The holiday season is upon us and that means cookies, candies, and more. Caramels are a classic favorite food gift even though most recipes call for corn syrup and require multiple steps. Wouldn't it be nice to make caramels with honey and brown sugar instead of corn syrup, and in one step in a single pot? Now you can.
You'll need a few pieces of equipment to make caramels. First, you'll need a large, heavy saucepan; a 4-quart saucepan will do nicely. Next, you'll need an 8-inch square cake pan, either silicone or metal; glass, ceramic, or pottery might not stand up to the thermal shock. Third, you'll need a heatproof silicone spatula. Finally, you'll need a good candy thermometer that clips to the side of your pan and has a good, large dial with candy temperature points clearly marked.
Easy Bourbon Vanilla Caramels
1½ cups (300 g) granulated sugar
¼ cup (50 g) brown sugar (packed)
¼ cup (85 g) honey
1 cup (240 mL) heavy (whipping) cream
4 ounces (115 g) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla paste or extract
2 tablespoons bourbon (optional)
¼ teaspoon Fleur de Sel or other coarse salt
additional Fleur de Sel for dusting (optional)
Place all the ingredients in a heavy 4-quart saucepan over medium heat and bring to a temperature of 248°F/120°C, stirring occasionally. Once the caramel is at temperature, pour into an 8"x8" cake pan without scraping the pan and let cool 10 minutes. Sprinkle Fleur de Sel or other coarse salt over the top if desired. Let cool completely, then turn out onto a cutting board and carefully cut into squares or rectangles using a warm knife. Wrap the individual pieces in candy wrappers or squares of waxed paper.
If you want a little more effort and control, here's the classic method. Put the sugars and honey into a heavy 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a rich caramel color, stirring infrequently to avoid crystallization. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, heat the cream, vanilla, and bourbon just to a simmer, then cover and remove from the heat. When the sugars have achieved the color you wish, whisk in the unsalted butter until completely incorporated. Then whisk in the warmed cream, which will froth significantly at the beginning. Continue cooking over medium heat, stirring infrequently, until the temperature of the mixture reaches 248°F. Continue as above.
There are only two things you need to worry about using the easy one-pot method. First, be sure to use medium or slightly lower heat to avoid burning. You cannot safely hurry caramels with higher heat. Second, be sure to watch the temperature carefully. At 248°F (firm ball) the caramels will hold their shape nicely yet remain chewy. By the time the mixture has reached 252°F they will start to become a bit difficult to chew, and by the time the temperature reaches 260°F you'll have a block of caramel you probably won't be able to cut.
Here's a demo I recorded live on Wednesday, December 19, 2012. It won't win any Emmys, in part due to technical issues, but things will get better. Watch for more videos in the future! Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel to keep updated.