Making homemade candy can quickly turn a person into a scrooge. Especially if your candy thermometer hasn’t been calibrated in awhile. I had these lovely visions of deliciously chewy and slightly salty vanilla bean caramels that I was going to make for Christmas.
I bought the (expensive) vanilla beans, the heavy cream, the butter. I was ready to go. I carefully stripped the vanilla beans and brought the cream to a simmer. I gingerly swirled the pan as the sugary mixture bubbled around my candy thermometer, gradually causing the temperature to rise. Several minutes went by and I barely took my eye off the pan, nervously waiting for thermometer to read 248 degrees. I prepared a small bowl of ice water to check the state of the caramel as it neared the finish line. Last year, I made the mistake of taking the caramel off of the heat too early and it didn’t set up as well as I’d hoped. “Not this time,” I thought.
When it reached about 244-ish, I dropped a small blob of the piping hot liquid into the ice water. My heart fluttered… then sank. It seemed more like a hard ball consistency. In a state of despair I quickly took the pan off the heat and then, foolishly, I picked up the bowl of ice water and brought it just a little too close to the pan before I could stop the momentum of my haste and a big ole splash of frigid water spilled smack dab in the center of my overdone caramel.
I clung to just a glimmer of hope for a Christmas miracle and I poured the sugary mess into a buttered pan. Unfortunately, the caramel cooled into one big crumbly brick of wasted ingredients. I was mildly defeated for about 10 minutes before I rolled up my sleeves and made another batch, sadly having to swap vanilla extract for the real vanilla bean. This time I took the caramel off the heat about 15 degrees earlier and paid more attention to the ice water trick. In the end, I ended up with a tasty batch, albeit not as big of a batch, of homemade caramels.
After I was all finished, I calibrated my thermometer by placing it in a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Instead of the standard 212 degrees it should have read at boiling, it only reached 204 degrees. Eight degrees off. I have learned my lesson!
Anyone know what to do with overcooked, crumbly caramel chunks? Also, does anyone have any recommendations for a really good candy thermometer? I’m in the market for a new one… and a few tips on how to successfully make homemade candy. ;)
Sea Salt Caramels
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Line an 8-inch-square baking pan with parchment paper, allowing it to drape over 2 sides, then brush the paper lightly with vegetable oil.
In a deep saucepan (I used a dutch oven), combine 1/4 cup water, the sugar and corn syrup and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil until the mixture is a warm golden brown. Don’t stir — just swirl the pan.
In the meantime, in a small pot, bring the cream, butter and 1 teaspoon of sea salt to a simmer over medium heat. Turn off the heat and set aside.
When the sugar mixture is done, turn off the heat and slowly add the cream mixture to the sugar mixture. The mixture will bubble up. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until the mixture reaches 248 degrees F (firm ball) on a candy thermometer.
Very carefully pour the caramel into the prepared pan and let set for a few hours before sprinkling with more sea salt. Then let the caramel set until completely firm.
When firm, remove the caramel from the pan and cut into small square pieces.
Source: Ina Garten