12 November 2008
Do you know what I love, aside from dumplings? I love making caramel. Not eating caramel, mind you, making it. I like it because it is finicky. You can't leave it, even for a minute, because the the sugar can go from blank to burnt in no time flat. Caramel needs attention, but it doesn't like too much handling. No spoons allowed! Watching the transition from clear sugar to bitter amber is almost magical, especially because there is the massive shift from no scent to fragrant blooming in the air.
Caramel is also intensely personal; I like mine bitter and dark. I think it has more flavor that way. It's more complex. I also like mine with a bit of salt added: it brings out the sweetness without being overpowering.
So I was thrilled when I came across a recipe for salted chocolate caramels in an old issue of Gourmet. I love to make caramel, I love chocolate, I love salt, what could be better? I'm also starting to root around in my recipe files for the annual Christmas extravaganza, which, I might add, will have a whole new face this year. Get ready.
I'd never made candy, though, not like this. But... it wasn't hard! And aside from my own stupidity burning myself on the tongue (please please please do not, I repeat, do not, attempt to taste the fruits of your labors during any part of the process because seriously, that sugar is hot, in case you forgot, and it is only folly to want to try it while it is boiling), it wasn't hard, not at all! Easy enough to perhaps make it a holiday standby. I'll let you know.
Salted Chocolate Caramels, adapted from Gourmet
1 cup heavy cream*
1/3 pound fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into smallish bits
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt, like fleur de sel or Maladon
1. Line the bottom and the sides of a standard-size bread pan with parchment paper.
2. Bring cream just to a boil in a 1-1 1/2 quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat, then reduce heat to low and add chocolate. Let stand 1 minute, then stir until chocolate is completely melted. Remove from heat.
3. Bring sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, uncovered, without stirring, but gently swirling pan occasionally, until sugar is deep golden, about 10 minutes. (If you need a caramel primer, see here.) Tilt pan away from you and carefully pour in chocolate mixture (give it a good stir before doing this). Mixture will bubble and steam vigorously, try to avoid getting splattered because it really, really hurts if you do. Continue to boil over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until mixture registers 255 degrees F on a candy thermometer, about 15 minutes. (This time is a very vague estimate. Watch your mixture carefully.) Add teh butter, stirring until completely melted, then immediately pour into lined baking pan (do not scrape any caramel clinging to bottom of side of saucepan). Let caramel stand 10 minutes, then sprinkle evenly with sea salt. Cool completely in a pan on a rack, about 2 hours.
4. Carefully invert caramel onto a clean, dry cutting board, then peel off parchment. Turn caramel salt side up. Lightly oil blade of a large heavy knife and cut into 1-inch squares. Savor.
*This is only a half recipe. Easily doubles.