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16 December 2011

Christmas: Making Chocolates Part 2, Caramels

To make caramel centers for dipping or for eating, you will need: a large saucepan, a long-handled spoon or spatula that you can stir with that won't damage your saucepan (so, no metal implements on a Teflon-coated pan), a buttered cake or casserole pan and a candy thermometer. Start by calibrating your thermometer. You'll have to figure it out from those instructions, because I sure can't explain it. Now get ready to stand by the stove and stir for a while.

Basic Caramels:
2 cups heavy cream
1 tbsp. butter
2 cups white or brown sugar or combination
2 cups light Karo syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Start by scalding the cream. When milk/cream is heated, the proteins in it get changed and coagulate somewhat. If you've ever wondered why you sometimes get a skin on hot chocolate, this is why. So if you don't want this skin or scummy stuff to form when you actually make the caramel, scald the milk first. If you put a tablespoon of butter in with the cream, then by the time the butter melts all the way and small bubbles are coming up the sides of the pan, the milk should be scalded. You can skip the butter, but it is nice not only because it's melting time seems to line up with the scalding time, but it also prevents a skin from forming on top. If you skip the butter, you will have to pull off a skin before you use the cream. When you pour the cream out of the pan it will leave behind the coagulated deposits.

coagulated proteins: scum from scalding cream

Pour the scalded cream, sugar and Karo syrup into a large saucepan. Start heating on low heat, stir to dissolve the sugar. When all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed/dissolved, turn heat up to medium, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Keep heating mixture, watch the thermometer, you'll shoot for softball stage, which is 240 degrees Fahrenheit. As the caramel develops and more moisture evaporates, the nature of the boiling will change, I was going to try to get some good pictures of it, but it was too hard to stir at the same time. But once you do this the first time, you'll see what I mean and you'll have a better feel for it next time. If you want the caramels to be softer and gooey-er when you bite into them, turn off the heat just before it reaches 240 (or your calibrated temperature), one or maybe two degrees less. You can do the softball test to see if it is at the right level of hardness for your taste. Take off the heat and add vanilla, be careful because it will spatter when it hits the hot caramel. Pour into a buttered pan, a glass cake/casserole pan is nice because then you can see how deep the caramel is so it's easier to cut it to size later.

Let cool for several hours. Depending on the final gooeyness of your caramel, you may want to cool it in the fridge, but if it sets up really hard, it will need to be at room temperature to cut. Cut the pieces, approximately 3/4 inch cubes is a good size.

cutting caramels

When you cut the pieces, put them on a buttered plate or tray of some kind in a single layer and chill in the fridge or freezer. If you stack up extra layers on top they will squish each other, so keep it single layer until they are very cold and firm. I did three layers at first, and I had to re-cut them. This is what they looked like:

Squishy caramels, completely fused together

Keep chilled until you are ready to dip.

Now for the modifications!

Coconut Caramels (tropical and exotic!):
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2  cup white sugar
1 cup Karo syrup
approx. 1/2 tsp ground cardamom (optional)
coconut flavoring
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut

Follow basic directions as outlined above, except: Cook to 235-237 degrees. If using cardamom, add it when you are 1 or 2 degrees away from the end goal. When it gets to the goal temperature, take off heat, add coconut flavoring, and stir for a minute or two, let it cool off some more before adding the shredded coconut. This one will set up harder because of the coconut, so you don't want to cook it to as high of a temperature. I cooked mine too long and they are a little too hard, but the cardamom gives them a heavenly flavor.

mmmm.... coconut cardamom centers ready to eat, er, dip....

Pomegranate Caramels (tangy and fruity!):
1 1/4 cup concentrated pomegranate syrup (find at a Middle Eastern market. Pomegranate molasses is almost the same thing but with some sweetener.)
1 1/2 cup sugar (more or less depending on how sweet your pomegranate product is)
1 cup Karo syrup
1 1/2 cup heavy cream

Follow basic directions as outlined above, except: Cook to 250 degrees, possibly even higher. For some reason the fruit in this one makes it set up really soft at softball temperature, so cook it to a higher temperature and it will still be soft. You can test it, see if it is at soft ball stage. This was an experiment for me, and it was extremely successful, they are Lovemuffin's favorite and so now I'm obligated to make more sometime. These are especially good dipped in dark chocolate.
three kinds of chocolates: coconut, pomegranate, and caramel

Thanks to my dad for recipes and recommendations! And to my Carpooling Friend for letting me use her saucepan!

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