For Chocolate Lovers only
 


Chocolate Caramels

Tips: A couple of years back, I put a recipe for mocha caramels into this column, but these are made in a slightly different manner and I think they're better. Homemade caramels bear little resemblance to the hard squares you find masquerading under that name in markets; these are very creamy, much softer, and far less sweet. Even small squares of these ultra-rich caramels go a long way, and they mail well, so they can be shipped to special people who live far from you. The caramels are best eaten within about 10 days of being made (store them airtight at room temperature). You can freeze them, but I find that, when they thaw, some of the butter in them tends to come to the surface, causing a buttery film on all sides.

These are an example of classic "twice cooked" caramels, but they aren't really cooked twice at all. Some of the heavy cream and the chocolate are held out of the mixture, which is initially brought to soft ball stage. Gradually, so the boil isn't broken, the cream and chocolate are added. The mixture is then brought to firm ball stage-but, because of the nature of the process, this will be lower than the firm ball temperature listed on your candy thermometer. For that reason, I use the cold water test to determine when these are done cooking. You'll need a heat-resistant spatula and a pastry brush. Although a candy thermometer isn't a necessity here, I find it useful in determining when the caramel is close to being done.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups plus 2 Tbsp. heavy cream, divided
  • 1-1/4 cups light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup mild, light honey
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • Dash salt
  • 4-1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, very finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. vanilla

Line a 7 by 11 inch (or use a 9 by 9 inch) pan, at least 1-1/2 inches deep, with heavy-duty aluminum foil (or use a doubled length of regular-weight aluminum foil), shiny side up, smoothing out creases as much as possible. Butter the foil; set pan aside on cooling rack on flat surface. Fill several small cups (custard cups are ideal) about halfway with cold water. Drop an ice cube into each, and set the cups in the fridge until necessary. Have ready a nonaluminum, heavy-bottomed 4 quart pot. If you'll be using a candy thermometer, clip it to the side of the pot and adjust the clip so the bulb rests just about the bottom of the pot. Remove thermometer; prewarm it by placing in a separate pot filled with cold water and bringing slowly to the boil. Have ready a glass filled with hot water.

Butter the sides of the 4 quart pot with some of the 1/2 cup butter called for in the recipe. Cut the remaining butter into thin slices and place in the pot. Add 1 cup of heavy cream (reserve remainder), the light corn syrup, honey, granulated sugar, and salt. Place over low heat and stir very frequently to dissolve the sugar. Twice, as mixture is coming to a boil, wash down the pot sides. Dip pastry brush into glass of hot water, squeezing out any excess with your fingers. Starting at top inside of pot, gradually brush downwards from side to side, going all the way down to the surface of the heavy cream mixture. Work with sections of the pot; don't try to brush down all of the sides at once. Continue to stir the heating mixture frequently.

Increase heat to medium-high. Stir occasionally until mixture comes to a boil. If you're using a candy thermometer, remove it from the prewarming pot, shake off, and clip onto side of 4 quart pot. Caramel mixture should come to a rolling boil and stay there; decrease heat slightly if it threatens to boil over. Stir every few minutes; once every two or three stirs, use a heat-resistant spatula to scrape the sides of the pot. Especially when the mixture is in the initial stages of boiling, it may spatter, so it's a good idea to wear oven mitts while stirring or scraping down the sides.

While mixture boils, place finely chopped chocolate into medium heatproof bowl. In small, heavy bottomed saucepan over low heat (or use microwave), heat reserved cream until very hot, stirring occasionally. Pour about half of hot cream over chocolate. Allow to stand for a minute, then stir or whisk gently until smooth. Gradually stir or whisk in remaining hot cream; set mixture aside near stovetop.

The boiling mixture needs to reach soft ball stage before the chocolate mixture is added. If using a candy thermometer, soft ball stage will be indicated (usually about 234 to 236 degrees F). If not, remove one of the cups containing ice water from the fridge. Take up a small amount of the boiling mixture on the end of the spatula or a spoon; drop about 1/2 teaspoon into the cold water. Now, using your fingers, form the mixture into a ball; the ball should not hold its shape when picked up and will flatten between your fingers. When your boiling mixture has reached this stage, slowly begin to add the melted chocolate mixture. Spoon or drizzle in a small amount at a time, being careful to maintain a rolling boil. Adding all of the chocolate mixture will take you several minutes. Although I have read that convection will do the stirring for you as the chocolate mixture is added, I have evidence to the contrary, so I always stir the boiling mixture several times during the addition of the chocolate mixture. If you're using a candy thermometer, do not be alarmed if the temperature of the boiling mixture drops significantly during this process; a drop of 10 degrees is not uncommon. If you used a cup of cold water to test for soft ball stage, scoop out any remnants of your test syrup, then replace cup in fridge.

Continue to cook the mixture at a rolling boil. You may find that, as you stir and scrape the sides, small flecks of what look like unmelted chocolate show up on your spoon or spatula, even if you melted the chocolate and the cream as directed. Don't worry; you won't notice these in the final product.

Normally, firm ball stage is between about 242 and 248 degrees F. I have cooked this caramel to 248 degrees F, not bothering with a cold water test, but I prefer a slightly softer product. So I start testing the boiling mixture when it's at about 242 degrees F. To do this, remove another cup of ice water from the fridge, and drop about 1/2 teaspoon of the boiling syrup into it. Using your fingers, gather the now-cold syrup into a ball. If the ball holds its shape when picked up, and only flattens between your fingers if you apply a bit of pressure, the syrup is at firm ball stage. (If not, continue cooking a minute or two longer before testing again.) Quickly remove the thermometer (if used) from the pot (place it back into the prewarming pot of water to help in clean-up), and remove the pot of boiling caramel from the heat. Add the vanilla to the caramel carefully; it may spatter furiously as you do so. Using the heat-resistant spatula, quickly stir the vanilla into the caramel, then pour the caramel into the prepared pan (it should spread itself evenly). If you have been diligent about stirring the pot, you can scrape out the pot bottom with the spatula, but don't scrape the sides thoroughly. Allow the caramel to cool completely at room temperature before cutting.

I find it helpful to make wrappers before cutting the caramels. I use pieces of wax paper, cut to about 4 by 5 inches each; you may need to adjust that size. I cut the caramels into 1 inch squares, so I need 77 or 81 wrappers, depending on my pan. To cut the caramels, lightly oil the blade of a large, heavy, straight-edged knife with tasteless vegetable oil. Remove the uncut block of caramels, still in foil, from the pan. Gently peel back the foil on all sides, then peel it off the bottom. Carefully invert the uncut block of caramel onto a plastic cutting board. Using paper towels, blot any excess butter from the bottom and sides, then turn the block over and do the same to the top.

>Score the caramels before cutting (or just cut them by eye); when cutting, use the length of the blade and press down firmly. It may be necessary to rinse the blade under hot water, dry it, then re-oil it once or twice while cutting the squares. I cut about 14 at a time into squares. If desired, place cut caramels on paper towels, and blot gently with other paper towels to absorb any excess butter. To wrap, place a caramel close to one 5 inch edge of a wrapper. Fold the wrapper over the caramel, then fold this over until you reach the other 5 inch edge. Twist each end in an opposite direction, close to the caramel, resulting in a wrapped caramel "kiss" similar to a salt water taffy "kiss".

Store wrapped caramels at room temperature for up to 10 days; if you must, freeze for longer storage. If frozen, thaw, still in wrappings, at room temperature.

Yield: About 80 caramels


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