Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Best Vanilla Caramels You've Ever Tasted.

A How-To: Vanilla Bean Caramels.
Because they are delicious.
Friends and loved ones.
Celebrate the season and be a good neighbor/friend/relative/person. (because certainly these caramels will make me one).

I make these little treats every Christmas. Ok, lets face it. I make these little treats all year long...but this time of year is when they make their main appearance.

When I first started making candy a few years ago I was determined (however a bit daunted) to learn such a skill. So I chose my candy (marzipan) and jumped right in. My first attempt resulted in a pot of hard, crystallized sugar. What? You mean I can't just melt it back? It's called crystallization? Huh?

Anyway, I pushed on, learned from my failed attempts and today most of the candy I make turns out- and really it's quite easy. You can do it too! I just needed to learn a few tips.

So today I share them with you as we make delicious vanilla bean caramels.


This recipe from the Exploratorium is the best I have found. I double it so I can pour it onto a silpat lined baking sheet.

First, get all your ingredients together:
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter
2 vanilla beans (Costco has the best and most affordable)

Before you begin baking get everything ready that you will need. Candy-making is a delicate, exact task-- you don't want to ruin a batch because you forgot to butter the sides of your pan.

Pre-baking Steps:
First: Get your sheet pan out and place a silicone baking mat on the bottom. DO NOT USE WAX PAPER! The caramel will stick to it. Butter sides of pan.

Second: Unwrap stick of butter and set next to stove so you can easily add it to the candy mixture at the right moment.

Third: Prepare your vanilla beans. Cut bean lengthwise and with the back of a knife scrape out all of the seeds. Put the seeds in a small bowl and set next to the butter.

Fourth: Prepare your work surface.
*Get one small bowl and fill with hot water. Set a basting brush inside this bowl.
*Get one large bowl and fill with cold water.
*Set both bowls next to stove.
*Get your thermometer ready. I use a digital probe thermometer. I like this thermometer way better than a candy thermometer because the probe reaches the very bottom of the pan (unlike candy thermometers where there is a space), you never have to hold the thermometer in place, and you can easily see what temperature your mixture is.

This is what my workspace looks like: (how handy that the thermometer sticks to the fan so nicely!)

Ok, now you are ready to begin making the caramels!

Place all the ingredients except the butter and vanilla beans into sauce pan.

*Stir the mixture over medium heat with a wooden spoon until the sugar dissolves.
*Scrape down sides of pot with the wet basting brush so that no sugar crystals are stuck on the sides of the pot.

Add the stick of butter and the vanilla beans and stir until the butter melts and is well- incorporated and the mixture begins to boil.
*Place thermometer into pot.
*Cook mixture without stirring until the syrup is above 230° F.

Now it is time to do the cold water test:
With the wooden spoon drop some of the syrup into the large bowl of cold water. Feel the caramel with your hands. Taste it. The consistency of the caramel after is has been in the cold water for a second it the consistency the caramel would be if you were to take it off the heat and pour it in your sheet pan right then.

Keep doing this test until it is the desired consistency. Watch your thermometer as you do it. The recipe says to take the caramel off the heat at 248°F . THIS HAS ALWAYS BEEN TOO LONG and the caramel comes out too hard. Usually the temperature I take the caramel out on is between 238° F and 244° F. I know that's a big gap but at this point the caramel gets hotter and hotter FAST! Plus it depends on how soft you like your caramel to be. The most important factor in determining the softness of your caramel will be the cold water test.

Once the caramel is the desired consistency quickly pour into your pan

Let cool.

Cut caramel into rectangular pieces and wrap in wax paper. I use kiss paper found at a local baking supply store. I think it goes by the name "twisting wax paper" online- it is made especially for candy-making. The first year I made this though, I just used regular wax paper that I cut up.

Make sure you twist both ends in the same direction. That way when you want to eat the caramel you can pull both ends of the candy and the paper will t w i s t open! (an important nuance says my candy-lover dad).

Now enjoy enjoy enjoy. The fruits of your labors.


Mrs. Olsen said...

I love these whenever I get them from good neighbors during the holidays. My favorite addition are the licorice caramels (with anise?). My sister also did a batch of red hot cinnamon which were yummy.

I bet the real vanilla beans put them over the top. Way to be a good neighbor.

candace said...

4 things..
1--how did the no butter turn out
2--when do I get mine?
3-thank you for posting the recipe on here-I was bound to ask you for it before the season is over.
4-I am ready for another lesson!

D said...

Dashing Boy here,

I second Mrs. Olsen. I'd like to experiment with a batch of licorice flavored ones. Great idea!

Natalie said...

Oh my goodness -- this is daunting. I'm absolutely amazed. You're like a fabulous neighbor.

Gigi said...

where are mine? did i teach you these skills?

Jenny said...

Anise caramels would be yummy...

As for the batch with the forgotten butter- they're just a little softer and not as yummy! I made sure to pre-seed the beans before I started cooking so I wouldn't make that mistake again!

And Candace, you will get yours soon :) So will you mom :)

Caren said...

I'm a little scared of this recipe, but I am gong to try it because I absolutely LOVE soft caramels (AND Scotchmallows, yes!!) Wish me luck :-)

Cristie said...

Wow! They look fabulous! I will be making some of these sometime soon! Thanks for the lesson.