Caramels Om Nom Nom.
August 28, 2009 4:20 PM   Subscribe

Can you recommend a recipe for chocolate-coated creamy caramels (with creamy being the operative adjective)? Also, your candy-making tips.

I love Fran's (Seattle, WA) gray salt caramels in dark chocolate, but at USD12 for 7 delectable pieces, I can't really justify the expense when I go shopping. Combine that with my current state of unemployment and a passion for cooking = clearly I have to make my own.

One of the recipes I've found is this one, but it uses condensed milk. Fran lists cream as the first ingredient in her caramels, and since I usually have cream at home but not condensed milk, I'd like to adapt the recipe to omit the condensed milk somehow. Can you help with that? If that's a bad idea, can you recommend a different recipe for soft, buttery caramels?

Furthermore, I've never made any sort of candy (as opposed to, say, pastries). Do you have any secret tips or ideas on how to deal with the sticky caramel mess? I'm fully prepared to deal with the frustration (assuming it's anything at all like working with sushi rice), but surely people have figured out ways to simplify the process? Please share.

Bonus points if I can use our meat thermometer that only goes up to 220°F/105°C: obviously this is a bad time for me to invest in a candy thermometer.
posted by halogen to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
No tips for the caramel, but it you want the chocolate coating to have a great shine and 'snap' and to remain solid at room temp, add paraffin wax to the melted chocolate. Google for ratios.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:17 PM on August 28, 2009

Best answer: (self-link alert) I have a recipe for soft creamy caramels that uses crême fraiche, but you can substitute heavy cream with a little yogurt or sour cream added (see the comments there for what people who have tried the recipe have had success with). It is very buttery, a bit salty and a bit sour, in the style of Breton (Brittany) caramels, which are the best that I have ever had. The recipe also has some tips for handling molten sugar, butter and cream. Once the caramel mass is cool enough to handle, it's not that sticky really - the butter helps to keep it off your hands.

I like the caramels plain, but you can coat them in chocolate by melting dark chocolate or coating chocolate and dipping the cooled caramel pieces in it - a candy dipper would be very handy for this task, otherwise it's a very messy task. If you're handy, you can make a dipper with some wire.

(on preview: coating chocolate is essentially chocolate with paraffin added. The glossier it is, the easier it is to handle, but it's not as good to eat.)
posted by thread_makimaki at 5:32 PM on August 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

no recipe, but I would definitely try to get a candy thermometer. I got one cheaply (say, $5-10) not too long ago in a grocery store - made things much, much easier.
posted by firei at 5:40 PM on August 28, 2009

Best answer: You definitely need the candy thermometer, but they're cheap. I think mine was something like four or five bucks.

This caramel recipe is AMAZING, and I make them for Christmas gifts every year. Last year, I dropped the ginger and cinnamon for one batch of plain caramels, then dipped them in chocolate and sprinkled them with gray sea salt. Charmingly uglier than Fran's, but otherwise pretty much spot on!

Just throw everything in the sink and fill it with water for a few hours. It cleans itself up like magic!
posted by adiabat at 5:41 PM on August 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: thread_makimaki, adiabat, that's exactly what I am looking for! Also, a candy dipper and candy thermometer shall inevitably be purchased this weekend.
posted by halogen at 5:50 PM on August 28, 2009

Best answer: I've used this one with great success. So amazing.

Be aware that successful candy-making is very dependent upon humidity levels. But if you have candy that doesn't set, especially caramels, you can use it in other applications. The recipe above, for example, is great on ice cream. I had a batch that wouldn't set once and I just put it in a plastic container and kept it in the fridge. I'd take a little of it and soften it in the microwave and pour it over ice cream. Mmmm.

Also, try a 'dry' caramel next time. No water at the start, just sugar in the pan. Stir it with a fork until it starts melting. The second it does, set aside the fork and swirl the pan periodically to insure even melting. Add the cream when the sugar turns dark amber. It'll seem like it's not going to incorporate, but just keep stirring until it does. The dry method gives a more concentrated flavor, I think.
posted by cooker girl at 7:07 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just to comment on some of the above: coating chocolate is NOT chocolate with paraffin added. Coating chocolate is chocolate that has had the fat (cocoa butter) replaced with a different fat (often palm kernel oil) that helps it remain solid and glossy at room temperature. Use coating chocolate if you must--although I don't think it tastes as good--but please don't use paraffin. Do you really want your luscious butter caramels to have a waxy taste and mouthfeel? Best bet is to buy good-quality chocolate and temper it, but since it's summer here in the US, it might very well be too hot or humid where you live for good results.

Also: if you do have caramel that doesn't "set" the first time (ie, is too runny) you can always scrape it back into a saucepan and cook it again, to a higher temperature. This is where that candy thermometer--NOT meat thermometer!--comes in handy. You definitely will want a thermometer that can read above 300.

I just made Alice Medrich's Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels and they were fab. They use golden syrup (as opposed to corn syrup) which has a really delicious subtle flavor, and an actual vanilla bean--very fragrant--and lots of cream. If you make this recipe my personal recommendation is to cook it a little less. The recipe says 260 for soft caramels, 265 for chewier. I cooked to 260 and would have preferred even softer, maybe between 250-255. But still, fabulous.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 10:53 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Re the candy thermometer: Several years ago I took a one-day candy making and chocolate decoration class (there isn't a more exhausting or funner way to spend a day, I guarantee!) and there the instructor taught us how to gauge sugar boiling stages without a thermometer. You can Google this, but if you want it described in writing, you can't do better than The Way To Cook by Julia Child. A candy thermometer is a nice thing to have for sure, but it's not totally necessary. (In the same class we also learned how to do the paraffin-chocolate thing, so I assumed that that was what coating chocolate was composed off, but I guess commercial coating chocolate is different. But for taste...don't use it!)
posted by thread_makimaki at 12:02 AM on August 29, 2009

Do you really want your luscious butter caramels to have a waxy taste and mouthfeel?

Nobody does. Done right, nobody tastes or feels anything. It's just much, much easier to handle and store and looks a lot better.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:13 AM on August 29, 2009

Response by poster: Ended up making thread_makimaki's crême fraiche caramels, but I only heated them to about 245°F because I wanted them to be soft like Fran's (I had to keep them in the frig after wrapping). I didn't bother coating them in chocolate, but pressed some extra fleur de sel into each candy. OMG so delicious, thank you! Can't wait to make this recipe with my parents for Christmas.
posted by halogen at 3:12 PM on September 10, 2009

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