A couple of years ago, I came across this incredible recipe for salted caramels. I know that sounds super fancy, like you need a granite-topped kitchen with two ovens to make it, but I assure you it's totally not. You basically just need butter, sugar, cream, salt, and an excellent sense of timing; when you're making caramels, I've discovered, mere seconds can determine whether you end up with a pan of chewy deliciousness or a pan of brittle filling-wrenchers that needs to be scraped into the garbage as soon as it's taken off the stove.
Actually, you also need a candy thermometer. But apart from that, you're good.
This recipe for salted caramels has been my go-to way of impressing people since the moment I first made it. (I can't do the splits, so that's out, and I'm not related to a Beatle, despite the fact that many drunk people in bars have asked me if I am, upon finding out that I'm English. You know, because we all know each other. There's, like, twelve of us in the whole country.)
I've made the salted caramels for dinner parties, I made them for a bake sale at work, and last year I even bought out all the butter in six neighboring Costcos and made 400 of them as wedding favors. (I didn't really use all that butter. Though it sure did seem like it.) Sean made a customized label for the wedding caramels---you probably can't read it in this picture, but the small print says "Established September 5, 2009"; hey, when I do a theme, I do a theme---and my sister and I packaged them up in glassine bags, then put a bag at each person's place at the table. They went down very well with 99% of the guests, although my grandma---not reading the label, I guess---confessed to my mother the next day that she hadn't quite known what to make of them. "Those toffees Holly gave us were very nice," she said. "But they were awfully salty."
Anyway, you didn't think I'd go on for four paragraphs about these super-easy salted caramels and not give you the recipe, did you? Because I'm going to. But first I'm going to show you how I made them for my friend's birthday this weekend. My friend, you see, loves these caramels---or least she's told me she does; maybe she was just being polite---and so I wanted to give her a whole batch of her own as a present. Nothing says "I will take your secrets to the grave and also I think your hair is looking really good these days" like a little sugar, cream, salt, and butter, right?
To make these caramels, you will need the following things; look, I arranged them all on my kitchen counter just for you:
Lunch bags, heavy cream, sugar, a candy thermometer, sea salt, light corn syrup, butter, parchment paper, wax paper, chocolate, and an 8x8 tin. Excellent sense of timing not pictured.
Then you will need to follow the recipe for the salted caramels, which is below (via Epicurious):
Fleur de Sel Caramels
1 cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces (I often use salted, and I think it's even better)
1 teaspoon fleur de sel (I use Morton's sea salt, although the Trader Joe's sea salt is good too)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
Special equipment: parchment paper; a deep-fat thermometer
Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, then lightly oil parchment. Bring cream, butter, and fleur de sel to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside.
Boil sugar, corn syrup, and water in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring but gently swirling pan, until mixture is a light golden caramel. Carefully stir in cream mixture (mixture will bubble up) and simmer, stirring frequently, until caramel registers 248°F on thermometer, 10 to 15 minutes.
Pour into baking pan and cool two hours. (I sprinkle them with sea salt before I do this; gives them a lovely crunch.) Cut into 1-inch pieces, then wrap each piece in a 4-inch square of wax paper, twisting two ends to close.
When you are done, you will need to marry a graphic designer and have him create some labels* for you. You probably won't want to round the corners with a special corner-rounder like a CERTAIN perfectionist sicko did, but you will want to stick them onto brown paper lunchbags, just like this:
*(By the way, do you guys know about the Xyron? It can make ANYTHING into a label. I bought one for my wedding---they're about thirty bucks on Amazon; I have this one and it's great---and now I have to physically restrain myself from making, like, my old credit card statements into labels. The stickers above, for instance, were just printed onto plain white printer paper on our regular old home printer. Then I ran them through the Xyron, and hey presto, they became stickers. That stick to things! It's the future! I know!)
Anyway, if you are planning on melting some chocolate in a double boiler and dipping half your batch of cut-up caramels into it with a toothpick once they're set---this isn't in the recipe, but I kind of just winged it because I thought it would taste good, and BOY DID IT EVER---then make sure you create two different labels for the two different flavors. The first will say one thing:
And the second will say something else:
That's pretty fancy, huh? Just like real candy from the store.
Once your caramels are set (the chocolate-dipped ones will need a little longer), wrap each one in a square of wax paper and pour them into their separate brown paper lunch bags. Fold the tops down a few times, and then go totally over the top like me and seal each one with a strip of tissue paper and a piece of some old weird hempy material that you bought for a wedding project and ended up never using, basically because it looked like old weird hempy material. (Although it totally works here with the brown paper bags, so I guess that's recycling in action, folks. Look at that.)
(I only put the matching strip on the bottom to cover up a butter stain that was annoying me. You don't have to be quite so OCD.)
And there you go: two bags of homemade salted caramels! If I'd actually thought about this properly, I could have posted it in time for Mother's Day. But hey, maybe now you can just make them for Father's Day instead. Your dad is going to be so psyched about my crappy timing.
Also, now have a glass of champagne. That was hard work.