Domesticity Nouveau

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Caramel Goodness

Caramel is one of my favorite foods. Smooth, creamy, sweet... mmmmmmm. Once I start eating it, it is hard for me to stop. I think the craving has its origins in my very pale skin; if I eat enough, I will turn a beautiful caramel color, like when you eat too many carrots you turn orange.

This holiday season I’m hoping to get a good knowledge base in candy making. My entry into this foreign land has been similar to Goldilock’s visit to the three bears. I started with hard candy, and it was okay, not spectacular, but it was hard. Next I made pulled molasses taffy. After a couple of hours of pulling taffy, it never became taffy. It was quite tasty, but much too soft. My third attempt was caramels, and they were just right!

I was given the recipe by a friend at church (Thanks, Janelle!) and hoped that I would have success. I have been reading about sea salt caramels for a while, and really wanted to try them, but couldn’t bring myself to pay the outrageous amounts they go for. So, I made my own. Below is the recipe as Janelle gave it to me and my version for sea salt caramels.

Epikos Caramels

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1 cup butter (NOT margarine)
1 cup evaporated milk (NOT sweetend condensed milk)
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 ¼ teaspoon vanilla

Grease a 12x15” pan. In a medium pot (I used a 4 qt), combine everything but the vanilla. Watch the heat of the mixture with a candy thermometer, while stirring over low to medium heat. When the mixture reaches 250F* remove from the heat. Stir in the vanilla. Transfer to prepared pan and let it cool. When cool, cut the caramels into squares and wrap in wax paper for storage.

Epikos Sea Salt Caramels

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1 cup unsalted butter (NOT margarine)
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup evaporated milk (NOT sweetend condensed milk)
1 pint heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoon vanilla
Sea salt to sprinkle on top

Line a 13x9” baking dish with foil and heavily butter. The foil will make it easier to remove the caramels after they have cooled. In a Medium pot (I used a 4 qt), combine everything but the vanilla. Watch the heat of the mixture with a candy thermometer (essential), while constantly stirring gently over med to low heat. Be patient, do not turn up the heat to speed this along and be gentle, do not stir like a crazy person. When the mixture reaches 250F-255F* remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Transfer to prepared pan, sprinkle with sea salt and let it cool. When cool, remove from pan and cut into squares. Wrap squares in wax paper for storage. The amount this makes will depend on the size you cut your caramel squares, but it makes A LOT, more than enough to share and still eat yourself silly.

*The mixture will easily reach about 220F, and then stall for a while. Resist the temptation to turn up the heat, just be patient and take the delay as an opportunity to thinking loving thoughts (or any other emotion you choose) and stir them into the caramels. I cook mine to 255F because I like a firm caramel and live in a humid climate. Also, if you live above sea level, you will need to adjust the final temperature. To do this, place your candy thermometer in a pot of water and note at what temperature it begins to boil. Water boils at 212F at sea level, but may boil at 202F for your altitude. Subtract the difference from your final cooking temperature.

When your caramels are cooling, you might look at your pan and think you will never get the cooked mess of goo out and you momentarily hate me for trying this recipe. Your hate will quickly turn to love when you realize that candy is one of the easier foods to clean up. All you have to do is let your pan and utensils soak for a bit in water; the sugar dissolves and everything washes away easy-pleasy! If it isn’t washing away easily, you haven’t been lazy enough! Let everything sit for a bit longer and be patient! Go pour a glass of wine and relax!

Along the same lines as caramel is Dulce de Leche. For those of you not acquainted with Dulce de Leche, it is this wonderful sweet & creamy Latin American caramel-like sauce or candy. It can be quite expensive if you want to buy it, especially when you consider how inexpensive it is to make… and how easy! It has four ingredients, and will cost you under a $1.50 to make 16 oz.; far better on the wallet than the $10-$20 you would pay for such a gourmet treat. I’m always amazed at how expensive “gourmet” foods are when they are usually the most simplistic and basic of ingredients.

I had milk that was about to go bad and really didn’t want to throw it out. Our ancestors faced this same dilemma. Well, maybe not the same dilemma, but they understood how to preserve their food to make it last as long as possible. Before the mighty refrigerator, milk was preserved as yogurt, cheese, butter and…. Dulce de Leche! So if you don’t drink your milk fast enough, consider this as an option, you will thank me and probably want to hide it so you don’t have to share.

Dulce de Leche

2 qts whole milk
3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda

In a large sauce pan (I use an 8 qt) over medium heat, combine the milk, sugar and vanilla. Slowly stir until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the baking soda and prepare for foam!* Don’t try to incorporate the foam, just let it do its thing. Once the mixture begins to simmer, reduce the heat to low and keep it at a low, slow simmer. Stir occasionally until the mixture reduces to about 2 cups and becomes a dark caramel syrup, anywhere from 2-5 hours, depending on humidity and your stove. Store in the refrigerator up to four weeks, if it lasts that long. Dulce de Leche can be used as an ice-cream topping, filling for cookies, stirred into hot cocoa or hot apple cider, or just hide in the closet with a spoon.

*Michelle’s note: This is really going to foam like crazy, which is why it is essential that you use a pot much larger than you think you will need. Expect the mixture to foam a bit each time you give it a stir. I switch spoons after the initial mixing and that seems to help cut down on the foaming. You can easily reduce this recipe by half.

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