Sunday, December 21, 2014

Double Batch Chewy Salted Caramels

The holidays are a stressful time.  There are presents to buy, parties to plan, trips to take.  In the middle of all that, taking a few hours out of your day to make something delicious may seem a daunting task.  But I've found that some dedicated time in the kitchen can be a great way to unwind from all the holiday stress.

I'll be honest, these caramels aren't an easy peasy recipe.  They're not particularly difficult either, but they require the thing that's hardest to come by this time of year: time.  A watched pot never boils, which means these caramels feel like they take forever, because you have to watch them the whole time. 

Actually, there's two things you need for this recipe: time, and a candy thermometer.  Do not try to make these without a candy thermometer.  The texture of your caramels is dependent on you taking them off the heat at a very precise temperature. 

I first made this last year as a gift for my co-workers before the Christmas break.  There were some other treats as well, but the caramels were the big hit, and when one of my co-workers asked me in early December if I'd be making more this year, I knew I'd have to make them again.  One problem:  I have more co-workers this year.  Our company's been growing, and I knew one batch was not going to cut it if I wanted to give a decent amount of caramels to each person.

This recipe makes 2 9"x9" pans of caramels.  I can get about 60-70 caramels out of each pan, which seems like a lot, but if you're handing out 10 caramels per person as gifts, those can go quickly.  Of course, the double batch is also great if you want to give out some as gifts and have plenty left over for yourself.

Chewy Salted Caramels 

2 cups heavy cream
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teastpoon fleur de sel (flakey sea salt) + more for sprinkling
3 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water

Line 2 8"x8" or 9"x9" pans with parchment paper and spray with non-stick spray or butter (I usually spray the pan itself as well to get the parchment to stick).  Set aside.

Heat the cream, butter and salt in a medium saucepan until the butter is melted.  Add vanilla extract and set to the side to cool.

In a large pot or saucepan, gently mix together the sugar, corn syrup and water until the sugar is damp.   Heat and gently stir until sugar is dissolved.  Try not to get too much sugar up on the sides of the pan.  Bring to a boil and gently swirl the pan (don't stir) until your the mixture is a light golden color and the candy thermometer reaches 320°F. 

Immediately add your cream mixture to the sugar mixture.  It will bubble violently and the temperature will drop.  Wearing an oven mitt to protect from the heat of the boiling candy, stir constantly with your candy thermometer or a clean wooden spoon.  Don't use the spoon you were using earlier - any sugar reintroduced to the caramels at this point may give them a gritty texture. 

Continue stirring until the temperature just passes 240°F.  Many recipes will tell you to heat to 248°F, but I find if I aim for this I tend to cook a little too long, ending up with hard caramels.  Instead I just make sure the mixture has passed the 240°F mark or "soft ball" stage, then remove from heat and pour into the lined pans.  BE CAREFUL - do not get any on you or touch the caramel.  I know it looks delicious, but you don't know pain like being burned by molten sugar.

After 20-30 minutes, sprinkle with more fleur de sel.

Allow to cool for at least 2 hours at room temperature.  When the candy is set, remove from the pan by lifting up with the parchment paper.  Cut into squares or rectangles with a greased pizza cutter, and wrap in pieces of waxed paper.  If they're a bit too soft to work with, you can put them in the fridge for an hour to harden them up a little for the cutting and wrapping.  Try not to eat them all while you're wrapping them. 

Merry Christmas!

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