Adventures in Candy Making, Part One
February 5, 2010
I’ve got a few savory recipes up my sleeve, and now and then I like to share them. However, one thing I have never done (until this week) is made candy. I’ve made brownies and fudge. I’ve even made a ganash. But never ever in my life had I ever dipped my toe into the pool that is candy making, whether it be truffles or caramels.
Several months ago, I stumbled across this recipe for salted caramels at Smitten Kitchen, and ever since I’ve had caramels with sea salt on the brain. Some of you may be thinking, how do sweet caramel and salt even go together ? But I assure you, there’s something about the competing flavors of sweetness and saltiness, and when blended together, it forms the perfect medley.
Making caramels requires a tool that I previously did not possess: a candy thermometer. Since Valentine’s Day is approaching, I thought I’d try my hand at actually making some caramels and chocolate candies for friends. So I bought a candy thermometer for $15 dollars at Michaels and thus began this little adventure into making caramels and other chocolate candies.
Oh yes, I know what you’re thinking. What a darling little carton of candy ! Do not be fooled. Yes, it’s true, all’s well that ends well, but I must confess it was a somewhat rough journey to get to this blissful box.
Originally, when I glanced at the simple ingredients for caramel candy, I was emboldened. Butter, sugar, cream and corn syrup. What could go wrong ?
Little did I know that complexities and complications lurked around the bend.
All caramel recipes include sugar and water. Many liquid caramel recipes also include butter, heavy cream and/or light corn syrup. The addition of sprinkled sea salt kicks your caramels up an entire foodie notch.
And as I write I’m just now realizing that the sugar in the bowl has a rather, shall we say, feminine shape to it. Note to self: double check staging when photographing ingredients.
I printed out the Smitten Kitchen recipe, yet decided to skip the chocolate on the inside since I planned on coating my morsels in dark chocolate instead. Then I decided to get really clever by doubling the recipe so I could make that much more gooey goodness. I measured out my cream and sugar, and carefully sliced by butter into perfect tablespoon size pats. Then I added it all to my very tall pot.
Oh I thought I was so cool. How hard can this really be?
Then a strange thing happened. Unbeknownst to me, there is this intense bubbling up that occurs when the cream mixes with the dissolved sugar. Just after I inserted my new candy thermometer, the mixture started to rise . . .
. . . and rise . . .
. . . till it boiled up to the top. PANIC!
I started blowing on the bubbles hoping it would help, then frantically turned the heat off. Breaking out in a sweat, I was convinced I was doing something drastically wrong. I started pacing back and forth, what to do? What to do ? Nowhere in these caramel recipes that I read do they ever explain that this chemical reaction would occur.
Like Charlie Brown, I convinced myself that I was a total failure.
This looks more like the surface of Mars than candy.
But then something magical happened. On medium heat, the mixture started to get kind of, sort of, well, like caramel. As the caramel bubbled, the temperature on the thermometer began to rise.
There is no truth to the idiom that a watched pot never boils. Oh yes it does. Especially when it’s becoming the wonder that is caramel candy. As the caramel boils, you must sit and wait. And you wait and watch and wait and watch. Until it hits that magical temperature of 246°.
This is so much like high school chemistry class, only without the pimple faced chem partner. And tastier in the end.
Did you know there’s a huge controversy over the exact temperature to cook caramel? Oh yes, it’s true. I did not know this until I dangerously dipped my toe into this candy makers world. I found it quite amusing to sit back and read the arguments about why 252° is far superior to 242°. But I was convinced somewhere in some commentary that 246° is the perfect temperature, and I remain convinced.
246° is perfect because your caramel will be not so hard that you chip a tooth and not so soft that it’s a gooey mess. It will be just the perfect amount of chewiness to stick to the back molars while you continue to salivate, and then have to excuse yourself to go find a toothpick.
So then my mixture arrived at the perfect temperature: 246 degrees !
I was so excited about this chemical accomplishment that I quickly moved to the next step: pouring the caramel into the parchment lined pan.
I was so proud of its color. Its shine. Its caramely goodness.
As I admired myself in the reflection I realized I’d made a critical mistake.
I forgot the butter.
I FORGOT TO ADD THE BUTTER !!!
What is caramel without butter ? What is life without butter ? There is no life if there is no butter. It’s a universal truth.
Then I took a deep breath and calmed down. I tasted the remnants in the pot and came to this conclusion. No one will even guess with all that cream that you forgot the butter. Especially when you add the salt and coat with dark chocolate. So let’s just keep that little ‘forgot the butter’ tidbit to ourselves, shall we ?
After about ten minutes, when your caramel starts to harden, sprinkle your caramel with sea salt.
Consider doing this right away.
Allow your caramels to cool about two hours, then cut them into bite size pieces.
In good company these are ‘two to three nibble’ pieces, but at home in your pajamas, these are ‘one big bite’ pieces. About an inch or so works pretty well.
Then you melt your chocolate. I chose to go with a mixture of unsweetened Baker’s chocolate and semi sweet chips.
Combine in a microwave safe bowl.
Build strange little robot like buildings.
Then melt in the microwave. On high for the first minute, then stir every 30 seconds for a total of 2 to 3 minutes. Remove when almost melted and stir baby stir. Do not overcook.
Does anyone else feel like Augustus Gloop right now, or is it just me ?
Then you dip your sea salt caramels into the melted chocolaty goodness.
And align on parchment paper to cool.
Keep pesky but cute critters away from your little masterpieces.
Allow to cool for an hour.
Then take a big bite.
And forget all the troubles in the world.
Sea Salt Caramels dipped in Dark Chocolate
(modified recipe from Smitten Kitchen) Makes 40-50 caramels (depending on size cut)
4 cups heavy cream
3 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 tbsp sea salt
1 bag semi sweet chocolate chips (12 oz)
6 squares Baker’s unsweetened chocolate (6 oz)
Line cookie sheet or lasagna pan with parchment paper, spray with cooking spray.
Add cream to a tall pot and bring to just a boil, reduce heat to medium low then add sugar and corn syrup. Watch for the bubbling up, it will happen. Reduce temperature, then add candy thermometer to pot, and boil on medium low approximately 20 minutes (or maybe more) stirring gently and occasionally. At around 240 degrees add butter and gently stir to blend into caramel. When candy reaches 246 degrees, pour into parchment lined pan. Do not scrape sides or bottom of pot after you pour as it will result in some browned or burned bits in your caramel. Let stand 10 minutes, then lightly sprinkle with sea salt. Cool completely, about two hours.
Melt chocolate in microwave safe bowl on high in microwave for 1 minute. Continue melting every 30 seconds until most of chocolate is melted about 2 to 3 minutes, then remove from microwave and stir until all chocolate is melted. Do not overcook.
Cut caramels into 1 or 1.5 inch squares, then dip into melted chocolate, and allow to cool on parchment paper. Caramels keep up to two weeks in airtight container at room temperature.