Originally published Oct. 26, 2012
By Nancy Leson, former Seattle Times food writer
ALL KIDS love candy. I was no different. Growing up in Philadelphia, I’d hit the candy aisle at Nickel’s pharmacy for Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews: chocolate-coated, peanut-filled caramel chunks. My drug of choice at the movie theater, back when they ran cartoons first, not commercials? Sugar Babies. When Aunt Joan went to Atlantic City, I’d beg for a souvenir: chocolate-covered caramel on a lollipop stick.
Best was Halloween, when, if we were lucky, “Trick or treat!” bought us a caramel apple, handmade by the old crone down the block.
Now that I’m an old crone, my sweet tooth has given way to a salty one. I rarely crave candy, but when I do, the want wanders back to my kiddie crush: caramels.
Recently, I learned to make my own. But first I did a little research, consulting cookbooks, the interweb and friends who’ve Gone There Before.
I’ve learned there are umpteen ways to make a proper caramel. And “proper” is in the mouth of the masticator. You might prefer a chewy brown caramel to a soft blonde one (in a taste test, my friends and family leaned in that direction). But I say when it comes to caramels, there’s no right answer: They’re all good.
Success relies on having a trusty recipe, a heavy-bottom saucepan deep enough to offset a sugary boil-and-rise, and an accurate candy thermometer. (The accuracy test: Put the thermometer in a pot of water, and bring to a boil; at sea level, it should read 212 degrees F.)
After several tests, I curtsy to the Barefoot Contessa, whose dark salted caramels are so good, my kid says we should sell them, with his fixes: Cut the caramel sheet into small squares, coat each with melted chocolate, chill slightly, roll in salted peanuts and call them good. Like childhood.
Fleur de Sel Caramels
¼ cup water
1½ cups sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon fine fleur de sel, plus extra for sprinkling
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Line an 8-inch-square baking pan with parchment paper, and brush the paper lightly with oil, allowing it to drape over 2 sides.
2. In a deep saucepan, combine the water, sugar and corn syrup, and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil until the mixture is a warm golden brown. Don’t stir; just swirl the pan to mix. Watch carefully, as it will burn quickly at the end.
3. In the meantime, in a small pot, bring the cream, butter and teaspoon of fleur de sel to a simmer over medium heat. Turn off the heat, and set aside.
4. When the sugar mixture is a warm golden color, turn off the heat, and slowly add the cream mixture to the sugar mixture. Be careful: It will bubble up violently. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon, and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until the mixture reaches 248 degrees F (firm ball) on a candy thermometer. Very carefully (it’s hot!) pour the caramel into the prepared pan, and refrigerate for a few hours, until firm.
5. When the caramel is cold, pry the sheet from the pan onto a cutting board. Remove parchment paper. Cut the square in half. Starting with a long side, roll one piece of the caramel up tightly into an 8-inch-long log. Repeat with the second piece. Sprinkle both logs with fleur de sel, trim the ends and cut each log into 8 pieces.
6. Cut glassine or parchment paper into 4-by-5-inch pieces, and wrap each caramel individually, twisting the ends. Store in the refrigerator, and serve the caramels chilled.
— From “Barefoot Contessa: How Easy is That?” by Ina Garten