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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

~Sweet Nectar and a Salty Flower~ Salty Sweet goodness in its purest form!

When I was little I loved the tiny cubes of caramel in the clear wrappers! I admit I still pick up a few if I'm in the bulk section of the grocery store. I've stopped doing so lately, trying to keep away from a lot of preservatives and colorants. Instead of trying to find organic/natural caramels (yet to see them anywhere but a fine candy shop) I though it would be a lot more fun to try and make my own! Turns out they're a hit with family and friends and more than once I've been commissioned to make them!  The power of Fleur de Sel maybe?

~Fleur De sel Soft Caramels~

1.5 C Organic Bakers Sugar
0.5 C Vanilla Sugar
2 C Heavy Cream (36% Fat Content,) split into 1.5 C and 0.5 C
1/2 C Light Agave Syrup + 1/4 C cream
1 C Light Corn Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Fleur de Sel or Himalayan Sea Salt
5.5 Tablespoons Cultured, Unsalted Butter (Room Temp) cut into small pieces

Fleur de Sel, for decorating

SPECIAL TOOLS: 8x8 Pan, lined with lightly greased Wax Paper
                               Parchment Paper

                               Properly Calibrated Candy Thermometer

Yield - 1 large block of caramel (roughly 8"x8"x3/4")

Before I say anything about recipe ratios, pre heating, mise en place or food science ramblings, I have to mention the tools involved.  A good candy thermometer will be one of your best kitchen dwelling friends, but only if you calibrate it properlyIf not, it will hate you:  An uncalibrated thermo can skew any reading up to 2 or 3 c, and when you need precision it really spells sticky or burnt and brittle defeat.  Since water boils (at Sea Level) at 212f, we have an even temp as an example to test against.  Place the thermometer in boiling water to register 30 seconds then take your reading and note the variation (if any.)  I ended up writing the notes on the metal backing itself with a sharpie pen.  Now lets get going with the cooking!

Start by prepping your pan.  I find the easiest way to line the pan is to cut two strips as wide as the pan base and lay them in at 90° to each other, then spray with canola spray.
In a medium pot (about 2x the volume of your ingredients - taller than it is wide is better) combine sugar, 1.5 C cream, syrup and salt.  Make sure your pot is VERY clean as little scratches and or bits of caked on stuff can make the sugar try to crystallize (just like make-a-crystal kit "gems" need a tiny stone or string to grow) and give you grit and burnt flavors beyond that nice caramel brulee.

Bring your pot to a gentle boil over medium low heat.  At the same time, bring the remaining cream to a slight scald.  Add the scalded cream slowly into the boiling sugar mixture and boil a further 7 minutes without stirring.  Add your butter slowly, just a few pieces at a time, stirring gently to dissolve before adding more.

Turn up your heat to medium medium high, and clip on your trusty candy thermometer.  From now on, excess agitation can cause the caramels to crystallize and you'll likely end up with something akin to a slightly soft butter brittle.  The chance of this is lessened by the syrup we added in place of some of the sugar.  Why is this you might ask?  well...


"Sugar" is a catch-all word for many different permutations and combinations of similar molecules called Saccharides.  Common table sugar, aka Sucrose, is a disaccharide made up from two monosaccharides Glucose and Fructose (fruit biological sugars.)  These molecules in solution, when heated then allowed to cool will want to form, by nature of their structure, large crystals.  In things like caramels, certain cooked creams, and other recipes that contain a mostly sugar base, we often use a syrup or gel sugar.  These sugars are called "invert" sugar and are valued for their use in preventing crystallization in high heat baking.  Invert sugars are found in many fruits, some vegetables, and things like honey and flower nectar.  They are artificially reproduced by splitting Sucrose via hydrolysis into its smaller simple components (fructose+glucose.)

A sucrose polysaccharide made of bonded monosaccharides glucose and fructose

Sucrose molecules, as they are larger, tend to want to form larger crystals from solution, so when we break them down into monosaccharides, the molecular structures formed tend to inhibit this trait.  When we make caramels or things like jams and jellies, even marshmallows and fruit sauces, the presence of smaller mono saccharides tends to inhibit the formation of gritty sucrose crystals.  In recipes with high acid levels (fruit sauces and jams), the invert sugars are formed during cooking when the acids themselves break down the table sugars into their components.  Delicious, soft caramel, fluffy marshmallows, and sweet smooth jellies and jams all thanks to hydrolyzed molecular inversion of sucrose polysaccharides.  Sounds delicious...  and Sciency!


Boil your caramel uncovered, stirring as little as possible until it reaches Firm Ball Stage (245-250f on the thermometer.)  This range does matter depending on how you like your caramels.  If you like them softer stop at about 240-245, harder 245-250 but don't go too much cooler or hotter that this range as you can get caramels that will never set or slightly limp butter brittle.  I tend to go to about 245 for ease of handling of the final product once set. Also, remember to always have a bowl of icy water on hand to douse the bottom of your pot to stop the cooking and prevent over-hardening.  This is less important with caramels than hard candies (like lemon drops) due to the high fat and liquid contents, but it can't hurt to get into the habit.

Pour your scalding caramel liquid into your prepared pan and let cool completely at room temp on a wire rack.  If using a metal pan be aware that the extremely hot sugar will transfer its heat into the pan quickly.  I've been burned both figuratively and literally by assuming otherwise!  Once cool, you can cut them into whatever shape you like with a very sharp knife.  I cut mine into 6 strips then into 1/2" pieces and I got about 80 caramels.  Sprinkle or dip the tops with a little bit of Fleur de Sel and wrap in parchment or candy wrappers.

I find these make great gifts or candies for the table at parties and events.  You can even make them chocolate by adding a bit of fine chopped dark chocolate (about 2.75 oz for this recipe) when you add the butter.  Experiment with flavored chocolates too!



erin scott said...

Cam, I have been really wanting to make caramels at home. I have gotten into the dangerous habit of making caramel sauce from scratch, but have yet to make the candies.
I am so excited to try your recipe.

Lucy said...

Making caramel has always been a skill that scares me, but these look too delicious to resist! And also very addictive... :)

Jenn said...

Hi! Wondering how long these will keep for? I want to make them ahead of time for Christmas gifts but I don't want them to spoil before I get to give them!

Pastry Ninja said...

Hi! I would say they should keep for about two weeks in their cut form at room temp. If you want them to keep a little bit longer, you can cut the large single batch in half and wrap the large slabs in parchment. You can also gift the individual candies in air tight mason jars to prevent drying. Hope this helps and have a happy holiday!