Tag Archives: caramel

Sweet-Tooth Saturday: Chocolate-Covered Salted Caramels

While in Hawai’i on vacation, I bought my mom Red ‘Alaea and Black Lava sea salts as a Christmas gift; she loved cooking with gourmet salts. She never even got to see them.  My dad is a self-described “survival cook,” so we agreed I’d use them more than he would, and I brought them home with me.  They’ve been up in my cupboard for almost a month now, calling to me every time I open the door.  What does fancy sea salt say, you might be wondering?  (Imagine this in a soft whispery voice, almost like a breeze) “Saaalted Caaaramellls.  Saaaaalted Caaaaaramelllsss….”  What could I do?  Here are some caramels for you, Mom.

I found a caramel recipe on line.  Candy-making is not my forte, but after over-cooking the first batch I learned a lot.  Tips I’ll be passing on to you!

For the caramels:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
  • 2 1/4 cups brown sugar  (I only had 2 cups, so filled in the last 1/4 cup with granulated organic sugar.)
  • 1 cup corn syrup  (Please don’t hate me.  I usually avoid corn syrups, but for a yummy caramel with the proper texture, well, I had to.)
  • 1-14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla

For the chocolate and salt parts:

  • 2-10-oz bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tsp espresso powder
  • sea salt  (I have 3 sea salts and a pink Himalyan salt.)

Butter an 8×8 pan, line it with parchment paper and butter it again.  The parchment will act as handles to help get the caramel block out of the pan.

Melt butter in a 4-6-quart pan over medium heat.

Add milk, sugar and corn syrup.

Stir until combined.  Place a candy thermometer on the pan so the tip is under the surface of the caramel-to-be, but not touching the bottom of the pan.

Stir constantly until the mixture reaches 242F.  Scrape the sides of the pan as you stir to prevent sugar crystals from forming. 

We pause here for the “Here’s what I learned making these caramels” part.  The original recipe says to heat to 242-248F.  The first time I let it go to 250F.  Very bad–they turned into something I could not cut, I tried remelting and burned it.  There’s just no fixing it if it goes past the target temp.  This time, I cooked until 245F; thinking I’d split the difference of the recommended temperatures.  These caramels were cut-able and super yummy, if a bit on the chewy side.  Next time I make them I’m heading for the low end of recommended temperatures, to see if they will stay a bit less threatening to my fillings.  😉

OK, on with the caramels.  When the mixture reaches 242F, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.  Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, bounce it on the counter for a minute to help bubbles rise to the surface, and refrigerate until cooled.

Here’s more of what I learned:  The original recipe said to wait until cool, but not completely set, cut into 1″ pieces and return to the fridge until firm.  I tried this and they were so gooey, they stuck to my knife and then were kinda stretched out of shape and didn’t want to go back into their pan.  I gave up after cutting just 3 rows, and found out letting them set until firm was easier to cut anyway.  The bottom of the pan still felt a tiny bit warm to the touch.

So, lift caramels from the pan with the parchment handles to a cutting board.  Cut into 1/2-1-inch pieces using a very sharp, buttered knife–I used a long chef’s knife.  The long cuts here are 1-inch apart.  I cut the first row into 8-1-inch pieces, but that seemed a bit too big to me, so from there on, I cut each row into 12 pieces.

Eat them just like this if you want.  You’ll want to wrap them individually or they will stick together.  Mr17 and I tried them at this stage–yummy–just like a “real” caramel!  Or, gather up your caramels and a few more things and head toward caramel nirvana!

Working with one bag of chips at a time, melt chocolate chips in the microwave in 20-second intervals, stirring in between, until smooth.

Stir in 1 tsp espresso powder per bag of chips.  You won’t taste the espresso much, it just makes the chocolate even more rich and chocolatey.

Dip caramels and place on wax paper.  I tried being neat about this process, using a toothpick stuck in the caramel to dip it into the chocolate.  The chocolate kept sucking the caramel off the toothpick, and I’d have to use my fingers to rescue it.  So I just ended up using my fingers.

While chocolate is still wet, sprinkle a few salt crystals on top of each caramel. After washing and thoroughly drying your fingers, of course.  🙂   

Pretty soon, you’ll have enough for everybody in the neighborhood!  I really like how the different colors look–very gourmet, don’t you think?!  The flavor of each is ever-so-slightly different, with the least salty being the black lava salt and the most salty being the regular sea salt.

Himalyan Pink is pretty,

but the Red ‘Alaea is my favorite.

Your friends will LOVE it if you share.  I save baby brie boxes; they’re perfect little candy boxes.

Heart-shaped boxes filled with these yummy salted caramels will make you the Valentine’s Day rock star!  Everyone I know loves dark-chocolatey, rich-caramely flavors, intensified by sea salt.  Yum-yum-yummy! 

Last thing I learned:  The original recipe mixed in 1 TBSP of butter with the chocolate, but reviews of the recipe indicated that the butter was problematic, so I left it out.  Everything worked fine, and the caramels taste uh-maze-ing, but they did dry kind of dull.  I’d like the chocolates to be a bit more glossy.  More experimenting?  Yummy!

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Filed under dessert, food gifts, Holiday foods, recipe

Sweet-tooth Saturday: Salted Caramel Espresso Bars

I confess.  I have never completely gotten over my childhood sweet-tooth.  I can always rationalize it: I NEED a bit of sweet after dinner or with a cup of coffee or because I had a bad day and I deserve it….   So to celebrate the sweet-tooth, I want to dedicate Saturdays to sweet yummies.  I’m starting it off with my current guilty pleasure: Salted Caramel Espresso Bars–the perfect combo of sweet and salty, smooth and gooey; AND truly just the thing with a cup of coffee!  Need a bit more to convince you?  Have a look–notice the smooth chocolate, the sweet, gooey caramel layer, the perfect graham crust and the perfect touch of sea salt…..mmmmmm:

I found this recipe in a magazine in the grocery checkout lane: Italian put out by the folks at Better Homes and Gardens.  It’s a recipe from Giada–she who is too gorgeous and too thin to be a chef, but makes luscious food.  I have altered it just a wee bit to account for my personal cooking laziness.

Now that you’re drooling…go get your ingredients!

For the crust:

Vegetable oil cooking spray

9 whole graham crackers, crumbled, about 1 1/2 cups (cinnamon grahams are fine)

1/4 cup light brown sugar

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

For the caramel:

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups light brown sugar

1 TBSP water

For the chocolate layer:

2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 3/4 tsp instant espresso powder  (1 pkg of Starbucks Via works if you can’t find espresso powder)

1 tsp sea salt

To make the crust:

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray a 7 x 10 3/4 inch non-stick baking pan with cooking spray.  Lay a piece of parchment paper in the pan, allowing for there to be a couple of inches of excess on the short sides.  Spray the parchment paper lightly with cooking spray.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the graham crackers and brown sugar.  Process until the mixture resembles bread crumbs.  Add the melted butter and blend until mixture is combined.

Spread the mixture into the prepared pan, pressing gently to form an even layer.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edges of the crust are golden.  Cool on a rack at room temperature for 10 minutes.

To make the caramel:

In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the heavy cream, butter, brown sugar and water.  Stir over medium heat until the mixture is smooth.  Bring the mixture to a boil and cook without stirring until a candy thermometer registers 240 degrees F. 5-7 minutes.  Carefully pour the caramel over the cooled crust.  Allow the caramel to cool and set at room temperature, about 30 minutes.

To make the chocolate layer:

Here’s where I’ve altered the recipe–I use the microwave to melt the chips, Giada uses a double boiler.  My way is faster and makes less dishes!  : )

Combine the chocolate chips and heavy cream in a microwave-safe bowl.  Microwave on high for 30 seconds at a time, stirring after each 30 seconds, until chocolate and cream combine smoothly.  You will have a stage in the middle that looks funny and sort of soupy, this is ok.

Stir in the espresso powder.

Pour the chocolate mixture over the caramel layer and smooth the edges with a spatula.

Sprinkle the top with sea salt.  Allow the chocolate layer to harden.  I put my bars in the freezer for a bit–they’re easier to cut later if they’re a bit more firm than leaving them at room temperature.  They should be set in 30 minutes or so.  If you let them go longer, just leave them out for a bit before attempting to cut them.

Using a warm, damp knife, carefully cut around the edges to free it from the pan.  Using the paper overhang as handles, carefully remove bars from the pan and set on a cutting board.  Cut about 1 inch squares and store in a refrigerated air-tight container.  Bring bars to room temperature for at least 1-2 hours before serving.  (Makes about 48 bars.)

I like to give these little bites of heavenly yumminess as gifts.  (It is MUCH too dangerous to have a whole batch in the house, and my friends love them!)  To make sure they don’t stick together and so they look pretty, I wrap each one in waxed paper and tie it with a pretty ribbon.

Enjoy after dinner, with a cup of coffee or if you’ve had a rough day and you deserve a little somethin’ yummy!


Filed under dessert