When I was a kid, cello-wrapped cubes of Kraft caramels, as well as those candies wrapped to look like strawberries, used to be the standard in the candy dishes for guests. It always looked like the candies, if uncovered, had a sheen of dust on them, as if they were for show and not really for eating. Nonetheless, my brother and I, on various visits to our parents’ friends’ houses, would choose a grimy treat and dutifully say “thank you.”
The caramels I would chosse would end up forgotten, squished and lint covered before taking a whirl in the washer/drier. The uniform cubes of caramel intrigued me, but I didn’t really eat them, instead I preferred the treats my mom bought for us: Fun Dip, Runts, and Bottle Caps. It wasn’t until recently that I fell in love with caramels. But not just caramels, fleur de sel caramels.
I have deep love for the crunch of sea salt. Sprinkle some on top of anything sweet, and I’ll usually give it a try. Flaky sea salt is the counterpoint to the buttery sweetness of these home made caramels. They’re a touch firm, but they still melt in your mouth. If you like softer caramels, you might want to try adding another tablespoon of butter at the end.
I found this recipe on David Lebovitz’s site and he has a great, in depth post on making these caramels. Two things that I think are essential: a candy thermometer and a large, heavy bottomed pot. My thermometer went a little wacky on me so my sugar ended up a touch burnt; not so burnt the caramels went to waste, but you could definitely taste a hint of bitterness, so watch your thermometer carefully. As for the large pot, bubbling-hot sugar is not something you want to have an accident with, so make sure your pot is at least 4 quarts. When you add the cream to the sugar, it will bubble and you don’t want your caramels to flow out of your pot.
Salted Butter Caramel Recipe from David Lebovitz
3/4 cup (180 ml) heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, bean paste, or powder
rounded 1/2 teaspoon + 1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt, preferably fleur de sel
1/2 cup (160 g) light corn syrup, golden syrup (such as Lyle’s) or rice syrup*
1 cup (200 g) sugar
4 tablespoons (60 g), total, salted butter, cubed, at room temperature
1. Line a loaf pan with foil and spray the inside with cooking spray.
2. Heat the cream with 2 tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan with the vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt until the mixture begins to boil. Remove from heat, cover, and keep warm while you cook the syrup.
3. In a 4 quart heavy duty saucepan, fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the corn syrup, golden, or rice syrup with the sugar, and cook, stirring gently, to make sure the sugar melts smoothly. Once the mixture is melted together and the sugar is evenly moistened, only stir is as necessary to keep it from getting any hot spots.
4. Cook until the syrup reaches 310˚F.
To get an accurate reading while the syrup is cooking, tilt the saucepan to make sure the bulb of the thermometer is fully submerged in the syrup, tilting the pan if necessary.
4. Turn off the heat and stir in the warm cream mixture, until smooth.
5. Turn the heat back on and cook the mixture to 260˚F.
6. Remove the pan from the heat, lift out the thermometer, and stir in the cubes of butter, until it’s melted and the mixture smooth.
7. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and wait ten minutes, then sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of the sea salt over the top. Set on a cool rack and let cool completely. Once cool, lift out the foil with the caramel, peel away the foil, and slice the bar of caramel with a long, sharp knife into squares or rectangles.
Storage: These caramels can be individually-wrapped in cellophane or waxed paper. Once cut, they may stick together if not wrapped. Store in an air-tight container, and they’ll keep for about one month.