Caramels: If at First You Don’t Succeed …
January 12, 2008
My first attempt at making caramels was a total bust. I wrote about it here, but—in short—instead of a soft, pliable sheet of caramel ready to be sliced into bite-sized pieces, I came out with a brittle slab that disintegrated into shards at the lightest touch. Adding insult to this injury, I had selected the recipe because it said right there in the introduction that it was foolproof. Well, to be fair to Jacques Pépin, he actually calls the recipe almost foolproof. And apparently I found the almost.
I debated about sharing the disaster with you, but in hopes of finding the error in my ways, I went ahead with the post. And, I’m quite glad I did, because commenter FaustianBargain diagnosed my situation and prescribed several possible cures. All but one of the cures were things that I had already done during my first attempt. The exception was the suggestion that I had used too high a heat (apparently, one should cook her caramel over low or medium heat).
Armed with this information, I vowed to try it again. I put it off for about a week, despite restocking my fridge and pantry with the necessary ingredients for a re-do almost immediately after the first failure. Well, yesterday morning I worked up my courage and dug the Pépin recipe out of my (bulging) recipe binder. I re-read it from top to bottom—something that’s always a good idea, but particularly so here, because the recipe hides some useful tidbits toward the end of the individual instructions (in step 2, note that you should add the ingredients in the exact order Pépin specifies; he’ll tell you why at the end of the step) or the recipe itself (given my already high stress level, I decided to oil and line my loaf pan before starting in with the ingredients—although the recipe doesn’t mention this until step 6).
While reading, I made a mental note to keep the heat low. And I did. Despite one instruction telling me to use medium-high heat (the rest of the recipe doesn’t mention a heat), I used no more than medium heat throughout. And, voila!, it did the trick! After I poured the caramel into the loaf pan to let it set up, I kept nervously checking it to see if it had hardened into a granite-like consistency like batch number one. But each time I poked my fingertip into the shiny layer, I was delighted to see it leave a tiny divot.
From there, there rest is easy: let the layer firm up for four hours at room temperature, invert and slice. And it’s fun, because, hey!, you’re making your own caramels. And because you get to wrap the caramels yourself. I cut up my squares of parchment paper in advance and I’d recommend you do this, so that the caramel doesn’t have to wait for you (and warm and soften up) once it’s sliced. Not only are these caramels quite pretty and old-timey once you’ve wrapped them up in twisted parchment, but they’re also delicious. I’m talking melt-in-your-mouth, please-take-these-away-from-me-right-now good. Luckily, two beautiful bags of these caramels are headed out the door (and out of my reach!) as gifts.
(Click “more” for more photos and the recipe)
Jacques Pépin via Leite’s Culinaria
8 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons water
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 cup sugar
1. Combine the butter, cut into pieces, and cream in a small glass bowl, and microwave for about 1 1/2 minutes, until hot.
2. In a small stainless steel saucepan, combine the water, corn syrup, and sugar. Stir just enough to moisten the sugar. The goal is to avoid having the mixture collect on the sides of the pan, which happens when you vigorously mix with a spoon or shake the pan; the sugar will tend to crystallize where it touches the sides. Pouring the water and syrup in first and then adding the sugar allows it to dissolve in the liquid without splattering the sides.
3. Heat over medium-high heat* until the mixtures comes to a boil, and then cover with a lid for a minute or so to create moisture in the pan and melt any sugar that may be clinging to the pan sides.
4. Place the candy thermometer in the pan and cook for about 6 minutes, or until the sugar reaches a temperature of 320° (160° C), at which point it will begin to take on a light golden color around the edge. At that point, pour the butter and cream mixture gradually into the pan, adding about a third of it at a time, and stir, using the base of your thermometer to incorporate it.
5. Continue cooking for another 5 or 6 minutes, until the mixture reaches a temperature of 240° (115° C) on the thermometer, the soft-ball stage. (This will create a relatively soft caramel; if you bring the temperature to about 245° (118° C), the caramels will be hard; so make adjustments based on your own taste.)
6. As soon as the caramel reaches the desired temperature, pour into an oiled loaf pan, with a base that measures about 7 1/2 inches long by about 3 1/2 inches wide,** lined with a strip of oiled parchment paper that is long enough to extend up and slightly over either end of the pan.
7. Cool uncovered at room temperature for about 4 hours. Invert and unmold onto a sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper (pulling gently on the paper strips, if necessary). If the caramel is still too soft to work with, refrigerate for an hour or so to firm it up. Cut into strips 1 1/2 inches wide, and then cut the strips into 3/4-inch lengths to have about 20 caramels. Wrap in squares of plastic wrap or waxed paper and enjoy immediately, or refrigerate or freeze for eating later.