Homemade Butter Caramels with Pink Sea Salt
Why I Love This Recipe
My love of caramel stretches back to my childhood. One of my fondest memories is of my mother standing patiently at her stove, stirring the contents of a copper pot with her wooden spoon. I wait, feet bare on the linoleum floor as a sweet, buttery fragrance wafts provocatively across the room. Finally, after my mother shuffles around the kitchen for what seems like hours, she steps back with a sigh of contentment. Standing on my tiptoes, I peek over the counter and admire her latest creation: tiny, golden lumps of caramel lined up like a marching band at Halftime. Unfortunately, I am banished to my bedroom after abruptly stuffing a fistful of candies into my mouth, where they melt on my tongue like ice cream on a summer sidewalk.
I never forgot those butter caramels, and I never stopped begging my mother for more. At a young age I learned to appreciate the artisanal quality of homemade candy. Since then, I've frequented old-fashioned candy shops with their marble counter tops and rows of fudge, English toffees, caramels and chocolates, just waiting to be wrapped up in brown paper and twine. Usually, though, I devour my finds long before I reach the comfort of my home.
Although candy making may seem like the culinary equivalent of climbing Mount Everest, don't despair! With proper preparation and technique anyone can turn a pot of molten, lava-hot syrup into an impressive dessert or gift. Just set aside an afternoon or evening, pour a glass of wine and rely on the following step-by-step instructions as your guide. After successfully completing a couple of batches you, too, will become a candy-making expert and the talk of your family and friends. It's important to use fresh, high-quality ingredients for unforgettable caramels.
Ingredients You'll Need
3 cups white sugar
1 cup corn syrup (please see tip #2, above, for substitutions)
3 cups heavy cream
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean, split and heated in milk
Himalayan pink salt, fleur de sel, Celtic or Maldon sea salt or other quality finishing salt
1. Line a 12x15 inch pan with parchment paper and lightly brush with oil. Do not substitute aluminum foil or waxed paper for the parchment or the candy will stick. Alternatively, you could line the pan with a Silpat or silicone baking mat instead of the parchment.
2. In a small pot bring the cream, butter and kosher salt (and vanilla bean, if using) to a simmer over medium heat. Turn off heat and set aside. Remove vanilla bean just before proceeding to step 4.
3. In a very deep pot, combine sugar and syrup(s) and bring to boil over medium heat, swirling pot and boiling until mixture turns golden brown. Don't stir, except to scrape down the sides of the pot one time. Just swirl.
4. When the sugar mixture turns golden brown, turn off heat and slowly add warm cream/butter mixture. It will bubble violently for a few seconds. Stir in the vanilla extract (if not using vanilla bean) with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon.
5. Continue to boil over medium-low heat for 10-30 minutes, stirring only when necessary to keep candy from sticking to sides and bottom of pot, until mixture reaches 248 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer, or firm ball stage. (see tips #5 & 6, above)
6. Carefully pour caramel into prepared pan. (see tip #9, above)
7. Refrigerate caramel for 30 minutes to an hour, until firm but still warm. Do not allow it to cool completely or it will be difficult to slice.
8. Turn caramel onto a cutting board and peel off parchment paper or Silpat.
9. Heat knife over flame of a gas stove or coat with oil to make slicing easier.
10. Cut in half the long way, then cut in half again so you have four long rectangles of caramel. You can either cut the caramel into squares or, if you prefer, starting with the long side, roll caramel into logs. Slice into chunks, then slice chunks in half again for smaller caramels.
11. Sprinkle with salt, being careful not to salt the candies too much.
12. Cut parchment or wax paper into 4x5 inch pieces and wrap each caramel individually, rolling them up in the paper and then twisting the ends. Store in refrigerator in an airtight container and serve caramels chilled with a cup of coffee. Can be stored for up to one month.