This was the caramel recipe that accompanied last month’s Daring Baker cake. I had no intention of making it, especially since I just barely got the cake made by the posting date. But then it seemed like everyone who made the caramels was raving about them, and I had never actually made caramels before, so I added them to my list of candy to make.
None of the candy recipes I made last week were particularly difficult or time-consuming, including this one, but on the other hand, the brittle is the only one that I would actually call easy. For the caramels, sugar and corn syrup are mixed and heated, then cream is added and the mixture is cooked some more.
One problem I had is that it took far longer than I expected for the caramel to reach the desired temperature after the cream was added. This wasn’t detrimental to the outcome, but it certainly would have been nice to have some guidelines in the recipe.
My other issue was that the caramels are chewier than I’d like. I took the mixture off the heat at 263F. The recipe recommends 260F for soft caramels, but I’m not sure even that’s as soft as I want – I’m thinking something between 250-260F might give me the texture I’m looking for, but it’s hard to say since this is my first time making caramels.
My absolute least favorite part of the recipe was this seemingly innocent step: “Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.” Oh so tedious.
But worth it in the end. The caramels tasted very good. Rich but not cloyingly sweet. Of all the candy I sent to my family for Christmas, this is the only one I’m confident that everyone will like.
Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels (adapted from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert)
Makes 80 1-inch caramels
1 cup light syrup
2 cups sugar
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
1½ teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened
1. Line the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Combine the light corn 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 a 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.
2. 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 260F for soft, chewy caramels or 265F for firmer chewy caramels.
3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.
4. 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.