December 17, 2008

Rookie Mistake

I could start this post off many ways. I could tell you about my insatiable need to be adventurous in the kitchen--or to be in the kitchen at all, for that matter. I could also tell you that I've been reading non-stop about cooking holiday treats lately and I can't get enough. I could tell you that Ryan tried to tell me I made toffee, not caramel, because Jamie Oliver says you just add cream to caramel to make toffee. Or I could divulge the fact that I made my sister stand next to me and watch the thermometer while making this batch of caramel.

But I think the most satisfying anecdote to tell goes something like this.

At some point on Tuesday, I decided it was my destiny to make these Salted Caramels for all my friends. Here's what happened Tuesday night, around 10.

"Hey babe! The caramels actually turned out great. Here, taste."

"Mmm, yum. Those are great."

I left the caramels in the baking dish to set overnight, not wanting to cut them too soon. This morning, I turned the 8x8 square of caramel (minus one small corner) over onto the cutting board and reached for my sharpest knife. It slid, then crunched--very satisfyingly so--through the block of creamy sugar, and before I knew it I had 36 near-perfect squares of caramel. Before leaving for work, I told Ryan he could have the shards that were sitting on the counter. I'd packed the 36--make that 34--squares carefully into a glass dish and went on my way.

At work, I got an email. "Those caramels were great. I tried to eat one from that dish but they were all stuck together and I didn't want to mess anything up." Hah, I thought, they're probably just tacked together on the edges. I'll have to separate them when I get home--guess that's what they meant when they said "store between layers of waxed paper."

Well, I got home and saw my dish of caramels. It was one [not] solid blob of candy that could not be pried apart, even with my sharpest knife. It took everything I had to coerce the chunk of caramel back out of the dish. Which is what you see here.

I artfully chopped the block again, this time into ugly blob-shaped pieces unworthy of gifting. But I had bigger plans for these salted caramels. While dinner was in the oven (more about that later), I melted bittersweet chocolate in the microwave (even as Ryan asked, "Don't you want to use a double-boiler for that?") and then not-so-masterfully dipped the caramels in the chocolate. I laid them out on a baking sheet (covered in parchment) and then sprinkled fine sea salt on top.

So what have I learned?

I can make caramel.
You should ALWAYS use layers of waxed or parchment paper between candies.
Cream and sugar are toffee, but only at the hard-crack temperature point.
And yes, these are absolutely tooth-stickingly delicious and worth every moment of fret!