Tuesday, November 28, 2006

salted chocolate caramels

salted chocolate caramels

I am not a candy maker. Heck, I’m barely a candy eater. Stop laughing; what I mean is, I prefer truffles, buttery cookies and crumbly, fruity things. But for some reason this season, perhaps another foppish attempt at service journalism, I seem to have gotten myself fixated on candy-making. It makes little sense considering the innumerable fantastic confectioneries in this city, but I think that at least part of the appeal is the long shelf life of cooked sugar. I like the idea of that you can give these to someone over the holidays and, if kept properly, they should last through January. Of course, not if you’ve made them well.

This month’s Gourmet magazine’s recipe for Salted Chocolate Caramels did nothing to curb this desire. Alex and I fell head-over-heels in love with salted butter caramel when we went to Paris last spring and friend had told us to go to the Berhtillon glacier (ice cream shop) on Ile Saint-Louis for the express purpose of trying their marron glacee ice cream sold only in only the winter months. Quite shortly, we were informed that they were out of the marron, but I had barely any time to mourn it when the salted butter caramel ice cream caught my eye. Alex and I shared the most miniscule scoop of the most abundantly complex flavor ever to cross our apparently deprived palates; not salty per se, but bright enough to hit all the notes.

the infamous berthillon

I almost fainted with joy when I saw an article in the New York Times Magazine last month about this very pairing. Apparently, like everything else we grow fixated with on this side of the pond, its old news in France as children in Brittany have long snacked on salted caramels. (Well la-dee-da, I say, it took us masters of excess to pair it with chocolate.) My near-fainting spell segued into a gasp for air when I read that Nicole Kaplan, the pastry chef at Eleven Madison Park discovered salted caramel at the very exact same location as Alex and I in Paris. Finally! Someone who could understand our longing.

salted chocolate caramels

Even better, the article included a recipe adapted from the lovely Fannie at Foodbeam, which Luisa gave a spin last month. Molly succumbed to Kaplan’s salted caramel ice cream, and oh, what I would have done for a taste. (I hear Kaplan has just left EMP; does this mean no more salted caramel goodness on the menu? I work close enough to “investigate.” More service journalism, indeed!)

From candy to Paris to the New York Times to the food blogosphere, I seem to have gotten off-track. I can’t help it — sea salt has that effect on me. What I meant to tell you was that I made Gourmet’s Salted Chocolate Caramels tonight but I can’t tell you a thing about them yet because they’re still cooling and it seems that they will be for ages. As you can infer from the nearly 500 words before this, I’ve got some mighty high hopes for them, and I hope they serve our memories proud. Until then, it’s bedtime, and our apartment smells like heaven.

syrup

Update: Panic! Stress! Help!

  1. They really didn’t get as hard as I thought they would. Then again, how hard should they be? This would be a terrible time for me to admit I have rarely even eaten caramel candies in my life. They’re like fudge right now, they hold their shape but feel too soft to wrap in pieces of waxed paper — doesn’t that seem a little sticky? I wholly confess to buying the cheapest candy thermometer on the planet last night. I was looking for that lovely OXO clip-on one and when Bowery Kitchen Supply didn’t have it (Isn’t OXO headquartered upstairs? Can’t they just call up for a refill? Hm, maybe not.) I just grabbed a $5 to hold me over until I found the better one. Makes sense, right? But, I haven’t used a candy thermometer before, and my pot was big enough that only the tip of the thermometer got covered with candy. It was supposed to take 15 minutes for the temp to get up to 225 degrees but it lingered and lingered at 150 while seemingly getting hotter. Finally, I angled it a little more sideways, splashed some caramel on it, and bam, it shot up to 225 and I took it off the heat immediately. Did I wrongly manipulate the thermometer? Am I an embarrassment of a candy-maker? (By the way, Mark Bittman says your caramel candies should register 236 degrees before you remove them; is 225 too low?)
  2. Ecch, that salt does not belong on top. Salt, as I have quickly learned, belongs in not on confections. Or, at least to please my tastes. It’s a shame, because they’re otherwise a tasty candy. A tasty sticky candy. Ugh, I’m going to brush my teeth now.

Update the Second: Not news, but I’m a moron.

255! Two-fifty-five. FIFTY. Not 225 degrees. I misread the recipe’s final caramel temperature. I have no doubt that with an additional 30 degrees, the caramels would hold their form much better. The recipe has been added, below. They are delicious, but consider yourself warned about the salt. Fin.

Salted Chocolate Caramels
Adapted from Gourmet December 2006

Makes about 64 caramels

2 cups heavy cream
10 1/2 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped [Deb note: my in-house options were Toll House chocolate chips or high-quality 72% chocolate. I went with the 72 percent. The slight extra bitterness is fantastic.]
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt such as Maldon
Vegetable oil for greasing

Special equipment: parchment paper; a candy thermometer

Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch straight-sided square metal baking pan with 2 long sheets of crisscrossed parchment.

Bring cream just to a boil in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat, then reduce heat to low and add chocolate. Let stand 1 minute, then stir until chocolate is completely melted. Remove from heat.

Bring sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt to a boil in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, uncovered, without stirring but gently swirling pan occasionally, until sugar is deep golden, about 10 minutes. Tilt pan and carefully pour in chocolate mixture (mixture will bubble and steam vigorously). Continue to boil over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until mixture registers 255°F on thermometer, about 15 minutes. Add butter, stirring until completely melted, then immediately pour into lined baking pan (do not scrape any caramel clinging to bottom or side of saucepan). Let caramel stand 10 minutes, then sprinkle evenly with sea salt. Cool completely in pan on a rack, about 2 hours.

Carefully invert caramel onto a clean, dry cutting board, then peel off parchment. Turn caramel salt side up. Lightly oil blade of a large heavy knife and cut into 1-inch squares. (If desired, additional sea salt can be pressed onto caramels after cutting.)

Caramels keep, layered between sheets of parchment or wax paper, in an airtight container at cool room temperature 2 weeks. To package them up pretty, the caramels can be wrapped in 4-inch squares of wax paper; twist ends to close.


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