Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fleur de Sel Caramels

Because it sounds fancier than "carmels."

I've never really been much of a candy maker (see: the fudge from hell). But for the holidays this year I plan to give homemade candy boxes as gifts for friends, and was inspired by a gift of gorgeous French fleur de sel to try these salted caramels (sorry to ruin part of the surprise for some of you!)

I know fleur de sel sounds super fancy and intimidating, but it's essentially just a coarse grain of salt that's now often available in most grocery stores, and is excellent for seasoning almost anything that calls for regular table salt.  As for those of you saying "Carmel and salt?? Eew!" The chocolate-covered pretzel people are way ahead of us on this one and we've never looked back. Just trust me on this one.

If you're sending any care packages to friends and family overseas this year, these candies are also an excellent choice because you get that homemade touch without having to worry about them getting stale, melted, smashed or otherwise manhandled en route.

As for the carmel vs. caramel debate, I'll leave that one up to you.  And that really annoying McDonald's carmel latte commercial.

A couple of notes: The recipe below is the "short cut" version.  Instead of using sweetened condensed milk, you can also substitute 2 cups half-and-half or light cream, but this may take about 60 minutes to reach firm ball stage, instead of about 20. 

There's really no easy way to cut carmels without making a sticky mess.  Let the carmel sit for at least 3 hours to help them set before you start cutting.  I read a tip about using a buttered knife, but didn't really find this to be any more effective.  Using your sharpest knife, press quickly and firmly on the back of your knife with your non-cutting hand to sort of "press" the caramels rather than using a back-and-forth cutting motion. After each row of candies you cut, run your knife under very hot water to remove any excess before moving on to the next row. 

As for the wrappers, I just cut waxed paper into 5x4" squares though, after the mind-numbing task of cutting and salting about 75 caramels, you may want to save your sanity by just purchasing pre-cut candy wrappers. Other than that you're on your own :)

Fleur de Sel Caramels
1 cup butter
1 16-oz pkg packed light brown sugar
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk (or 2 cups light cream)
1 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla
Fleur de sel

1. Line an 8x8x2" or 9x9x2" baking pan with foil, extending foil over edges of pan.  Butter or spray the foil.  Set aside.

2.  In a heavy saucepan with high sides melt butter over low heat.  Add the brown sugar, sweetened condensed milk (or cream, if using) and corn syrup; mix well.  Cook and stir over medium-high heat until mixture boils.  Insert a candy thermometer.  Reduce heat to medium; continue boiling at a moderate, steady rate, stirring frequently, until the thermometer registers 248°F, firm ball stage.  Adjust heat as necessary to maintain a steady boil.

3.  Remove pan from heat; remove thermometer.  Stir in vanilla.  Quickly pour mixture into prepared pan.  When firm, use foil to lift out of pan.  Cut into 1" squares and press each piece lightly onto a small plate of fleur de sel, wrap as desired.  Store up to two weeks.  Makes 2 lbs, or about 64 pieces.

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