Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Crazy for Caramel

While the art of candy-making requires attention and precision, its rewards are great. First, you get to eat all the candy you've made. Big plus. Second, you can pat yourself on the back for having tuned out the world (including cell phones, kids, pets and husbands) long enough to have focused entirely on a process which requires the patience of Job and  is, at the very least, unforgiving. Third, your friends and relatives will marvel at your culinary prowess for having mastered something that they love to eat so much. Little do they know-- it's really not that hard at all. Yes, you need a candy thermometer, but that's not such a big deal, is it? 

As you can see from many of my posts, I love anything with caramel in it, so I thought I'd go to the root of my obsession and make a batch of caramels. This recipe is adapted from my friend Carole Bloom's Brown Sugar Caramels in her excellent book, Truffles, Candies & Confections (Ten Speed Press, 2007). The book is full of wonderful confections, and the only difficulty you'll have is deciding what to make first. Though it may sound like guilding the lily, you can dip these caramels in tempered chocolate and, if you like, sprinkle them with a touch of fleur de sel. 

Brown Sugar Pecan Caramels

Makes 64 caramels

Vegetable oil, as needed
¾ cup light corn syrup
¾ cup sweetened condensed milk
¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
Generous pinch of salt
1 cup toasted pecans, roughly chopped

1. Line an 8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, letting it extend over 2 sides. Coat the bottom and sides with vegetable oil. Set aside.
2. In a 3-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, combine the corn syrup, condensed milk, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes to a boil. Wash down the sides of the pan two times with a pastry brush dipped in warm water to prevent the sugar from crystallizing.
3. Place a candy thermometer in the pan and continue to cook, STIRRING CONSTANTLY, until it registers 240°F on the thermometer. Remove the pan from the heat and immediately stir in the pecans. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Let the caramel cool completely at room temperature for at least 4 hours (or overnight).
4. Remove the caramel from the pan by lifting out the foil. Invert the caramel onto a cutting board and peel off the foil. Using a chef’s knife that has been lightly brushed with oil, cut the block into 1-inch squares. Store the caramels between layers of waxed paper in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.