Hi everyone... It's Jane tonight, writing about this month's Daring Bakers challenge.
Our hosts, Dolores of Culinary Curiosity, Alex of Blondie And Brownie, and Jenny of Foray Into Food, presented us with two options; we could either make the Caramel Cake devised by Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater (recipe here). Or we could take the optional challenge: Alice Medrich’s Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels. Since Lane is not a fan of caramel, and I don't need to be eating an entire cake by myself, I opted for the caramels. This was certainly a challenge for me. I've never made candy before, and I've only rarely worked with a candy thermometer. (The cake recipe looked veganizable, if any of you are interested in giving it a go.) The caramel recipe is from Pure Dessert. (Caramel Recipe below.)
First, let me say again, that this was my very first experience making candy. Hard ball, soft ball, hard crack. Who knew?
My next hurdle was finding the elusive "Golden Syrup." I went everywhere, except online. I even hit the local Cost Plus, where I was assured they would have the product. My store is indefinitely out of stock, but I did find a recipe at RecipeZaar.com, and was able to make that with a reasonable amount of success. As it turns out, any invert syrup will do.
The Daring Bakers have a private message board, and some of the DBs jump on the challenges the day their issued. So that means those of us who wait until the last minute are able to read about any problems the rest of the group is experiencing. A number of the posts I read indicated that my fellow DB were coming up with some rather hard candies. I did a little research and found that caramels should be cooked to the firm ball stage 245° F–250° F (courtesy of the science of candy), not the 265° F our recipe called for, so I planned on going to 250° F.
As I mentioned previously, Lane doesn't care for caramels. I, on the other hand, have always loved them, so in the interests of my waistline, I quartered the recipe. That was a mistake. There wasn't enough product in the bottom of my pan for the thermometer to get an adequate read. While nothing burned, I wound up with a brick of caramel. It would work as doorstop! The only consolation I have here is that I wasn't the only one!!!
So, for my next attempt (earlier this morning), I decided I'd have to make 2/3s of the whole recipe and hope my willpower would hold out. Also, horrors, I used Karo syrup. I didn't have enough time to make the golden syrup again. (Hey I tried, I stopped at the grocery store again this morning! Still no golden syrup!) I cooked the sugar and syrup a bit slower this time, and since there was more product in the pot, my thermometer worked well.
It was fun to see the sugar carmelize, and I really enjoyed how everything behaved when I added the cream mixture to the bowl. The temperature dropped immediately, but there were pockets of boiling caramel as I stirred things together. It looked like a science experiment.
I cooked the caramels. Things were going along swimmingly. The color was right, the smell was right, and as I approached my target temperature, things were behaving as they should (hard ball stage). From my previous experience, I knew I didn't want to pour the caramel into a foil lined pan. The foil didn't want to come off last time, and left impressions in the caramel. So this try I followed someone's suggestion and poured the mixture straight into a non-stick cake pan. That worked well. When I unmolded my caramel, everything was rather smooth. Unfortunately, it's still too hard. I couldn't actually cut little caramels, I wound up scoring the hardened caramel and breaking off a few pieces.
The taste was wonderful. If I were to make this again I think I'd try lollipop molds. The caramels tasted exactly like See's Candies Vanilla Caramel Lollipops (however, See's Candies are not vegan!). YUMMY! Just don't chew or you'll be heading to the dentist.
Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels
- makes eighty-one 1-inch caramels -
1 cup golden syrup - Or any invert syrup
2 cups sugar
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt - I omitted the salt as Earth Balance is salty
2 cups heavy cream - (I used soy creamer)
1 1/2 teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (The first time I split the bean and cooked it in the creamer. For my second attempt, I used vanilla extract.)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened -- I used Earth Balance
A 9-inch square baking pan
Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.
When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°f for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F; for firmer chewy caramels.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.
Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.
Fleur de Sel Caramels: Extra salt, in the form of fleur de sel or another coarse flaked salt, brings out the flavor of the caramel and offers a little ying to the yang. Add an extra scant 1/4 teaspoon of coarse sea salt to the recipe. Or, to keep the salt crunchy, let the caramel cool and firm. Then sprinkle with two pinches of flaky salt and press it in. Invert, remove the pan liner, sprinkle with more salt. Then cut and wrap the caramels in wax paper or cellophane. (I didn't care for this taste. I don't know if the Earth Balance provides more salt than the original recipe, or if my caramels were too hard, or if I simply don't care for that taste... -- Jane)
Nutmeg and Vanilla Bean Caramels: Add 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg to the cream before you heat it.
Cardamom Caramels: Omit the vanilla. Add 1/2 teaspoon slightly crushed cardamom seeds (from about 15 cardamom pods) to the cream before heating it. Strain the cream when you add it to the caramel; discard the seeds.
Caramel Sauce: Stop cooking any caramel recipe or variation when it reaches 225°F or, for a sauce that thickens like hot fudge over ice cream, 228°F. Pour it into a sauceboat to serve or into a heatproof jar for storage. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for ages and reheated gently in the microwave or a saucepan just until hot and flowing before use. You can stir in rum or brandy to taste. If the sauce is too thick or stiff to serve over ice cream, it can always be thinned with a little water or cream. Or, if you like a sauce that thickens more over ice cream, simmer it for a few minutes longer.
(recipe from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert)