How Not to Make Caramels
January 5, 2008
I am in the midst of making a package of treats as a thank you gift. It will include the granola I wrote about yesterday, the rosemary roasted cashews that I love too much and perfect squares of decadent peanut butter brownies (a recipe I got from Smitten Kitchen). In case the recipient is reading, I will say no more about the package. Except for this: it was also supposed to contain caramels.
Caramels—ends dipped in melted bittersweet chocolate and wrapped in pretty parchment squares—would be a lovely addition to the package, no? Well I’m sure they would have been … had they come even close to being edible. And the rock-hard mass that my “caramels” became was certainly not edible, unless of course you enjoy losing your teeth while eating.
I’ve never made caramels before. You see, before yesterday, I didn’t own a candy thermometer, which is an essential piece of equipment for caramel-creating. And, let me tell you, those suckers are apparently hard to find. I don’t know if it was a post-Christmas shortage, but I had to go to several stores to find one (a little too potato-ricer-esque for my taste). I’ve also held off on making caramels because I was a little scared. So I was comforted when I read Jacques Pépin’s description of his caramel recipe: foolproof. And I followed his recipe to the letter. Even when my intuition told me that the color had surpassed lightly-golden and descended into a rich brown, I forged on until my thermometer registered 320°, as Pépin instructed. And I trusted that, because I had followed every single one of his instructions, that if I just let the caramels sit for the prescribed four hours they’d transform into the soft, pliable wonders in Pépin’s photo, even though they hardened mere moments after I poured them into their mold.
Upon closer inspection of Pepin’s introduction to the recipe, I see he says it’s almost foolproof. Ha! So, I ask you dear readers: where did I go wrong? Faulty recipe (doubt it, it’s Jacques Pépin)? Faulty thermometer? And, perhaps more importantly, do you have a recipe that is truly foolproof?