I had the brilliant idea to make fleur de sel caramels from my Bobbette & Belle cookbook and to give them out at Christmas time.
This, despite my fear of candy thermometers and all things candy making.
I just love caramel, and I knew that deep down, I had what it takes to make delectable, chewy, soft caramels. And it turns out that I did – I made many incredible morsels of caramel that certainly held their own against the fancy schmancy ones that sell for like, $12 for 6 pieces. But the road to tasty caramels was not an easy one.
Here is the truth: this post does not have very many pictures of the actual baking process. There are three reasons why:
- When I decided to make the recipe, Cedric wasn’t home and I didn’t realize that he had taken the camera – which, to be fair, is his camera – until I was already underway.
- It was already dark out and the non-natural lighting in my kitchen is super harsh and makes for ugly pictures.
- Most importantly, the process was so chaotic that even if I’d had the camera and the lighting had been natural and perfect, there’s no chance that I would have had the time (or non-sticky hands) to snap pictures.
So let me tell you the story of the fleur de sel caramels using mostly my words.
While the Bobbette & Belle recipe did ultimately produce some fine caramels, the directions were a little off. Step one is to spray a 10-inch square baking pan with cooking spray and to line it with parchment. Now, I don’t have a 10-inch pan – but I do have two slightly smaller ones, so I prepped them both. Looking back, if you only used a single 10-inch square pan, you would end up with INSANELY thick caramels. Pro tip: use two pans.
The next step appears to be very simple: you mix sugar, cream, corn syrup, and butter (all my favourite superfoods) into a saucepan, let it boil, stir constantly, and let the whole thing heat to 248 – not 245, not 250 – degrees Fahrenheit. But here’s where Bobbette & Belle confused me a little: they say to use a medium saucepan.
I put the ingredients into my medium saucepan, but everything already almost came to the top of the pan. I knew that once the mixture was boiling, it would likely overflow – a bigger pot was needed.
I have two other pot options: a big old spaghetti pot and a blue Le Creuset dutch oven. The former was presently in the fridge holding some leftover chili (specifically, the Oh She Glows vegan chili – soooo good), so I transferred the ingredients from the medium saucepan to the blue Le Creuse pot.
I turned on the element, set up a candy thermometer, and grabbed my digital thermometer for back up, then let nature do its thing.
Eventually, the mixture started to bubble – my cue to start “stirring constantly”, as per the instructions. As I mixed, the contents of the pot (as I predicted) started to rise. And rise. And rise.
My thermometer wasn’t remotely close to 248 degrees – yet I was quickly running out of space in my pot. As it approached the lip of the pot, I realized that if I didn’t act VERY soon, the whole thing was going to overflow.
I now had a predicament. The medium saucepan would be too small – I needed the big spaghetti one in the fridge. But in order to use it, I would have to take it out of the fridge, toss the leftover chili, and wash and dry the pot. This would entail taking the currently boiling pot off the heat and taking a break from constant stirring. Surely pausing a recipe midway would not be a good thing.
But what choice did I have? Just as the mixture starting to bubble over (and smoke like crazy), I turned off the now-sticky element, moved the pot, and started the process of preparing the spaghetti pot.
Long story short, I poured about half of the contents of the blue pot into the spaghetti pot, temporarily dismantled the smoke detector, and set both of the pots up on clean elements. I now had to juggle stirring both pots while constantly checking the temperature of each to ensure I caught it at just the right time. The candy thermometer was reading much colder than the digital one, so I kept dipping the digital one in and out of the pots – which caused strings of sticky caramel to streak across my kitchen and my clothes.
The race was on to see which pot would reach 248 degrees first. I sincerely hoped they both wouldn’t hit the temperature at the same time because there was no way I could pour two pots of bubbling caramel into two pans at once. Luckily, the blue pot hit 248 just before the spaghetti pot. I abandoned the spaghetti pot momentarily, stirred in a bit of vanilla and salt into the blue pot, then poured its contents into the first prepared baking tin. I sprinkled some fleur de sel over top, then returned my attention to the spaghetti pot, which was rapidly creeping up on 248.
Once both pans had been filled, my kitchen looked like a total, utter caramel-covered war zone. While the caramel set (it needs to be cooled for 2 to 3 hours), I scrubbed the kitchen back to its original state of cleanliness. At last, it was time to cut the caramel.
The slabs of caramel are transferred from baking pan to cutting board. This is actually pretty easy, as the Bobbette & Belle instructions tell you how to make a parchment cradle of sorts. The knife gets sprayed with a bit of non-stick spray (good caramel hack!), then the chopping begins.
I was relieved to feel my knife glide easily into the caramel – I hadn’t overcooked it, and the fact that it held together solidly meant that I likely hadn’t undercooked it, either. Success!
Then, the tedious part: wrapping the caramels. I cut small squares of wax paper and, one by one, wrapped each individual piece. At first, I tried wrapping them kind of like a present, but then I switched to a salt-water-taffy-esque twisted wrap. This recipe makes about a hundred caramels – that’s a lot of wrapping.
When my weary joints had twisted the last caramel, I placed them into little boxes and stored the boxes in a sealed Ziploc freezer bag. I didn’t freeze them – I just left them at room temperature. The recipe states that they can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 weeks and, in my experience, that is spot on.
I came. I caramelled. I conquered. The caramels were delicious and my recipients savoured each and every sweet-and-salty bite. But man, these were a beast to prepare. If you dare make them yourselves, be warned: you’re going to need a bigger pot.
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