightly buttered parchment and set aside.
In a heavy sauce pan (I use nonstick for this) over medium heat combine sugar, corn syrup, salt and one cup of the heavy cream. Stirring constantly with a silicon spatula or wooden spoon, bring the mixture to a boil. This will take some time. Don't be tempted to turn up the heat, this recipe requires patience.
Once the mixture boils add the remaining cup of cream in a slow trickle so that you do not cool your caramel mixture and it continues to boil uninterrupted.
Reduce heat to medium-low and allow to boil for 5-6 minutes without stirring.
Add butter one tablespoon at a time, stirring after each melts. Clip on your candy thermometer and allow to boil over medium-low heat until the mixture just hits 250°F (Firm Ball stage) stirring occasionally. This should take about 30-40 minutes, if your temperature is climbing too quickly you might need to reduce heat all the way to low. By the same token, if you're not hitting 250°F by 40 minutes you might want to increase the heat a bit.
Once you've hit the right temperature, quickly remove from heat. Stir in the teaspoon of vanilla and pour into your prepared pan. To prevent any crystallization, don't scrape the pan as you pour, just allow what clings to the pan to remain in it. Set your dish of molten caramel carefully on a wire rack and allow to cool to room temperature.
Using the parchment, remove the cool caramel sheet from the pan and cut into pieces using a sharp buttered knife. Lightly press each piece onto a plate sprinkled with fleur de sel and wrap in cellophane, parchment or waxed paper.
These should keep for roughly a week or two, if wrapped and in an air tight container.
* Note: While one can double this recipe (I have done so several times myself) it requires small adjustments in heat and cooking times, so I don't recommend doubling until one has a comfortable feel for making single batches of this caramel.
(Also, there are additional tips for these caramels in the comments for this post, so check them out)