Caramel – trials and tribulations….

I obviously haven’t posted much lately.  I was on a roll posting everything that I did, but then my camera flash bit the dust and the really pretty photos that I intended to share didn’t end up being so pretty… you know… because my house is a fucking cave and we get no natural light between the hours of 9am & 6pm, and 8pm & 6am.  So I have a solid 5 hours a day to photograph things, but those hours I get direct sunlight and it makes ugly shadows, even with curtains pulled.  Anyway, I took forever to research what to replace my flash with, then got a new one, but it was defective, so I had to return it and order a new one. Then I was cooking, but my stove was a mess, and I couldn’t be bothered to clean it off when I knew I was going to be splashing more sugar syrup on it, so I left it dirty and decided not to photograph the caramel-making… but then I wanted to send a picture to my coworker, so I took one with my cell phone, and it was ugly.  I’m basically just making up a huge pile of excuses.  I prefer excuses to action… in case you were still wondering.

Anyway, as things are generally crazy in summer, I have been busy.  I’m not really sure what I’ve been doing, except minimal yard work and trying to put dinner on the table a few nights a week.  Discussions with my coworker about candymaking has prompted me to finally get down to having a really good go-to caramel recipe.  So this week I have made three attempts at the “perfect” caramel.  So far, I have had two flops, and one close miss. I intend to take one more shot tonight before taking a small break with this whole caramel thing.  It’s not good for my gut.

The first recipe that I tried was my Great (great?) Grandmother’s recipe…  “Grandma Pugmire’s Caramels,”  written in the 1930s.  This recipe is different from most caramel recipes that I’ve made in that it calls for evaporated milk instead of cream.  You combine your sugars, and cook until boiling, then add evaporated milk and butter and cook to 243*.  They turned out hard, and almost a dead ringer for Sugar Daddies.  Good, but not a creamy caramel by any means, and hard.  They stuck like crazy to your teeth.

Grandma Pugmire's Caramels
Pretend you don’t see burned on sugar and grease splatters

The second recipe that I tried I got from The Kitchn.  Following it exactly but with an extra 1/4 cup of cream (which the author claimed would result in softer, more taffylike caramels), I got creamy caramels, but by the time they cooled to 75* they were brittle enough to crack when subjected to a shock… kind of like pitch. They were a few degrees harder than batch #1.  Great to suck on, bad to try to chew.

creamy caramels

The third try was the exact same recipe (the flavor was good, but the texture was off), but I pulled the caramel off the stove 10* sooner.  That was the trick.  It didn’t harden the way that the other 2 batches had.  I let it set up overnight and this morning, I cut it up.  The flavor was phenomenal, the texture was magical, however they have a tendency to flow.. just a little, but enough to stick together if you try to leave them after being cut.  I think an additional 3* will result in a perfectly robust and chewy texture.

super soft chewy caramels

As it is, I am pretty certain that my coworkers are done eating huge piles of sugar and fat that have been neatly sliced into cute little rectangles and squares.  My pants and my coworkers will hopefully be relieved for the break.  Lol, as I was typing that sentence, someone walked by and said “Laurel, did you make the caramels?  They’re so good.  I’m gonna go get a few more.”  Maybe not.

hard and soft caramels

In the photo above, you can see the super soft gooey melty ones on top, and the harder ones below.  There’s a notable color difference between them, but they taste pretty similar.  As it is now, at 10am, I am sitting at my desk feeling just a little ill after sampling so many piles of sugar this morning.  You know…. for research.

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