All this week I’ve been thinking about a cake. Its a cake that I’ve made before but that I don’t make often. It requires a fair amount of prep and as the person who prefers single bowl cakes with minimal mixing, this cake is up there in the ‘when I have lots of time’ category. I realise I’ve lost you, talking about a cake when the post is supposed to be about caramels. Sorry. Just hang in there a second. (And I plan to make the cake this weekend so you’ll be rewarded at a later stage.) This cake is chocolate cake baked with meringue on top. It is filled with mascarpone and double cream and pieces of chewy, caramel filled chocolate. (See! Here is the connection.) So, I was thinking about this cake. A lot. And then I started thinking, maybe I should make some of my own chocolate covered caramels that I can then bash up and put in the centre of the cake? And then I started researching the caramels and the whole thing got completely out of hand which is why there is no cake. Only caramels.
So caramels. This is a side of the confectionery business that is not my forte. Sugar in general is my enemy. And I mean that not in a sugar makes you fat sort of way, I mean it in the whoops I burnt the sugar and ruined the bottom of the Le Creuset pan I was using kind of way. Sugar and me are only sometime friends. Turning sugar into caramel is easy. In theory. If you are patient and can wait by the stove whilst the sugar does its thing. Or at least wait in the kitchen. (You can smell the sugar change stages.) But no, I am the leave the sugar on the stove and walk away type (to read emails, books, watch TV, answer phones etc). This is not the type of person to make caramel anything. But, people can change. I can learn to wait by the stove whilst the sugar does its thing. I can make peanut butter ice cream at the same time! (More on that tomorrow!)
So, this recipe comes from Gourmet (small sigh of sadness that it is no longer with us) 2004 and the adapted recipe that I found on Good Life Eats which you can read here. Its actually incredibly basic. You make a caramel and add butter and cream to that and then boil it to the right stage. (That is the tricky part. I had to make this recipe twice.) You will need a sugar thermometer for this. I’ve done without one for years. In the kitchens I worked in we were taught to read sugar by learning how the bubbles looked at certain stages and how the sugar moved. But we never made anything like this (which goes to quite a late stage) and so I bought a thermometer this morning. I am already in full blown love with this gadget. You can expect many more caramelly things now that I have it. Anyway, the idea is that you allow the caramels to cool before slicing them. You then melt some chocolate and dip them, allowing them to cool again before consuming them in vast quantities. The hard part is not eating them whilst you dip! Oh and for those of you (like me) for whom Fahrenheit is a foreign concept, the measures are in Celsius.
Chocolate Dipped Caramels
Adapted from Gourmet 2004 and Good Life Eats
250ml double cream
75g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sea salt*
1 and a half cups caster sugar
1/4 cup golden syrup**
1/4 cup water
Grease and line a square baking tin with baking paper. Using a pastry brush, brush oil all over the baking paper. In a pan bring the cream, butter, vanilla and salt to the boil. Set aside. In another pan place the sugar, syrup and water. Give everything a stir so that the sugar and water bond nicely. Place over a medium heat and allow the sugar to dissolve-no stirring! Brush down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to prevent crystallization. Put the thermometer in the pan now so that it warms as the mixture heats. Bring the mixture to a boil and boil until you have a light golden caramel.
Do not be deceived by the slightly goldenness of the mixture if using golden syrup. You will still need to boil the mixture for about 5 minutes before it actually turns to caramel. (You can also check by smelling the mixture. When its ready it will smell decidely like caramel. Who knew?) Also, caramel in the pan always appears darker than it actually is so don’t freak out if it looks a little dark. Freak out when it starts to smell burnt and turns black.
At this point bring the cream back to the boil, and carefully pour the cream into the caramel. Give it a quick stir and then leave it be. The mixture will boil up rapidly and will stay this way until you take it off the heat.
Now for the technicalities. Boil the caramel to 140C if you live at sea level. This is known as small crack stage. (Yes, laugh. I didn’t invent the names.) If you live at altitude, like me, boil it to 122C. This is hard boil stage. You can take it to 125C (I did) but then the caramels will be fairly hard until you pop them in your mouth where they turn chewy. If you go only to 122C they will be soft-ish and you’ll need a hot knife to slice them. I discovered all this after making a batch that set like rocks. (Never fear, caramel pieces are never wasted in my kitchen! I’m going to do something with caramel cake.) It takes anywhere between 10 and 15 minutes to get to the various stages. The sugar will change colour from light golden to dark golden in the process. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, the bubbles will settle as it cools. Allow it to cool for two hours before slicing. You can eat as much as you want at this stage.
But if you’re up for it, melt 200g of dark chocolate in the microwave. Carefully slice the caramels into squares. Gently does it.
Using forks dip them in the dark chocolate, shaking off excess by tapping the fork on the side of the dish, before allowing them to cool on parchment paper.
Wrap individually in wax paper or serve as is with coffee…
*If you want plain caramels, leave out the salt.
** Americans have something called corn syrup. No idea what it is or where to find it. Golden syrup works best and I love Lyle’s (mainly because we’ve had it since I was a child and it is referred to as ‘the syrup with the lion on it’-South African childhood right there) but feel free to use whichever brand you like!