If you get caramels at a shop, the salt sprinkled on top makes them "fancy" and therefore increases the price by a billion percent. As if the salt comes from some place no normal person can easily get to. Mordor, in fact. Let me go back and rename this post.
This is the second batch of Christmas caramels that I made for my grandfather (the genetic source of my sweet-tooth). I turned the first batch to rock candy, if rocks were malleable under slow jaw pressure and resulted in a vague terror that when you ripped your mouth back open your teeth would be yanked out as by your father's pliers. I didn't think it was a good idea to give that batch to my grandfather who still has his own teeth at 94. This second batch was soft and lovely.
I actually have a pretty vivid memory of my father pulling out his pliers in preparation for pulling out one of my loose teeth. In the same era, I have memories of our Siamese cats coming up to my waist, so I must have been young. My father didn't use the pliers; I think they were a way to convince me to let him yank my loose tooth with his fingers, the tricky fox. My resistance to the idea of fingers in my mouth was overcome by my resistance to the idea of pliers in my mouth. I remember being more appalled by the pliers than scared, if "appalled" is an emotion that a six year old can feel. Then I remember being pleased to have something to trade the tooth fairy for riches. Pennies and pennies of riches!
Back to caramels.
I tried to use my candy thermometer for the first batch, but it sat at 80 C for ages until I freaked out and poured the blisteringly hot mixture into a loaf pan. "Soft ball stage" is 120 C. While the caramel was cooling, I boiled some water and found that the candy thermometer still didn't move above 80 degrees and that tipped me off that it was broken.
No problem! People have been making candy for longer than they've had good home candy thermometers. With my second batch, I used the traditional soft ball testing method: drop some caramel into a glass of ice water and see if it forms a soft ball. Or, if you're like me and have no ice trays, drop some caramel into some cold tap water and see if it forms a kind-of-soft ball, and then cross your fingers.
If you don't take into account my mild fear of melting sugar, or add up all the times I've burned and/or crystallized it, making caramels is pretty easy. Sugar is cheap, so you can really screw things up to your heart's content so long as you don't throw the cream into a suspicious batch. Do recall, though, that melted sugar is HOT. Don't lick your stirring implement until you've run it under cold water. Here's the recipe I liked:
Sel de Mordor Caramel Recipe
You will need:
1 cup heavy cream (240 g)
5 tbsp butter (70 g)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp fancy-pants flaky salt
1 1/2 cup sugar (338 g)
1/4 cup light corn syrup (85 g)
1/4 cup water
extra fancy-pants salt for sprinkling
Line the bottom and sides of a loaf pan with parchment paper and lightly butter the paper. Dump the cream and butter in a bowl and microwave it to melt the butter, then stir in the vanilla and salt and set aside.
In a tall saucepan, heat the sugar, water and corn syrup over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Stir while you do this, but once the sugar is melted stop stirring and turn the heat up to medium-high. Bring the mixture to a boil without stirring (you can swirl it a bit, but stirring with encourage crystallization, which you don't want--if it crystallizes you'll have to start again). Keep boiling until the mixture turns golden. Once the sugar starts to colour, it can burn very quickly so you need to watch it the entire time and move to the next step as soon as it's the colour you want--that's why the cream and butter are ready and nearby. You'll be able to smell the sugar burning. If it does, you'll have to start a new batch. (Unless you're keeping it all for yourself, in which case a teensy bit of burnt flavour isn't such a tragedy.)
Once you reach a light golden colour, add the cream/butter concoction (you can stir now) and simmer until a candy thermometer reads 120 C, or you've reached soft ball stage using the ice water test mentioned above. Don't worry if the sugar lumps up a bit when you first dump in the cream, just stir and it will dissolve again. It may also spit a bit when you first pour it in, so take care. That's the essence of Mordor.
Pour the caramel into your prepared loaf pan and allow it to cool completely (a few hours) before cutting it into rectangles and sprinkling with your fancy-pants salt. I actually found it easier to sprinkle salt over a plate and then press the caramels into it. I wrapped my caramels in waxed paper, but you could probably wrap it in all sorts of pretty things.
|The salted caramels I sometimes buy myself on market day are $1.50 apiece. |
That's almost macaron-ridiculous pricing.
|And then my friend made me this picture.|