Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Caramels- two ways

I've been in a really odd mood these past few days. A combination of antsy, stressed, bleh, and overwhelmed. And there isn't a particular reason that I can think of. Other than the fact that up until yesterday my apartment was a complete mess-- which happens more often than I'd like on occasion-- I was at a bit of a loss as to why I've been feeling like this recently.

Then my friend Robin told me there was a very simple reason for it all: "It's February in Chicago." Doh. She pretty much hit the nail on the proverbial head.

I can't complain too much, because this winter really hasn't been that bad. But it IS winter after all, and by default all the outdoor activities and exploring that I did in the summertime took a steep dive downhill in the past few months. I think my body is craving those miles-long walks and random adventures with the boy. And outdoor concerts with friends. And drinks on outdoor patios. And reading on my porch in my awesome zero-gravity chair. And general warmth from the sun.

I was hoping our trip to Arizona last month would have been the perfect recharge I needed from the never-ending chill, but the weather was pretty miserable throughout our entire 5 day stay.

 Nothing like trying to escape the cold Chicago winter and being greeted with snow.
Turns out it was 20 degrees warmer in Chicago than Sedona for the last 2 days of our trip!! 

Obviously we did what we could to make the most of our trip, shared great moments, and captured gorgeous photos (more on that in the next few weeks). But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed we didn't get to do as much outdoorsy stuff as we had hoped. That's what I get for getting all excited about a trip. I find that more often than not when I get really excited about something, it has a way of letting me down.

But you know what you can get excited about that I promise won't let you down??

These caramels!

They're soft. And perfectly sweet. And absolutely bursting with flavor.

Hand-wrapping each caramel in a wax paper square is a giant pain in the a$$ (especially when you're wrapping ~200 of them like I did around the holidays). But its not soooo bad if you prep all your necessities, pop on some music, and just get into a wrapping groove. Before you know it you'll have knocked out the whole shebang in no time (aka: about an hour or so).

Cut caramels. Wrap caramels. Repeat more times than you wish to count.

The caramels in my photographs above are a traditional vanilla bean. They had a perfect caramel flavor and they'll just melt in your mouth with their softness. In addition to these I also made a batch of apple cider caramels that were insanely delicious. They're hard to describe though because they were unlike any caramel I've ever had in my life. They were tart and fresh and bursting with apple cider flavor. And I mean smack-you-across-the-face flavor punch. I literally couldn't believe the power that came out of this tiny 1" square piece of candy. 

These caramels got special wrapping, 
just like my homemade s'mores and candied Buddha's hand

Yours in finally trying her hand at caramels, even though she's not a novice when it comes to homemade caramel sauce,

A few notes about the recipes below:
  1. If you want to make a giant batch, you can double the recipe and pour it into a 9x13 pan.
  2. I cooked my 2 batches of caramels at different temperatures: one at 248˚ F (as suggested by Annie's Eats) and one at 252˚ F (as suggested by Smitten Kitchen). Both turned out soft and melt-in-your-mouth, but the ones cooked at the lower temperature were softer, as you would expect. The caramels cooked to 248˚ F were very soft at first, as evidenced by the photo below. Over time they "set up" a bit more, but did remain "smooshier". The ones cooked to 252˚ F were by no means hard caramels, but they were a bit more firm than the former. For me, the ones at 248˚ F were a tad too soft, so I'm more inclined to cook the sugar to ~250˚ F in the future.  
  3. How you store the caramels will make a difference in texture too. Caramels will be somewhat on the soft side at room temperature, and chewy/firm from the fridge. Long-term you can keep the caramels in the fridge-- and they'll quickly come to room temp if you want to soften them up.

Salted Vanilla Bean Caramels, from Annie's Eats

Yield: ~64 (1") caramels


1 cup heavy cream
5 tbsp. unsalted butter
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean pod, split lengthwise and scraped
1¼ tsp. fleur de sel, plus more for sprinkling
1½ cups sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup water

  1. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper. Lightly butter the parchment.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine the cream, butter, vanilla extract, vanilla bean seeds, pods, and fleur de sel. Heat over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  3. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring but gently swirling the pan occasionally, until the mixture is a light golden caramel color.
  4. Remove the vanilla bean pods from the cream mixture and carefully stir the cream mixture into the caramel – the mixture will bubble up, so pour slowly and stir constantly. Continue simmering the mixture until it registers 248˚ F (or up to 252˚ F, see note above) on a candy thermometer. Immediately remove from the heat and pour into the prepared pan. Let cool for 30 minutes, then sprinkle lightly with additional fleur de sel, optional
  5. Continue to let sit until completely set and cooled. Cut into 1-inch pieces (a buttered pizza cutter works well). Wrap the individual caramels in small pieces of wax paper, about 4-inch squares.
Apple Cider Caramels, from Smitten Kitchen
Yield: ~64 (1") caramels

Apple cider (sometimes called sweet or “soft” cider), is different from both apple juice and the hard, or alcoholic, fermented apple cider. It’s a fresh, unfiltered (it has sediment), raw apple juice — the juice literally pressed from fresh apples. It’s unpasteurized, and must be refrigerated, because it’s perishable.

4 cups (945 ml) apple cider
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, or less of a finer one
8 tablespoons (115 grams or 1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (110 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup (80 ml) heavy cream
Neutral oil for the knife

  1. Boil the apple cider in a 3- to- 4- quart saucepan over high heat until it is reduced to a dark, thick syrup, between 1/3 and 1/2 cup in volume. This takes about 35 to 40 minutes on my stove. Stir occasionally.
  2. Meanwhile, get your other ingredients in order, because you won’t have time to spare once the candy is cooking. Line the bottom and sides of an 8- inch straight- sided square metal baking pan with 2 long sheets of crisscrossed parchment. Set it aside. Stir the cinnamon and flaky salt together in a small dish.
  3. Once you are finished reducing the apple cider, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter, sugars, and heavy cream. Return the pot to medium- high heat with a candy thermometer attached to the side, and let it boil until the thermometer reads 252˚ F (248˚ F for softer caramels), only about 5 minutes. Keep a close eye on it. (Don’t have a candy or deep- fry thermometer? Have a bowl of very cold water ready, and cook the caramel until a tiny spoonful dropped into the water becomes firm, chewy, and able to be plied into a ball.)
  4. Immediately remove caramel from heat, add the cinnamon- salt mixture, and give the caramel several stirs to distribute it evenly. Pour caramel into the prepared pan. Let it sit until cool and firm—about 2 hours, though it goes faster in the fridge. 
  5. Once caramel is firm, use your parchment paper sling to transfer the block to a cutting board. Use a well- oiled knife, oiling it after each cut (trust me!), to cut the caramel into 1-by-1-inch squares. Wrap each one in a 4-inch square of waxed paper, twisting the sides to close.


Mara @ What's for Dinner? said...

Apple cider caramels are among my favorite foods these days. I made batches and batches of them and found it extremely difficult to not eat them ALL!

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