It's a busy time for me, so I'm sitting back a bit and trying some of the "easier" recipes I've been wanting to do. With that in mind my latest creation was making caramels from scratch. I love caramels, even cheap ones, but I especially love buttery, expensive caramels. They really aren't that difficult to make yourself, but they do have a couple of pitfalls to watch out for.
I didn't have to do much research because I'd already seen a recipe for caramels on a food blog I like to follow; Not So Humble Pie. A Seattle based mom who makes food so delicious looking and decadent, it's like food porn. You should go check it out. There's always something good.
In any case, she made caramels from scratch and gave very precise instructions including how to avoid common problems. Her recipe is fairly simple, but time consuming.
First up, was getting a new thermometer. I have a candy thermometer, but it's old and I'm not sure how good it really is, so I decided to upgrade to a fancier one. I bought one at Sur Le Table at Pike Place. It's horrible. I mean, it works, but not very well. You have to try to get as much of the stem in whatever you want to measure as you can to get an accurate reading, which means holding it in your hand at an angle and waiting for it to climb to the correct temperature. Bleah. I'll have to investigate some others for next time.
The only difficult item in the recipe was the heavy cream. You can get it at any grocery, but not if you want the really heartstoppingly bad for you variety she suggests. And even that wasn't too bad since there's a dairy outlet in Pike Place. They had several brands to choose from with ~40% fat content. I went with the cheapest, and it worked great.
I decided since this was my first batch, I wasn't going to make salted caramels. I wanted to see what they are like on their own, first.
I did exactly as the recipe said. I mixed the sugar, karo (prevents sugar from recrystallizing,) salt, and half of the cream. I brought it to a boil, stirring constantly, and it did take a while. About 10 minutes as I recall.
I didn't really let the boil get going and that might have been a mistake. Everything turned out in the end, but it took a lot longer than is should of. Every time I added some of the cold cream the temperature dropped below boiling and so I had to wait until it climbed back up again. So it was; pour, wait, pour, wait. Eventually it got it all in and the mix didn't seem the worse for dancing on the edge of boiling the whole time.
The butter went in well, but took some stirring to incorporate properly. Then I let the whole thing boil. This is where the new thermometer really blew. I'd check the temp every five minutes or so, and it would take at least two more minutes to get a good reading. In the end I really had to go with my gut. You can kind of tell by watching when it's getting close because it starts looking a lot like caramel. It took about 45 minutes for me, but my old stove was dying on me, so who knows how long a real stove would take. I would trust her recipe.
I ended up using an 8 by 13 pan instead of 9 by 9. So the caramels are slightly thinner, but that's fine. I didn't coat the entire bottom with paper and didn't do a very thorough job buttering the paper. Those were both mistakes and unless you like eating paper or scraping caramel out of a pan, learn from them.
Result: AMAZING. These little balls of joy are so good. Rich, buttery, but with a really great caramel taste. They are like candy crack to me. I want to eat them all. I scraped the cooking pan clean (not when I poured) and chewed off the leavings on the spatula. I will definitely be making these again, much to my waistline's chagrin.