I'm making caramels today. Homemade creamy, buttery, smooth caramels are one of my favorite treats. I don't mean the slightly plastic, chewy Kraft caramels that you get for Halloween or melt down for caramel apples. Though they certainly possess their own charm. Instead my goal this afternoon is scrumptious, perfectly-cooked candies twisted up in wax paper. My grandmother is a whiz at candy making, divinity is her specialty. So I've got it in my genes. I've certainly eaten enough candy to be considered an expert. But I've never made candy. Frankly, I'm intimidated by something that has to hit an exact temperature. Something that requires its own type of thermometer. Something that has different "stages" of readiness. Today I'm aiming for the firm ball stage, picture me snickering like a twelve year old boy every time I say it, which will be often today, because I can.
So #31 on the Bravely Obey in Action List is happening. On this cloudy, mild, totally free spring Saturday, I'm whipping up some goodness. I'll be stirring frequently, checking temperatures, oiling parchment paper and taking pictures along the way.
Ok, so I frittered away the day, finished an amazing book, made a new banner for this blog which I'm undecided on, realized it was already 3 o'clock, threw on some clothes, hit the grocery store at the stupidest (read busiest) time, and purchased the requisite ingredients. I've got groceries put away, I'm be-aproned, rings and bracelets removed, and ready to get down to some serious candy-making business.
My candy-making team includes heavy cream, vanilla, unsalted butter, salt, light brown sugar, and the star of the show: Dark Jamaican Rum. Also, here to assist me today is Joe, for some extra photos, and a rum and Diet Coke. I mean I had to have the rum out for the recipe. I had to make sure it still tasted good. It does.
Let's begin: ingredients measured out. Parchment paper lining the baking dish, parchment paper oiled. Oops. Wow, really oiled. Over oiled, now cleaning up extra oil with paper towel. No one saw that. Let's move on.
Dumping all ingredients except the vanilla and a dash of rum, into a large pot and bringing to a boil. This goes on for awhile. It bubbles and thickens and smells like a dream, a buttery, rich, thigh fattening dream. I stir. I sip my rum and coke. I stir some more. I check the temperature. Not quite there yet, at 198 degrees, we are shooting for 248, the firm ball stage, ha ha, you said ball. More stirring and smelling and sipping.
Some photos in the middle. Changing the song, I'm tired of Spoon, now TV on the Radio, that's caramel making music right there. And we are bubbling. That seems like a lot of bubbling, but I'm sure that's what it's supposed to look like.
Now what is that burning smell? That's not good. Is that coming from inside the pot? Wow, burning caramel smells like smores. Nope, just spilled some on the burner. Everything is going fine. More stirring, temp check, 220. Not firm balls yet, ha, balls are funny. We are getting there. Turning the burner up a touch, the temperature on these burners can be inconsistent sometimes. Temp check, 230, closer.
More stirring, and I think it's ready, thickened, fewer bubbles, temp check confirms, 248, and firm balls!
Poured into the baking dish, tucked away to rest and cool in the fridge and we'll see you in couple of hours, my new friends.
We return home after dinner with friends. My mouth is watering in anticipation. I take the block of caramel out of the pan, flip it over. And we have caramels. Except not so much. We have something more akin to pralines. Sweet, rummy, crystallized pralines. Dang. Must research what went wrong. Google searches commence.
Turns out, after some research, that the recipe I used wasn't a particularly good caramel recipe. Though it was from Epicurious and I usually have decent luck with that site. But candy is a fickle mistress; demanding, high maintenance, good in bed, and totally worth the effort. After reading all the recipe comments, checking out a couple of Alton Brown videos and a candy maker's blog, the recipe was off. Too much stirring and adding the cream and butter at the beginning, instead of after the sugar is caramelized in water first.
I am undaunted. Tomorrow I'm trying the Alton Brown Dark Salty Caramel recipe. I'm toting the laptop into the kitchen and I'm watching as Alton makes caramels right along side me. I feel better already. And Joe thinks that crumbled "mistake" pralines would be delicious sprinkled over coffee ice cream. We might have to try that.