Tuesday, December 09, 2008
honey vanilla fleur de sel caramels
the same holiday scene, with caramels, wrapped and unwrapped
This weekend, when I wasn't tidying up my home or grading papers or setting up my holiday decorations, I watched cooking shows on television, including one on PBS that showcased holiday treats, including handmade sea salt caramels. I've always wanted to try making caramels and other candies, and emboldened by the new baking frontiers I've encountered in TWD, I decided to find a candy thermometer and transform sugar into chewy caramel.
Living in a land distant from any *good* cooking shops, whether local or national chains, I hoped that TJ Maxx or Target in the next town would have a thermometer, and thankfully Target had one model for candy, though many models of meat thermometer, not particularly helpful for a baking and vegetarian!
I needed a block of time to devote to the candy making, and the weather gods, together with my University administration, provided me just what I needed today, in the form of 10 inches of snow and a snow day! Furthering my good luck was the fact that I'm in between essay assignments, so my only work related task was to read Jhumpa Lahiri's charming and devastating story "Sexy" for my American Lit class tomorrow.
And so it was that I gathered together my supplies and began the simple but time consuming process of caramel making. I used a recipe from Epicurious, and made a few small changes: half and half instead of heavy cream, honey instead of corn syrup, and a splash of vanilla for good measure. I also splurged for some really good butter--because the recipe is simple and the ingredients few, using the purest products you can find will greatly increase the final taste of the product. I've included my altered recipe below.
Caramels are simple to make, if you can resist the temptation to stir when the sugars are first beginning to caramelize, if you can judge a "light golden caramel" color accurately, and if you can patiently stir occasionally and watch the candy thermometer for however long it takes to creep up to 248 degrees, the firm ball stage. The recipe claims this last step should take 10-15 minutes, but it took a good 30-45 minutes for me. I had the heat on medium low to keep the mixture at a very gentle boil. I also think my stove--glass top electrical--might be slower that a more direct, controllable source of heat like gas.
No matter--I multi tasked, executing lunges and squats and calf raises in my small kitchen as I intermittently watched the thermometer and stirred the bubbling sugar. I needed to pre-emptively work off the extra calories I was bound to consume once the candies were finished.
Finally, the mixture reached the magical point of 248 degrees, and I poured them out into an 8 inch square pan lined with quick release foil (per Dorie's suggestion). After cooling for two hours, the caramels were ready for a final sprinkle of Fleur de sel. I ran my rolling pin over the top to press the salt crystals into the candy, cut them into small squares, and painstakingly wrapped them individually in squares of parchment paper. Voila!
After sampling one...or two...or three, I declare them delicious. These are the caramels for which master candy makers and gourmet food shops charge $15-20 per pound, and with a little effort and a bit of time, you can make 40+ candies for a fraction of the price.
Honey Vanilla Fleur de Sel Caramels
*adapted from Epicurious.com*
1 cup half and half, Organic Valley
5 TBS unsalted butter, Organic Valley unsalted European cultured
1 tsp. Fleur de sel, trader joe's
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup honey, Wisconsin Clover
1/4 cup water, filtered
1 tsp. vanilla
extra Fleur de sel for sprinkling
Line an 8 inch square pan with buttered parchment or quick release foil.
Boil cream, butter, and salt, then remove from the heat. This stabilizes the cream, and, I believe makes the caramels keep longer.
Boil sugar, honey, and water, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Keep boiling, but do not stir, until the mixture reaches a "light golden caramel" color.
Stir in cream mixture--be careful, because the entire mixture will bubble up Continue stirring occasionally until the temperature reaches 248 degrees. I added the vanilla somewhere in the middle of this process.
Pour the mixture into the pan, cool two hours, sprinkle with Fleur de sel, cut into squares, and wrap. Enjoy making people smile with pleasure and deliciousness:)
a poor quality photo from inside my house, looking out at my deck, covered with snow!