How to make awesome salted caramels – from the most neurotic cook you’ve ever heard of

I’ve spent some time mulling over in my head whether I was going to share this recipe with you.  I decided that yes, I would.  You see, the internal conflict is that I may try selling these for real at some point.  This came about when part of the batch that you see photographed below ended up in the hands of a pregnant lady with good taste.  She works with my mother in law, and when she tasted some of the leftovers (I decided to give my coworkers a break. 3 batches in 5 days is a little much!), she decided that she would very much like to buy some.  After calculating ingredient cost (less than $5) plus the cost of my time in making, wrapping, and transporting them, they came out to around $25.  Which for 40 decently sized handcrafted caramels isn’t bad, and it’s nice to possibly have that extra bit of income.  So why would I share the recipe that has the potential to make me some money? A) People are terrified of molten sugar.  I don’t blame them.  I have some battle scars. B) People are lazy and won’t go to the effort of actually making caramels. C) I haven’t done anything worth blogging about lately, and I have these photos, so in a moment of weakness, and with A and B referenced, I figured I’d just share my recipe/method with you.

Making Caramels

The basic recipe is taken from The Kitchn and modified in terms of method and measurements to work for me.  The recipe calls for 1/4 cup of corn syrup.  In my (admittedly trivial) experience with caramels, the exact ratio of corn syrup to granulated sugar isn’t terrifically important as long as you’re in the ballpark, and since I pretty much refuse to use measuring cups unless unavoidable, I just eyeball the amount of corn syrup.  If you’re not as stubborn as me, breaking down and getting a measuring cup sticky is probably a better option, but one I refuse.

Simmering Caramel


Ingredients 

1 1/4 cups heavy cream (I like Darigold 40%, available in half gallons for around $6 at restaurant supply places, but whatever is the highest butterfat cream you can easily find and afford)
4 tablespoons (half a stick) unsalted butter
1.5 teaspoons iodized or sea salt (small grain)*

1 1/2 cups white granulated sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup (more or less)
1/4 cup water (doesn’t need to be measured, just enough to start melting the sugar)

*The original recipe calls for 1/4 tsp, so feel free to pull it back down to there if you don’t want salted.  If you want the salt on the outside (I prefer the texture of having it mixed in), cut the salt back to 1/4 tsp, then immediately upon pouring the finished caramel into your vessel to cool, sprinkle 1-2 tsp of fluffy salt like fleur de sel, bali pyramid, or australian pink flake.

Gear
2 qt + saucepan, the taller the better. This one works for me, but I’m thinking of getting something a little larger
Large glass, big enough to stick your whisk into
Whisk.  If you have a pot with corners, use a whisk that can reach the corners
Candy Thermometer
11×6″ silicone loaf pan, or any 8×8 baking dish (you basically want between 60 and 70 sq inches of area)

Soak your tools in water when not in use!

Directions
*Get a glass and fill it with hot tap water.  I use a pint glass because I can pretty effectively jam my small whisk into it.  Grease your pan thoroughly.  While I’m not a fan of PAM in most cases, it’s very effective for caramels.  If you’re using a pan that has no flex (glass), lay a piece of parchment in the pan and grease over that. I’ve had no problem getting it out of silicone and even heavy metal pans due to the flex, but if you’re more comfortable parchmenting either of those options, by all means!
*Combine your cream, butter, and salt in a microwaveable container.  I like to use a 2 cup pyrex measuring cup.  Heat til the butter is melted, stir to ensure the salt has mixed in, and let sit.
*Carefully pour your granulated sugar into a dry pan.  The goal here is to not have any crystals stick to the sides of the pan.  Then you want to carefully pour your water in, so as not to push any crystals to the sides and have them stick to the sides of the pan.  Then add your corn syrup.  Like I said, I eyeball it.  If you’re not comfortable with that, use a measuring cup! When you add your corn syrup, BE CAREFUL NOT TO PUSH ANY SUGAR CRYSTALS ONTO THE SIDES OF THE PAN.
*Do NOT stir.  Put pan on stove over medium-high heat.  DO NOT STIR.  The sugar will not burn yet.
*When the sugar has reached a rolling boil, you can add your candy thermometer.  It generally will stall at around 215-220 while all of the water boils off, then begin to shoot up rather quickly after that. Watch the sugar.  She’s a tricky, tricky little puppy who will eat your furniture as soon as you turn your back.
*Cook to around 280 degrees.  This is not exact, and anywhere between  275 and 300 will do ya. Once you reach 250ish, you’ll want to microwave your cream mixture once again to make sure it’s nice and hot.  30 seconds is usually enough, but your mileage may vary.
*When you’re reached your target temperature (280), start whisking in your cream, slowly.  It’ll bubble up and be kind of scary.  And the sugar is viscous, so if it splatters on you and sticks.  It WILL burn and continue to burn for a while.
*Once all of your cream mixture has been added, turn the heat down to mediumish, and whisk every couple minutes to ensure that things aren’t burning (with the additional milk solids, the mixture burns much more easily.  Burned caramel is not pleasant).
*Now you wait.  You have to cook off all of the water that was in that cream mixture. Once again, it’ll stall around 215-220, then start shooting up again.  The color will darken as it reaches your target temp.
*You want to cook it to between 243 and 248.  That is a huge temperature range, and will be the difference between candy that is too soft to hold its shape, and candy that is brittle enough to crack.  You will have to follow my trial and error directions to see what works for your particular conditions.  In my experience, caramel texture is like voodoo.
*When caramel has reached the optimal temp, get it out of the pan!  Pour it into your prepared (greased) vessel and if you’re sprinkling with salt do it NOW.  Then let it sit 2+ hours, until it has set up.
*Turn the vessel out over a cutting board, and allow the caramel to fall out.  This is where the silicone makes things a little easier.

Caramel beginning to color up

Caramel beginning to color up


Caramel texture changes in an instant.  I have experimented with different thermometers, and have finally settled on using an ultra-accurate instant-read probe thermometer, but I still cannot get super consistent results from it.  I think that this has to do with variances in the quality of the cream, the barometric pressure, and the humidity.  Maybe. I honestly have no clue, but those are my guesses.  The only way that I have found to have CONSISTENT results with this (if the hardness of the caramel isn’t important, cook to 245 and be done), is to pull some out and test it.  To do this, I cook the caramel to 243, pull the pan off the heat, and drip a little onto a plate that I’ve greased and stuck in the fridge.  Let the caramel cool to less than body temp (it shouldn’t take long if you gave it a small drip) and give it a taste.  It shouldn’t stick to your molars. If it does, it’s too soft and won’t hold its shape(additionally, caramel that hasn’t cooked long enough won’t develop as deep a color or flavor).  If it requires significant effort or is impossible to chew, it’s not gonna get any easier. If it’s perfect, congratulations!  Go ahead and pour the caramel into a prepared pan, and let it cool!

caramel cooling in a pan



It’s too soft!
Haha, that’s what SHE said!
Put your pan back on the heat.  Stir constantly, and swirl your thermometer through the mixture.  Cook an additional 2 degrees.  Do another test drop.  Is the texture still too soft?  Lather, rinse, repeat.


It’s too hard!
Haha, that’s what SHE said!
I’ve had this happen.  In fact, the batch pictured in this post ended up brittle, even after I adjusted my temps to what I thought they should have been.  I had already poured the caramel into my pan to cool by the time I got around to tasting my sample (I learned to not do any pouring til I knew I liked the end result), and the sample was far too hard.  Being totally unwilling to bow down to the caramel terrorizing me, I popped the pan in the freezer to chill faster, then was able to get the caramel back into my cooking pan with a splash of cream (some water probably woulda worked just as well) and cook it to the desired level.  Adding the liquid to the caramel broke down the structure of the crystals and allowed me to get my desired “set.”  So there.  BEAT YOU CARAMEL.  SUCK IT!

caramel cooling in a pan

And you know how to clean your caramel-making goodies?  Hot water.  That’s it.  You’re just dissolving sugar and fat.  I just fill my pan up with some hot water for 5-10 minutes then I can either hand wash it or pop everything in the dishwasher.  I’ve never experienced unremovable (that’s not a word it turns out) burned on sugar.  And I have burned everything at least once.  Ask Craig.  Whenever (which is often) I serve something burned, he refers to it as “a L’Aurel.”

cute wrapped up candies

Ok, another wrinkle in the caramel drama-saga.  Caramel is hydrophilic, which means that it LOVES combining with water.  Which means that it needs to be sealed early-on, or it’ll get sticky, but not in a nice caramel way, more of a goopy yucky way.  I just cut 4″(ish) squares out of waxed paper and wrap my caramels up as soon as I’ve cut them.  It makes it easy to give some to friends, bring them to work, or toss a huge handful few in your purse.

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