People are intimidated by candy. Which seems odd to me, I mean, everybody I knows has a favourite candy, everyone I know has old memories about candy, and yet people are terrified to make it themselves.
Candy is all about sugar. Sugar does amazing things, keep it in a pan and it turns to caramel. Twist it at the right moment and it becomes toffee. It can be shatteringly crisp, soft and pliable, or melting and sandy, it just depends on how you treat it.
Caramels are one of the easiest pieces of candy to make, and I’m not just saying that because they’re my favourite. I promise.
Here are things to remember:
Sugar can crystalize. It can do this in several ways, and once it starts your whole caramel is toast. Sugar wants to crystalize, if there are bits of crystalized sugar on the edges it will spread, and if you can start it crystalizing by stirring it.
Preventing crystalization is really very easy. Most people tell you take a damp pastry brush and brush the sides of the pan to make sure that all of the sugar dissolves. This is silly. You can just put a lid on it. (if you like it then you shoulda putta…. sorry. I had too.) The condensation will make sure all the crystals dissolve.
Make sure you have everything ready when you start. Once the sugar starts to caramelize it will happen quickly, to be on top of it, be prepared. In a restaurant we call this “mise en place”
These are the best caramels I know how to make, and they are rivalled only by the ones I ate in Paris that were made with Normandy cultured butter and full of chopped hazelnuts. These ones are very buttery, and have a very strong caramel flavour without ever being bitter. They are all kinds of wonderful. You can make this recipe without the seasonal adjustment, they are fantastic as classic salted caramels, but it is December after all, so these are Gingerbread Caramels, and they are my favourite.
3 1/2 cups Sugar
1/3 cup Corn Syrup
1/4 cup Water
400mL Heavy Cream
2 3/4 cup Unsalted Butter
1tsp Ground Ginger
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
1/4 tsp Ground Fennelseed
1tbsp Fancy Molasses
*if you don’t want to make gingerbread molasses simply don’t add in the cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and fennelseeds, and instead add 2 tablespoons of salt.
In a large pot with deep sides and a secure lid mix together the sugar, corn syrup and water. Put a lid on it at put the pot on medium heat. After 4-5 minutes go and check on it. If it is totally clear and bubbling and there is absolutely no trace of sugar crystals take the lid off. If there are give it a quick stir and put the lid back on. Keep doing this- although don’t stir more then once every 3 minutes) until it is completely clear and there is no trace of a crystal anywhere. Then take off the lid. Once you have given it a last stir put that spatula in the sink. It will have bits of crystalized sugar on it which you don’t want to reintroduce to the mix. SO if your anything like me, you’ll need it out of arms reach or you’ll grab it accidentally.
In a small pot nearby mix the heavy cream with the salt, molasses and all the spices, if using and gently bring to a boil. Once it has come up put a lid on it and keep it on the burner so that it stays warm.
Keep an eye on your sugar. Don’t mix it once you take the lid off it, instead give it a bit of a shake every once in a while. Keep the heat on medium, it will take longer to caramelize but you will get a nicer more even flavour.
After a few minutes the sugar will start to turn brown, slowly. Give it a shake so that it’s not getting darker in one area.
Once the whole thing has come up to a nice deep auburn color turn off the heat and add in the cream.
The cream will hiss and steam and bubble. It will be alarming, but don’t be alarmed. Take a whisk and stir it being careful not to burn yourself from the steam.
Now add in the butter, piece by piece while whisking it like hell. You can use an emersion blender for this if you’d like, many people do, but mine doesn’t work very well so I do it by hand. It’s a bit of a workout.
Now bring the heat back up to medium and start cooking your caramel. You will have to stir it the whole time so use a rubber spatula so that you make sure you get into all the nooks and crannys and slowly, carefully watch the temperature rise with your thermometer.
When it comes up to 254F take it off the heat and immediately pour it into your prepared pan. Do not scrape the bottom of the pot, the temperature will have made the remaining bits harden, but do scrape the sides.
Allow the caramels to cool for at least 6 hours before cutting and wrapping them.