Idle hands & Making Caramel

August 26, 2010

I have a friend who has often been heard saying:  “A chocolate in each hand is a balanced diet.”  If I were to have a similar motto, it would read, “A caramel in each hand…”

Resisting a homemade caramel is not something I do well. I can deny myself almost any sort of baked good or chocolate (if I have to), but caramels are another matter entirely. They are my crack cocaine. And I don’t ever just want one. No, I want one in each hand.

Bearing in mind this deep affection affliction, I decided it was about the right time of year to make my own caramels (as if there could be a wrong time of year).  Here in Iowa, the temperature has dipped into the 70’s for the past few days, making the thought of standing over a boiling pot of sugar bearable.

Though school started this week, last week found me looking for something to do. I had vegged-out and slept in about as much as I could handle over the last 3 weeks, and my well rested mind had grown restless (ironic, eh?).

I don’t know what part of my mind thought it would be a good idea to have a complete batch of caramels lying around the house. Certainly not the disciplined part. But here I am with a brick of Treacle & Créme Fråiche Caramels sitting on the counter, begging to be an afternoon snack. And, boy oh boy, what a great snack they are. Slightly bitter, but also tangy due to the créme fråiche, and oh so chewy. Yum.

I love this recipe, which I found from reading Dan Lepard’s weekly column in the Guardian. Check out his caramel making tutorial here, or check out this where he shows the process with fabulous pictures, it helped me get over my fear of burning sugar.

Without further ado, I give you Treacle & Créme Fråiche Caramels:

Treacle & Créme Fråiche Caramels (taken verbatim from Dan Lepard)*

1 cup water

150 g white sugar

150 g light brown or muscovado sugar

75 g unsalted butter

200 ml crème fraîche

75 ml treacle (molasses)

1/4 tsp salt

scale

2 quart heavy-bottomed pot

wooden spoon

pastry brush

parchment paper lined dish/pan/tin

Number one, did you get all your ingredients weighed out? All of them? Even the salt? Because once this train starts rolling, you aren’t going to have time to pull out the scale and make sure you have “75 grams” of anything.

And did you line a tin or a pan with parchment? Because you certainly won’t have time to do that once your caramel gets underway.

Don't mind the window sill under the dish...this is the best lighting I have!

Do you have everything ready to go? Good.

First things first, pull out a very heavy-bottomed pot that is at least a 2 quart (8 cups) capacity. The one I am using is NOT a 2 quart capacity, but it is the best I have for the job. Every time I make caramel with this little pot, I watch my life flash before my eyes…and have to continually remove it from the heat so the molten caramel doesn’t end up on my skin. If you have a bigger pot, things will go much more smoothly and quickly for you.

Add your sugar and water to the pot. (Dan’s article recommends less water, but I burned 3 pans of sugar, before I found out it was easier to use a little more water to dissolve and melt the sugar. The excess water evaporates as you caramelize the sugar.) Place the pot over medium heat. Watch the sugar mixture, if it boils before all the sugar has dissolved, the caramel will want to crystalize on you, becoming crunchy rather than chewy. Once the sugar has dissolved, the heat can be turned up to a boil. This is not a project you should ever walk away from, constantly be watching the sugar, once it begins to caramelize, it can burn very quickly.

You want to develop a lot of flavor by allowing the caramel to reach a deep reddish-brown. If crystals begin to form on the side of the pan, wet your pastry brush and wipe down the sides of the pan, the crystals should melt away.

Once you have developed the reddish-brown color (and flavor) you are looking for, remove the pan from the heat and add your butter. Once the sputtering has calmed down, return to the heat to make sure the butter is completely melted, then add your molasses and your second measurement of sugar, stirring to incorporate. After those two are completely melted in, again, remove the pan from the heat to add your créme fråiche and salt. Then return the pan to high heat, stirring or swirling the pan to ensure the caramel doesn’t burn. It was at this stage I had to constantly remove the pan from the heat so the caramel didn’t boil over, if you have a larger pan, just let it boil away.

Monitor the temperature of your caramel with a candy thermometer. You will want your caramel to reach 260 degrees F for a soft set chewy caramel, or 266 degrees F for a firm set chewy caramel. I did somewhere between the two (263 degrees F) and was very happy with the consistency. (If you instead want this caramel to be poured over ice cream or another dessert as an all-purpose caramel sauce, only heat to 235 degrees F.)

When you have reached your desired temperature, turn off and remove the pan from the heat, stirring the caramel to rid of bubbles. Once it is smooth, pour into your prepared parchment-lined dish of choice and allow to cool completely for a few hours. After it has completely set, remove from the dish and cut into 1/2 inch to 1 inch cubes (or whatever size you prefer) with a sharp chefs knife.

Lastly, only make these if you have a group of friends with which you can share. Because they are dangerous. You will only intend to eat 1 or 2, but then suddenly, 5 or 6 will be missing, and you will be feeling the strong urge to do some vigorous cardio. Just some words of wisdom. Enjoy!

*Dan gives a variety of options for ingredients if you want to switch up the flavors. Experiment with different sugars, fats, and creams. Just be sure to start the batch with plain white sugar, it is best for developing deeply caramelized, yet not scorched, flavors.

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3 Responses to “Idle hands & Making Caramel”

  1. Todd Lawson said

    bring some to class Monday, Ron and I will buy some!

    • Rachel Ward said

      Ha, I took them to Kenna’s and shared with some of the girls. If you really want some, I could probably make another batch… :)

  2. […] I need intervention. This caramel habit isn’t pretty. If there were a few more mouths to feed in this house, it might not be so […]

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