Thursday, March 19, 2009

Comfort Food: Caramel!

One of the points of culinary culture shock has been the complete absence of corn syrup. While not an ingredient I enjoy at all because of where it comes from and what it represents, it is an important tool in the candy making arsenal, certainly for caramel. Out of necessity I’ve created my own technique for ensuring a caramel that does not become grainy without the insurance of corn syrup. I’ve also developed some different recipes in the process.

Beautiful AND delicious!
This process started last fall, October to be exact, when I wanted to make caramel apples. I’d made caramel many times before, while in Portland, but I had resources there that I don’t have in Hungary: a cast iron skillet to use as a heat diffuser, a thermometer, and corn syrup. The attempt failed horribly not only had the sugar, butter, and cream combination become grainy as it set up on the apples, but it hadn’t reached the proper temperature either and it simply sloughed off the apples. A couple of days later I tried again getting the temperature more or less right, again just using my eyes, nose, and intuition, but it still came out grainy, and harder than I liked, I called them toffee apples.

Caramel with Murray River salt from Australia.
I didn’t try again until December when I wanted to make caramels for my colleagues and my Christmas hosts. But this time I had my Polder probe thermometer at my side as it had been sent in a package in December! The caramel turned out perfectly and I thought I had my recipe figured out. I had thought that I could make caramel at any time now that I had mastered the art of caramel making in Hungary. That was until yesterday…the problem resurfaced when I tried to make caramel for Franny to take to her family in Germany: it became grainy and disgusting, what’s more is that I had topped it with some Hawaiian black salt, what a loss!

Caramel with Hiwa Kai-Hawaii Black salt.
Determined not to lose this battle I added more water to my recipe and decided to create a syrup first. Then transferring the syrup to a clean pan was the only way to ensure an absolute lack of seed crystals waiting on the sides of my cooking vessel waiting to ruin my caramel. I then finished caramelizing the sugar inside the new pan insuring that any stray crystals were dissolved before adding the cream, butter, and salt mixture. This has worked as I’ve now made two beautiful batches of caramel, one batch of regular and a harder chocolate caramel.

Josef's variation: chocolate with Fleur de Sel!
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1 comment:

Hanna said...

WOW! Sooooo hungry (or Hungary?) after reading that one. YUMMY.