Friday, February 5, 2016

Salted Chocolate Caramels

Rich chocolate and delicate sea salt dress up this classic confection.

Powerless to resist the siren call of a buttery caramel? We are, too. But if you’ve been burned by past attempts at cooking it yourself, fear not! In his book Making & Using Caramel, author and chef Bill Collins outlines the process in a few simple steps so that it’s easy (maybe too easy) to create decadent treats like Salted Chocolate Caramels in your own kitchen.

You don’t need much in the way of special equipment here — though we do insist on a candy thermometer, as a matter of a few degrees can make a big difference in candy consistency. And of course, you’ll want to heed these key pieces of wisdom from Chef Bill:

Premeasure all your ingredients so they are ready to be added. This is solid advice, especially with the Salted Chocolate Caramel recipe, since you have two major components (chocolate and cream, plus sugar) to contend with.

Be careful when adding cream near the end of cooking. It’s important to follow Collins’s recommendation to use a large pot here. This recipe yields a big batch of caramels, and by the time you combine the cooked sugar with the chocolate and cream, you not only have a lot of molten candy, but adding cream causes the sugar to bubble up to nearly double its size. It’s not a bad idea to have an extra pair of hands to help control the speed of your pour (plus it leaves one person free to whisk).

Stay alert while you’re cooking, and don’t leave the kitchen. While it might seem like the initial stages of heating the sugar take forever, as the temperature rises a matter of seconds can mean the difference between golden brown and burned. (We’d even suggest that, if you have a pot with a white interior that’s large enough to accommodate your caramel, use that one; you can judge the color of your cooking sugar much more effectively.)

And of course, most importantly, don’t dip a spoon, or worse, a finger, into the cooked caramel to sneak a taste. This is not a simmering pot of chicken soup. This is a screaming-hot pot of scorching caramel.

It takes a while for the candies to cool completely but we pronounce them well worth the wait, and they’re sure to impress any sweetie lucky enough to be on your gift list.

Salted Chocolate Caramels

Chocolate, milk or dark, has a way of elevating a simple, rich caramel. This is a bit of a fancier presentation than the basic chewy caramels. Rather than wrapping these caramels in waxed paper, you can cut them into squares and present them, if you’d like, in a gift box. This candy will be very popular with your friends and family, both for the great look of the gift and for the fabulous flavor of the chocolate caramels.

Yield: About 60 pieces

4 cups heavy cream
1 pound dark or milk chocolate, chopped into chip-sized pieces
4 cups sugar
2 cups corn syrup
¼ cup water
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 teaspoons sea salt
Flaky sea salt, for decoration, optional

  1. Spray a 10- by 15-inch jelly-roll pan with cooking spray. Line the pan with parchment paper, making sure that it extends by at least 2 inches over two opposite sides of the pan. Spray the parchment paper and then set the pan aside.
  2. Combine the cream and chocolate in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until the chocolate melts. Turn off the heat but leave the pan on the burner.
  3. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water in a large, heavy-duty saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When the mixture begins to boil, brush the insides of the pan with a damp pastry brush to prevent sugar crystals from forming. Then reduce the heat to medium to keep the sugar mixture at a steady boil until it reaches 250°F. You can swirl the mixture around the pan, but do not stir.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly whisk in the cream and chocolate mixture. The contents of the pan will bubble up quickly; continue whisking until the bubbling stops.
  5. Return the pan to the stovetop. Continue cooking over medium-high heat, without stirring, until the temperature returns to 250°F.
  6. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter and salt.
  7. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. For a bigger salt flavor, if desired, sprinkle flaky sea salt onto the surface of the caramel as it’s starting to cool. It must still be warm, but not extremely hot. After you sprinkle on the salt, gently press it into the surface of the caramel so it will stick to it when the caramel has completely cooled.
  8. Let the caramel cool to room temperature, about 5 minutes. Use a knot to make light marks on the surface of the caramel to identify your squares of candy. Do this across both sides, every 1½ inches (or whatever size you’d like the candies to be). Then let the caramels finish cooling, up to 8 hours.
  9. Once it’s cooled, remove the entire block of caramel from the pan and set it on a cutting board. Following your guide marks, cut the caramels into pieces. Store in an airtight container until you’re ready to serve them or package them as a gift.

Recipe excerpted from Making & Using Caramel © 2016 by William Collins. All rights reserved.

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