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Caramels


lperry
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Salted caramels. Jacques Pépin's caramel recipe, Valrhona Manjari chocolate, half dusted with fleur de sel, the other half with sel gris.
On the Silpat.
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A gooeylicious close-up.
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They aren't as pretty as the ones from the store, but my neighbors seem pretty happy. smile.gif

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Salted caramels. Jacques Pépin's caramel recipe, Valrhona Manjari chocolate, half dusted with fleur de sel, the other half with sel gris.

They aren't as pretty as the ones from the store, but my neighbors seem pretty happy. smile.gif

Those are gorgeous!
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I looked up Jacque's recipe. Did you follow it exactly? Did you pour the caramels into a loaf pan (seems odd)?

How did you heat the chocolate and dip?

Thanks.

I followed his ingredients list, however, I'll be honest here, maybe because it's on the web and not in a book, the instructions are lacking and don't adequately explain how to get the results you may want. The biggest error is that it doesn't tell you to pull the pan off the heat while adding the cream and butter. (That could get really ugly very quickly.) I made some OK caramels one time before using this recipe, and then spent a lot of time reading about burnt sugar and Maillard reactions to get these to work really well. Next time, I'll go for a little more burnt sugar.

I did use a loaf pan with parchment and set it outside on the porch in our unseasonable weather to firm up the candy for enrobing. I melted the chocolate in a double boiler (saucepan and pyrex bowl) and dipped with two forks. Very low tech. All in all, it takes about an hour hands-on to make the whole batch.

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I'm worried I discouraged people from making caramels instead of discouraging them from using those instructions, so here are some much better instructions on cooking from Alton Brown. I would change three things. First, cook the caramel sugar just until it is as dark as you want, not necessarily to 350. Second, heat the butter and cream together before incorporating. Third, I cooked these caramels to 245 degrees F. Actually to about 242, then I let the residual heat do the rest. You have to put them in the fridge to firm them up enough to cut cleanly, but they are then nice and soft in the finished candy. I'd also leave out the soy. Blech. OK, that's four things. So AB's instructions and JP's ingredients.

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I was baking much of the afternoon, so for dinner, I pulled a quart of short rib ragu with fennel from the freezer and served it over rigatoni. Grated Parmesan over top.

Dessert was chocolate covered caramel "coins". I'm calling them coins since they were cubes after the caramel set and was cut, but after a dip in melted chocolate, they flattened out! I need to get a better candy thermometer because I think mine read a bit too low, so the caramels weren't going to set tup to a firm buy chewy consistency once I pulled the pot off the heat.

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Dessert was chocolate covered caramel "coins". I'm calling them coins since they were cubes after the caramel set and was cut, but after a dip in melted chocolate, they flattened out! I need to get a better candy thermometer because I think mine read a bit too low, so the caramels weren't going to set tup to a firm buy chewy consistency once I pulled the pot off the heat.

Did they taste good? I'm feeling personally responsible for your caramel experience. :)

If you want to check your thermometer, put it in boiling water and see if it reads 212/100. I had an old round glass one that wasn't really accurate, so I bought two of these to replace it. They are really nice because the tip of the glass thermometer is automatically held just off the bottom of the pan by the design of the thermometer itself. It also has little red arrows marking important candy temperatures.

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Thanks for reminding me I need a better thermometer than the fat round one-try clipping that on the side of a wok (I forget what for)-Those caramels look absolutely amazing, I don't think I could give any away, unfortunately (I could try & tell myself that none of my friends would REALLY appreciate them, but that would be a farce).

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I was baking much of the afternoon, so for dinner, I pulled a quart of short rib ragu with fennel from the freezer and served it over rigatoni. Grated Parmesan over top.

Dessert was chocolate covered caramel "coins". I'm calling them coins since they were cubes after the caramel set and was cut, but after a dip in melted chocolate, they flattened out! I need to get a better candy thermometer because I think mine read a bit too low, so the caramels weren't going to set tup to a firm buy chewy consistency once I pulled the pot off the heat.

If you find they're flattening out, I suggest putting them back in the fridge after cutting. This ensures they won't change shape. Also, if you find your caramels aren't setting up to the consistency you want, you can melt and recook them back up to temperature to reset the crystal structure (the way you do with the seeding method for tempered chocolate).

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Caramels take 2. Pépin's recipe with a half teaspoon of salt added. I cooked the sugar to 310, pulled it off the heat, then swirled it as the temp rose until it was all light amber. After the butter and cream, I cooked it slowly to 244 degrees. This was a softer center with a richer flavor than the others. I realized after I looked at the photo that I photographed one from the end when I was scraping the chocolate bits in the bottom of the bowl... dry.gif

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Friends don't let friends eat crappy, mass-produced caramels, especially during the holidays.  Here's a tutorial. (Apologies for some of the photos - lighting in my kitchen is terrible, and some steps go a little quickly for good photo ops.)

Here's Jacques Pépin's recipe that I've transferred to a card with my notes (he doesn't use salt, I like it, it's up to you.)  I'll detail the methods below, so just use the ingredient list.

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First, line your pan with parchment.  This is a regular-size loaf pan, about 7 x 3.5" on the bottom.

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Second, the first group of ingredients go into a heavy saucepan.  This is the burnt sugar part of the recipe, and you want to try to prevent grainy crystals from occurring.  Note how I put everything into the pan with the sugar in the middle and the corn syrup and water around the edge.  I'm not going to stir this mixture.

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Turn on the flame, and start cooking the sugar.  Meanwhile, you should gather or already have gathered your butter and cream.  These are butter caramels, so this is the time to use the good stuff.

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Once the sugar comes to a boil, like this, slap a lid on it and time three minutes.  It won't burn during this step because the steam is condensing and going back down into the pan.  What you are trying to do is steam any grains of sugar off the sides of the pan.

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You can cook the sugar as quickly as you are comfortable doing, but be aware of residual heat.  Here, the sugar is starting to brown, so I start swirling (not stirring with an implement, but holding the handle and swirling) the pan a bit to even out the caramelization.  As soon as the thermometer hits 300, I pull it off the flame and put it on a cold burner.  It's going to rise another 20-25 degrees *after* it is off the burner.  That's one of the things people don't tell you when you are a beginner - time off the flame is as important as time on the flame.

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Now on to step two, the butter and cream.

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Here is the "burnt" sugar off the flame.  The temperature went up to about 325 and then dropped again while I was getting the camera.  *Note* - you can make this part as dark as you care to.  I have supertaster issues with bitterness in burnt sugar, so I like a lighter caramel.  Others adore it getting right up to the smoke point, so tweak it how you like to.

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Now you are going to add in the cream and butter with the pan still off the flame.  My microwave is right above the stove, so I have the cup in there heating 20 - 30 seconds at a time while the sugar cooks.  Be sure to watch this carefully, as butter, cream, and heat make a fabulous volcano if given the chance.  You can also use a saucepan if you wish.  Note that the mixture bubbles up fairly violently as the dairy is added.  This is supposed to happen, so just keep stirring.

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The pot goes back on the flame for the dairy to get to temperature.  We are looking for a range of temperatures between 238 and 245 degrees Fahrenheit, with caramels made at the lower temperature softer than those that are cooked to the higher temperature.  Most thermometers made for candymaking have little arrows on them marking this stage.  I'm shooting for somewhere in the middle.  *Flavor note*  Some say this step is when the Maillard reaction takes place (although I've also read it doesn't start until 310 degrees, so grain of salt and whatnot), so I cook this mixture over a very low flame to pull out as much complexity of flavor as possible.

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When I get close to temperature, I move the pot on and off the flame to control those last, few degrees more carefully.  Then the caramel is poured into the pan that's been waiting by the stove.  Recipes will tell you not to scrape the pan, but I always do a light scrape with a spatula.  After all, we took several preventive measures to eliminate the grainy crystals.

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Now comes the hard part, waiting overnight for them to firm up in the fridge.  For your instant gratification, scrape what's left in the pan into a dish of ice water.  When it has cooled, you can taste your creation and analyze the texture.  If it's too soft, chuck it back in the pan and cook it to a higher temperature - really - no harm done in recooking.

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Less than half an hour has passed at this point, and I used about $3 worth of ingredients.  The taste is spectacular.

After a bit of time in the fridge, you can unmold, cut, salt, enrobe in chocolate, smash on top of toasted pecans and top with chocolate, or whatever you prefer.  Now look to the sky, shake your fist at the heavens, and cry out, "Never again, Trader Joe's, never agaaaaaiiiiiiiiin!!!"

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Did you make the entire half sheet pan? :o

Yes. I have a sh*tload of them in the fridge. Not 100% satisfied with the level of spice (not enough) and the texture--they are a little bit too soft, because I didn't get the temp up quite high enough. But eaten cold they are perfectly delicious, melt-in-the-mouth unctuous, great chocolate flavor with a hint of espresso.

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I learned to make caramels when I was about 8 or 9 years old.  I never used a thermometer (used the firm ball in cold water method).  I also never had any problem with crystallization, which is also true for any other thing I made that started with a boiled sugar syrup, so I've wondered if that isn't some sort of myth? or I've been very lucky all these years.  Joy of Cooking suggests buttering the sides of the pot to prevent crystals from forming.  I started playing around with my great-grandmother's recipe a few years ago.  I agree with lperry that you have to cook them as slowly as possible to bring out the flavor.  You can make them very, very quickly but the result is rather bland.

A loaf pan overnight in the refrigerator, really?  Have you tried using a sheet pan?  And how do you cut them?  Next time I make them I'm going to try Lyle's - that's a neat idea.

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I learned to make caramels when I was about 8 or 9 years old.  I never used a thermometer (used the firm ball in cold water method).  I also never had any problem with crystallization, which is also true for any other thing I made that started with a boiled sugar syrup, so I've wondered if that isn't some sort of myth? or I've been very lucky all these years.  Joy of Cooking suggests buttering the sides of the pot to prevent crystals from forming.  I started playing around with my great-grandmother's recipe a few years ago.  I agree with lperry that you have to cook them as slowly as possible to bring out the flavor.  You can make them very, very quickly but the result is rather bland.

A loaf pan overnight in the refrigerator, really?  Have you tried using a sheet pan?  And how do you cut them?  Next time I make them I'm going to try Lyle's - that's a neat idea.

Pépin's recipe does not make a large quantity, so the caramels are maybe 1.5 cm thick in the loaf pan.  A sheet pan would be much too large for this quantity.  If I made a sheet pan full, Mr. lperry would eat a sheet pan full. :)

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In case anyone is interested, here's my great-grandmother's recipe for caramels.  The story is that she brought it over from Italy.  I'm not sure I believe that.  For all I know she got it from Good Housekeeping in the 30s but I did find out that evaporated milk was available in Europe and America in the late 1800s, and Karo introduced its corn syrup in 1902, so who knows.

Combine 2 cups sugar, 2 cups corn syrup, and a few grains of salt in a large pot and boil to the hard ball stage.  Add 2 cups evaporated milk and 1/2 cup butter and cook again to the hard ball stage, then add 1 teaspoon vanilla and pour into a buttered pan to cool.

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I've been playing around with this recipe for years.  A few years back I started making it with half heavy cream and half evaporated milk.  This produces a lighter flavored candy with a smooth texture.  All cream tends to make a very light candy no matter how slowly it's cooked.  All evaporated milk tends to make a slightly coarse-textured candy.

These pictures are of yesterday's batch.  I used the above recipe with half cream, half milk, and Lyle's golden syrup in place of the Karo.  I'm undecided about the flavor, which is a little bitter and has a molasses tang to it.

I'd love to find a cane sugar syrup that wasn't golden like Lyle's.

For this amount of candy a quarter sheet pan lined with a Silpat works perfectly.

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The recipe for chocolate caramels in Pierre Hermé's Chocolate Desserts is pretty amazing.  It has more cream and less butter that my usual recipe, so the texture is a bit different from a heavier-on-the-butter caramel, but the flavor is exceptional.  I'm thinking of running Jacques Pépin's recipe and adding a couple of ounces of Manjari just as an experiment. 

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