Sunday, November 30, 2008

Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels

Notice that the title of this blog is not "Kat Makes Candy" or "Kandy Kat" or "Kat Kooks Kandy." There is a reason for that, other than the fact that those names are abhorrent. The reason is that making candy is hard. Even harder than baking. True, baking is an unforgiving science, but if you adhere to a good and proven recipe, you'll usually be okay. You may not have the prettiest cookie/cake/pie, but you'll be okay. Not so with candy making. If, for example, you do not temper your chocolate to the precise degree, you'll instantly drop dead. Don't ask me how I know this.

When I found out that November's Daring Baker's Challenge included an optional caramel candy recipe, I initially assumed I'd pass.We have enough junk laying around the apartment already, without adding my corpse to the detritus. But I am Chief Peanut Brittle and Fudge Officer at my parents' house during the holidays, so I thought it might be time to add to my skill set.

Even more so than with baking, the key to successful candy-making is precisely measuring out your ingredients and having them ready at hand when the time comes. I fumbled a bit with my vanilla at the end, and as a result my caramels were a bit tougher than I would've liked. You'll be relieved to know that I did not die, although I did suffer some first-degree burns to my fingers from "checking" the caramel too hastily. A small price to pay for broadening the ol' candy repertoire.

Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels
- Recipe from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich -

Makes approx. eighty-one 1-inch caramels
  • 1 cup golden syrup
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened
EQUIPMENT: 9-inch square baking pan, candy thermometer

1. Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

2. When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. (Kat sez: resist the urge to turn up the heat if the temperature gets "stuck." It took at least 20 minutes for mine to get from 235°F to 245°F, but be patient. You'll get there) Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°F for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F for firmer chewy caramels.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.

4. Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.(Kat sez: in my experience, caramels wrapped in wax paper stay soft longer than those wrapped in cellophane.)