Thursday, February 25, 2010
Fleur de Sel Caramels
Is there any better combination than sweet and salty? Before I even understood anything about complimentary flavors and tastes I knew that movie theater popcorn must be eaten with a tall, icy sweet Coca Cola. The oily, (well, we know it should be buttery but we are talking about mainstream movie theater popcorn here so let's face it, it's butter flavored oil) salty crunch of the popcorn just went so well with sips of the syrupy sweet Coca Cola. I couldn't explain it but I knew it was right. Ever since those first movie theater visits I have been hooked on salty and sweet.
Nothing brings those two tastes more into harmony with each other than salted caramels made with Fleur de Sel. Except for chocolate, chocolate is lovely with salt. The next time you are baking a tray of brownies, go ahead and throw in an extra pinch of salt. It enhances the chocolate...you'll thank me. But as I often do, I digress. This is about caramels. Rich, buttery, milky sweet caramels touched with a kiss of salt. Heaven. And so easy to make. Do you make candy? I grew up eating homemade candy, my Nana made wonderful caramels. Not frequently but when she did decide to make some, I would stuff my pockets and chubby cheeks with as many as I could get my hands on.
We had a snow day yesterday, we got well over a foot of snow! I happened to have some leftover heavy cream in the fridge from another cooking endeavor and while thumbing through my cooking binder, I came across my recipe for Fleur de Sel Caramels. I know you are not supposed to make candy on a rainy day, the humidity makes it hard to set up but I wasn't sure if that meant snow also. Luckily I am cool with winging it (and possibly failing) and it turned out wonderfully.
~Fleur de Sel Caramels~
1 cup heavy cream
5 TBSP unsalted butter, cut into pieces (I used salted)
1-2 TSP fleur de sel (mine had rather large grains so I used the 2 TSP)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup (I've read that you could use honey in it's place)
1/4 cup water
Line an 8" pan with foil and butter or spray the foil with cooking spray. I buttered mine because I firmly believe in gilding the lily.
Bring the cream, butter and salt just to a boil and set aside. I use cream from the Battenkill Valley Creamery. It's so thick that simply combined with the butter and salt and boiled, it looked like a thick sauce. How beautiful is that?
In a separate pan, combine the sugar, corn syrup and water, stirring to dissolve. Set over medium high heat and bring to a boil without stirring. For extra insurance, I like to wipe down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Like so.
Swirl the pan every so often until the sugar turns golden. Like so. At this stage, be careful. It's a mere matter of seconds from golden to burnt. I know this too well.
When your sugar is golden brown, add the cream mixture. Stand back, pour carefully and make sure you've used a big enough pot as the mixture will violently boil and expand. Stir with a long handled spoon and clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Lower the heat to medium and simmer, stirring frequently until the mixture reaches 248 degrees.
Pour the caramel into your prepared pan and cool at least two hours before cutting.
When you are ready to cut the caramels, lift them out of the pan, peel off the foil and set them down on a cutting board. I like to spray my very sharp knife with cooking spray so I get clean cuts. I'm sure some people might get a ruler out at this point to ensure even pieces, but I am a big fan of eyeballing. I'm not aiming for perfection here, rustic will do.
Now to store these you have to wrap them. I know, how tedious. But if you try to store them loose in a jar or container, they will stick together. Heed my warning...learn from my mistakes. :)
I used to cut aluminum foil or waxed paper into small squares and wrap the candy that way but last Christmas I treated myself to precut foil wrappers from Amazon.com and I will never cut waxed paper again.
Now...ahem. There's a step missing here. This is real life and in my real life I forget things or get distracted. A lot. At some point after I poured the candy into the pan, after it's cooled a bit but before it's set, I should have sprinkled fleur de sel on top of the caramel. It's lovely, the crunchy grains of salt on top of the silky sweet caramel. It's a small touch that brings the caramels over the top. And I forgot it. Never mind, they are still wonderful and I still made them all by myself.