This recipe came from the book Chocolate Obsession: Confection and Treats to Create and Savor
By Michael Recchiuti and Fran Gage Photographs by Maren Cauruso. It was used for a Spice House/Slow Food lecture on Salt and Pepper at Kendall College on March 8, 2008.
Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper. Lightly coat the paper and the sides of the pan with flavorless vegetable oil.
Put the sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed pot. Use an unlined copper pot if you have one. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the pot. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the sugar melts. Then continue to cook, without stirring, until the sugar turns dark amber, 5 to 6 minutes. To check the color, dab a small amount of the syrup on a white plate. If any crystals form on the sides of the pan as the sugar darkens, wash them down with a wet pastry brush.
While the sugar is cooking, bring the cream to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. When the sugar is the correct shade, stir in the corn syrup. Remove the pot from the heat and put a sieve or platter guard over it. Wearing an over mitt, slowly pour the hot cream into the sugar syrup a little at a time. The mixture will splatter and foam. Be careful, as it is very hot.
When the bubbling subsides, return the pan to medium heat and cook undisturbed until the mixture registers 252º F on a candy thermometer, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, immediately add the butter, and stir with the wooden spoon. Add the salt and stir until evenly distributed.
Pour the caramel into the prepared pan and let cool at room temperature.
(I actually found it easier to start with the corn syrup in the pan with a small dusting of the sugar. Then once the sugar starts to melt, again add a small dusting of sugar. Continue with this method until all the sugar is added and melted. Then you can cook the sugar until the desired color, although it should be almost there by the time all the sugar is added, and have patience it will take a while for all the sugar to melt. Then add the butter to stop the cooking process. Once the butter is mixed in you can add the cream with the salt and vanilla. Then cook until the caramel reaches 252ºF and starts to pull away from the pan when you are constantly stirring. You can’t always rely on cooking the caramel until it reaches 252ºF because there is a good chance that you will end up with very soft caramel that you won’t be able to cut. This may take a couple times to prefect.)
Assemble the caramels
Invert the pan of cooled caramel onto a worked surface. Peel off the parchment paper.
If you are not dipping the caramels, using a ruler as a guide, cut the caramel square into sticks 3 inch long and 1 inch wide with a lightly oiled knife. Enclose each stick in transparent wrap. Store in a cool place, not in the refrigerator.
If you are dipping the caramels in chocolate, line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Using a ruler as a guide, cut the caramel square into 1-inch squares with a lightly oiled knife. Temper the 61% to 70% chocolate and then dip the squares. Place them on the prepared pan. Sprinkle each square with a few grains of fleur de sel before the chocolate sets.
When the chocolate has set, store the caramels in a cool, dry place, not in the refrigerator.
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