I believe I discovered the deliciousness of sweet and salty combined in a large bag of kettle korn at the Davis Farmers Market, many years ago. The next big step was the olive oil gelato at Otto in NYC. Drizzled with a little more olive oil and sprinkled with just a touch of sea salt, it was so good that it led me to the awful habit of doing the same with almost any flavor of ice cream at home. But I think the ultimate sweet and salty dessert is the classic French decadence, salted butter caramel. I can't quite remember when I first tried it, but it's a favorite of mine to order at specialty chocolate shops like CocoaBella at the San Francisco Shopping Center, and I tried a number of things with this flavor while in France last fall. I'm not sure if I could pick a favorite between the macaroon at Pierre Hermé and the ice cream Berthillon.
Much like the scones, I've had it in the back of my mind for a while to try to make some caramels of my own. So when I went out for scone ingredients I also picked up caramel supplies, including a candy thermometer. It was actually while searching for caramel recipes that I discovered smittenkitchen.com, my new favorite food blog that also inspired me to take photos while cooking. I decided to try Deb's chocolate salted caramels recipe from her "salty and sublime" post, as well as epicurious.com's more classic fleur de sel caramels. So one night when CF was out late with a friend, I decided to make some candy.
The process was easy enough. Basically you prep the cream in one way or another, either melting and mixing the chocolate into it or just butter and sea salt. Then you get sugar, light corn syrup and a tiny bit of water boiling. The sugar starts to caramelize and turn a deep golden color, and then you add the cream. The reaction of bringing the two together is quite impressive, it bubbles and steams wildly! Then you keep it on the heat until it reaches a certain temperature. Aha, there's the problem. Getting the temp right was very tricky. The tip of the thermometer has to be in the mixture far enough, but not too close to the bottom of the pot. And then you want to be stirring it but the thermometer is in the way. And if you stir too much, the temp will never climb to where you need it to be. Add to this the fact that I had my burner on much lower than I would eventually realize works best, well, the first batch didn't come out so good. I think I was overcompensating for the warnings from Deb at smittenkitchen.com. Her first batch came out too soft because she didn't heat it to high enough a temp. I made sure mine hit the right temperature, but uh oh, was it actually still climbing? Once I got it poured into a pan I figured out pretty quickly that it was solidifying, I managed to cut it up into little pieces, but I ended up with candy that reminded me of those Sees Candy chocolate pops. Boo!
I also burnt my hand on the tip of the candy thermometer when I put it down, oddly enough, metal objects that were in boiling liquids end up very hot! And my response to the burn splashed a little of the hot stick chocolate on my hand as well Ouch! I wasn't quite sure how I felt about candy making at that point. I had wasted the chocolate, but I had supplies to try the other recipe. I reread the recipes and figured out that I had cooked the first batch way too long, and decided to try it at a higher temperature than suggested. This batch went much better! It still went a little on the solid side, but I was feeling all right about my abilities at that point.
CF still wasn't home, and thanks to the wonders of his wireless internet card (it's like a cellphone connection for your laptop) I had a little chat with him while he rode home on BART. I decided with the remaining cream I had I would try one more batch of the plain caramels. I turned up the heat even higher, cooked it all even faster... and they came out just right. Yes!
After a trip to the store to replenish supplies I was able to try the chocolate caramel recipe once again (a day or two later). It's a little trickier than the other recipe still, but I put what I had learned to use and things went rather smoothly. In this recipe the butter and sea salt are added at the last minute. The first time I tried it my hard candies ended up sort of greasy, I thought the butter didn't get incorporated because I had solidified the mixture too much already. But it turns out it's just hard to get it stirred in no matter what. So I stirred that pot with all my might and managed to get it to come together. I think I was a little overanxious on the temp though, I didn't get these quite hot enough, so they're a little soft. The chocolate recipe is extremely decadent. It's sugar, cream, chocolate, butter and salt... so what did I expect? I did heed another one of Deb's warning and did not put the salt on the outside of the caramel. The salt getting added right as the end led to flakes of salt crunching as you eat the caramels. Salt lovers will enjoy it, for some people it might just be too much of a good thing.
Cutting my 8"x8" pans of caramels down into bite sized pieces and wrapping each one individually (otherwise they tried to reattach themselves to one another) took a good amount of time as well. One of the most annoying things was trying to get nice squares of waxed paper off the roll, I'm guessing there are pre-cut wrappers out there somewhere, I'll track those down before I try this again. I ended up taking three batches of salted caramels on our annual camping trip. Thank goodness I had twenty friends or so to help eat all these candies! Thanks guinea pigs!
Sunday, June 1, 2008
Salty Sweet Gal
Those of you who also keep an eye on my Flickr photostream probably saw this coming...