If I had to choose a desert island dessert, it might very well be these caramels. Chocolate would momentarily tempt me, ice cream refreshes like no other, and a life without citrus would make me weep with despair, but a good caramel is dependably decadent in a way that I never tire of. An exceptional caramel is robust, sweet but not cloying, chewy, with a good pull to it, but never too firm, and dotted with just enough salt to keep me wanting more. Lucky for me, these hit the mark on all fronts, and are surprisingly simple to prepare (at least compared to most candy recipes, and for that matter, other caramel recipes).
RIP candy thermometer, sorry I put you in the dishwasher. Not to be rude, but I’ve found someone new, and dare I say it, better?
The first time I encountered these beauties was in possibly the happiest place on earth, Miette, a jewel of a candy store with (bonus!) a panoply of darling pastries on offer as well. After browsing for other treats, I made my way to the register, and noticed a simple but elegant glass candy jar stacked to the brim with tawny caramels peeking out of their waxed paper wrappings. Sadly, I made the mistake of only buying one (they were large) and promptly devoured it in the 5 minute drive home. A rush of pleasure filled my body, which left me oddly conflicted, both blissed out and frustrated by my idiotic purchase of just the one.
If you find yourself in San Francisco, I wholeheartedly recommend a stop in to Miette, not only do they stock these caramels, but a well curated assortment of high-end chocolates, lollipops as big as your head, and diminutive pastries packed full of flavor. Even if that’s not on your upcoming itinerary, you’re still in luck; as of last fall they have a beautiful cookbook (one of my favorites of 2011) with a spot on recipe for these dreamy sweets.
If you’re craving some eye candy (ha! bad pun) check out this clip:
What is your desert island dessert?
Don’t be scared off by the length of the recipe; I’ve included tips throughout to ensure that new candy-makers can make these with ease. This is actually a much simpler recipe than most, as typically the mixture cannot be mixed during the caramelization process without risking the formation of sugar crystals and a grainy unpalatable end product. This recipe circumvents that possibility by including a small amount of corn syrup (do NOT substitute, the corn syrup helps keep the caramel smooth) and cooking the sugar with the dairy, rather than adding cream at the end, as is more typical. Provided you’re patient the resulting caramels are exceptional; they’re spot on to those sold at Miette.
Adapted, barely, from Miette
Yield: sixty-four 1″ caramels
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 ¼ cups whole milk
2 cups (14 oz) granulated sugar
1 ¼ cups (10 oz) dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup light corn syrup
3 tablespoons water
fleur de sel for sprinkling
Lightly grease the sides and bottom of an 8×8 square pan. Create a parchment sling (to help remove the caramels from the pan later) by cutting two rectangular pieces of parchment paper long enough to extend over the sides of the pan by 2-3 inches. Line the pan with the parchment.
Combine all ingredients except the fleur de sel in a small stockpot (mine has a 6-quart capacity*). Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, making sure that the tip does not touch the bottom of the pan, and that it is completely submerged in the liquid. Place the pot over medium-low heat and whisk constantly til the mixture reaches 246°F, 30 to 40 minutes.
Take the pot off the heat and immediately (and carefully, sugar burns are notoriously bad) pour all of the caramel mixture into the prepared pan. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes then sprinkle with the fleur de sel. Let the caramels cool completely to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour to firm up and make the cutting process easier.
While the caramels chill, cut wax paper into 6×6 inch squares**. Make sure to cut a few extra (so 70+ if cutting the caramels into 1×1 inch square pieces), as some will rip during the wrapping process.
Run a butter knife around the edges of the pan to loosen any stubborn bits, and lift out the slab of caramel using the parchment paper sling as handles. Place the caramel on a cutting board, parchment paper side down***. Cut into 1×1 inch squares (or whatever size you desire).
Wrap each caramel tightly in a waxed paper square and twist both ends. Store the wrapped caramels in an airtight container to extend shelf-life (the twists aren’t perfectly air-tight). They should last about 10 days, getting a bit firmer towards the end.
*I wouldn’t use one that’s much smaller as the mixture will bubble considerably during the process of caramelization and you need ample space to allow for this.
** These cellophane wrappers would save you the step of cutting paper, which can be a bit tedious. Or if you’re feeling thrifty/don’t want to wait for the wrappers to arrive in the mail simply cut a 6×6″ stencil out of cardstock or cardboard and use that to guide your cutting.
*** I’ve learned the hard (and frustrating) way that it’s essential not to remove the parchment paper til you’re ready to move the cut caramels to their wrappers. They will stick to the cutting board otherwise!