Today is my good friend Candace's birthday and I discovered yesterday that she loves salted caramel. Well of course I had to come home and whip some of these up for her birthday!
These are the perfect thing to make around the holidays. They are incredibly delicious and taste just like the fancy french sea salt caramels you pay and arm and a leg for at higher end food shops. If you can keep yourself from eating them all, they make a terrific gift.
This recipe only requires one incredibly important culinary skill: patience.
Follow this recipe exactly and you will be rewarded. Give in to your impatience and you will be punished with something unpleasant, like runny caramels. Trust me on this. I speak from experience.
This is also a good time to go ahead and splurge on fancy European butter. There is a reason it costs more than the generic brand. It is a superior product. Remember, these are an indulgence, so INDULGE!
Here are some questions that you may find yourself wondering while preparing this recipe (and the answers).
1. Can I use margarine? No. Are you insane?
2. Can I use vanilla extract? No. Remember this is an indulgence, use the real thing, you'll be glad you did.
3. Can I just turn the temperature up to reduce the cooking time? No. The trick to these caramels is to let the caramel form slowly and most importantly, evenly. Too high of a temperature will cause you to overshoot your temperature and ruin your caramel.
4. Do I really have to stir this the entire time? Yes. Before beginning, make yourself a tall drink. Get a stool. Put on some music you really really like. Keep the phone next to you in case someone calls. This recipe will not be ignored Dan (ala Glenn Close in Fatal attraction). Once you begin cooking, you are committed to the entire process. As it cooks the mixture will change volume several times as it goes through changes in the molecular structure of the sugar. You must keep stirring, slowly to keep heat distribution even and to prevent the caramel from boiling over. (Remember how much you spent on that butter and vanilla bean? You don't want that to end up sticking all over your stove do you?)
5. Do I absolutely need a candy thermometer? Yes. This is more chemistry than cooking. Chemistry is about precision, and so is candy making.
6. I'm bored and tired of stirring, does it really have to be 245 degrees? Yes. Stop whining. This is supposed to be fun. Maybe you should have put more bourbon in that drink. If you don't get the caramel to the correct temperature, your caramel will be runny. Sit back and think of how much everyone is going to enjoy your sacrifice.
7. Do I really need to wait 8 hours before cutting the caramel? Yes. Patience will be rewarded with easier cutting and handling of the finished product. If you are tempted to cut early, put a large thick rubber band on your wrist and SNAP it hard.
OK. Now that we see eye to eye, it's time to get in the kitchen and make something AMAZING!
Sea Salt Caramels
makes about 7 dozen
1/2 pound best quality unsalted butter (I like Plugra)
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split length-wise and seeds scraped
1 Tbsp best quality coarse sea salt (I prefer grey salt)
Line a 9 x 13 pan with aluminum foil and spray with vegetable oil.
In a large heavy saucepan melt butter over medium high heat. Once melted, add sugar, corn syrup and cream. Stir with a wooden spoon until sugar is dissolved and mixture just comes to a boil.
Immediately reduce heat to medium low and continue to cook mixture ON MEDIUM LOW HEAT, stirring slowly, but constantly until the mixture is a golden caramel color and has reached the firm ball stage ( 245 degrees F). Depending on your stove, this will take about 1 - 1 1/2 hours.
Once caramel has reached 245 F, remove from heat and stir in the sea salt. Pour into prepared pan.
Let caramel rest overnight or at least 8 hours before inverting onto a cutting board. Remove foil and cut into 1-inch strips. Cut strips crosswise to make 1-inch squares. Wrap in wax paper and store at room temperature.
The mixture comes to a boil, time to reduce the temperature to medium low...
At 10 minutes the first change in volume, this will happen again and again...
After 30 minutes the color begins to change
At 45 minutes the caramel color is really developing...
At one hour the mixture is really bubbling, but the temperature is still too low...
FINALLY! After 90 minutes of stirring, the correct
temperature of 245 (Firm Ball) is achieved
temperature of 245 (Firm Ball) is achieved