Thursday, October 31, 2013

Salted Caramels

I've been making these salted caramels for a number of years. There's nothing quite like homemade rich and creamy caramel. I've made them for practically every occasion under the sun, and still never get sick of them. I love this recipe because it's consistently reliable and always turns out perfectly soft, chewy caramel. 

The sea salt adds another depth of flavor to the candy, making it a bit more sophisticated than just pieces of cut caramel. If you're new to making caramel, the most difficult part is knowing when the sugar mixture is the right color before adding the cream. The best way to learn is by trial and error. If you add the cream too soon, you'll end up with a light taffy-like candy. If the sugar darkens too much, it will begin to smoke and burn. The only thing to do is let it cool and toss it; clean the pan and start again. You only need to burn caramel once to know your boundaries, and it's a good learning experience. You can use a candy thermometer as a guide while cooking the sugar syrup, but I prefer to eyeball it; the color is what's most important. If you decide to use a thermometer, the closer the sugar gets to 325 degrees F, the darker and richer the caramel will be, but do not exceed 325 degrees F, or it will burn.

Homemade candies are such a special treat, and perfect for a grown up Halloween party. Aaron and I are having a few folks over Halloween night to get into costume before we hit the town. I thought it would be fun to provide some homemade sweets to get us in the spirit. For more Halloween treat ideas check out my recipes for: homemade candy corncracker jackscaramel applespumpkin ice creamcinnamon red hots, creepy witch's fingersganache covered brownies, and s'mores. Trick or treat!

Slightly adapted from Ina Garten, Food Network Magazine 

Butter, for greasing
Vegetable oil, for brushing
1½ cups sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sea salt (preferably fleur de sel), plus more as needed 
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Grease an 8 x 8-inch or 7 x 11-inch baking pan with butter and line with parchment paper, allowing it to drape over two sides (the butter will hold the parchment in place and keep it from curling in the pan). Very lightly brush with oil and set aside.

In a 4-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine ¼ cup water, the sugar, and corn syrup and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil until the mixture until it is a warm golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Do not stir the sugar mixture, just carefully swirl the pan, if need be. Pay close attention to the sugar as it begins to color, as it can burn quickly. (If it begins to smoke and burn, set it aside to cool slightly and discard. Clean the saucepan and start again).

Meanwhile, combine the cream, 5 tablespoons butter, and 1 teaspoon salt in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and set aside.

When the sugar mixture has reached the desired color, turn off the heat and slowly add the cream and butter mixture to the sugar mixture. Be careful, as it will bubble up violently. Stir in the vanilla using a wooden spoon and place a candy thermometer in the caramel. Cook over medium-low heat for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the mixture reaches 248 degrees F (firm ball) then immediately remove it from the heat. 

Carefully pour the hot caramel into the prepared pan. Place the caramel in the refrigerator 
and let cool until firm, but still pliable, 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove the caramel from the refrigerator and lift it out of the pan using the parchment paper and transfer to a cutting board. Roll one side (or the long side if you used a 7 x 11-inch pan) into a log, stopping at the center of the square. Roll the other side of the caramel into a log to meet the other log. Cut the caramel in half where the two logs meet. You should have two logs measuring 8 or 11-inches long, depending on the size of your pan. Cut each log into 3/4-inch pieces. 

Pour some sea salt on a small plate and lightly dip each of the caramels in the salt. Wrap the caramels in 4 x 5-inch parchment pieces and twist the ends to seal. Store the caramels in a zip-top bag at room temperature. Use within 1 to 2 weeks. 

  • Do not substitute waxed paper for parchment, or the caramel will melt the wax and stick to the paper.
  • It is very important to use a 4-quart saucepan to make the caramels to ensure that the hot sugar mixture won't overflow when adding the cream and butter mixture. 

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