Caramel experiment gone wrong...
April 24, 2011 6:22 PM   Subscribe

How do I rescue a caramel experiment gone wrong?

So, I know . . I know! . . . that experimenting with superheated sugar without really knowing what you're doing is a mistake. (No, I didn't burn myself.) But here goes. For reasons too convoluted to get into, I had a lot of "extra" granulated sugar that had hardened in a glass jar, and I was on a cleaning binge, and I started to dissolve it in water just to get rid of it and then I had regrets about waste, the planet, etc. So, I decided, water boils away, and eventually I'll have a nice sugar syrup and I can cook that a little longer and add a little bourbon and some other stuff and have a caramel sauce and, well, wouldn't that be nice.

A few minutes later it is reducing nicely and starting to get a pleasant brown hue and so I add a little half and half and . . . foam. Lots of foam, foam on the heat, foam off the heat (in fact, off the heat, it boiled over, then suddenly collapsed like a souffle, then . . . without any additional heat! . . . boiled over again. I am not making this up.)

Not easily defeated, I added some bourbon, heated it again (this has happened to me before making pralines, and a bigger pot helped keep things under control), and now the foaming was even worse. Defeated, I poured the sweet, bourbony mixture into the a ceramic ramekin, where it has solidified into a (not quite rock) hard mixture.

Can it be saved? Can I still make this into caramel? Candy? Something to sprinkle on something else? Or should I just throw it in the trash. There are about 3 cups of it.
posted by Bongotrance Rabbitfriend to Food & Drink (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you get it out of the ramekin and does it taste good? If both of those are true then I really like your idea of breaking it up into something to sprinkle on something else... like homemade vanilla ice cream. Yum.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 6:34 PM on April 24, 2011

Congratulations: you have made toffee (well, kinda). It will be delicious sprinked in ice cream.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:01 PM on April 24, 2011

Response by poster: It definitely tastes good, and it's not too hard to get out of the ramekin, either by breaking it up with a fork (it's granular in texture, not hard like a brittle or sticky). Ice cream is a good idea . . .
posted by Bongotrance Rabbitfriend at 7:30 PM on April 24, 2011

Best answer: Yeah, this is definitely still usable. Heat a pan of water until simmering and set the ramekin in there until the caramel is soft, then either drizzle on ice cream or spread out on some lightly buttered foil or parchment to cool. Depending on how hot you let the caramel go, it'll either get hard and brittle like toffee, or maybe just stay soft and sticky, like a soft caramel. Either way, it'll be delicious!
posted by rossination at 10:24 PM on April 24, 2011

You got a lot of caramelized product.

The foaming sounds a lot like there's protein (or lipids) in there.

What I'd do with it? Heat it up slowly, preferably in a double boiler (the container with the hard stuff floating in a container with boiling water) until the stuff becomes liquid again.

Drop/drip on parchment/wax/tinfoil paper as small sweets.
posted by porpoise at 10:24 PM on April 24, 2011

Response by poster: I like the double boiler idea a lot.
posted by Bongotrance Rabbitfriend at 4:42 AM on April 25, 2011

Best answer: IANACM, and I am a lot more familiar with the grainy stuff you're describing than any kind of successful candy.
Before you start over, it might be wise to dissolve it in water again. Reducing all the water out of a sugar solution is a bad thing for most candy recipes, which depend on a pretty specific concentration. Sugar doesn't start doing interesting things until a few degrees over boiling, and the stuff you have may not melt at all in a double boiler.

Here's an obligatory wikipedia link on candy syrup stages. (Better descriptions.)
You should be able to substitute the stuff you've got for sugar in any candy recipe; you might still have to contend with the foaming though. (I'd be fascinated to know what kind of reaction was happening in your saucepan, as a lot of recipes start with melted butter and sugar, and don't produce anything nearly that dramatic.)

For caramel (as in the chewy candy) you will probably want to add some more cream and butter (don't settle for half-and-half, candy isn't supposed to be good for you) as well as some corn syrup and heat to firm-ball stage, wiping down the sides of the pan regularly. Once there, pour into a container of your choice and let cool.

Of course, any solution that involves ice cream is also good.
posted by marakesh at 6:52 AM on April 25, 2011

Response by poster: So, here's what I wound up doing. First, I heated the (now hardened) sugar mixture slowly in a double boiler, and let it warm for a while and give up some of the moisture. Of course, that won't get the sugar any hotter than the boiling point of water, and I wanted to get closer to the soft-ball stage (around 240 degrees if I remember correctly), so I took the (now somewhat drier mixture) and heated it slowly in a saucepan. This time it boiled nicely but did not foam wildly and coat everything in my kitchen with scalding-hot melted sugar like before. When it had reached the right temperature, I poured it over pieces of not-quite-sweet-enough pineapple, which tonight I'll chop up and serve over ice cream. (There's a squeeze of lime at the end too.) Yum.
posted by Bongotrance Rabbitfriend at 12:47 PM on April 30, 2011

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