I’m a big fan of caramel — whether it’s homemade, drizzled on top of a warm brownie, or inside a Twix bar. Sometimes I think I may like caramel more than chocolate (gasp!). Once I finally learned that you could make caramels at home, I tried. And failed. The first time I forgot to even let the sugar caramelize (oops), the second time they were still too gooey, and the third time they were brittle as toffee. Not so delicious.
But I am proud to say that I have finally achieved caramel perfection. People say making caramels is easy — and it is, once you’ve practiced a few times so you know what you’re looking for and you’ve found a brilliant recipe. These caramels are from the insanely awesome Smitten Kitchen — a blog any foodie should follow for foolproof recipes, gorgeous photos, and lucid writing. These caramels, incidentally, also make great holiday gifts — just layer some in a large mason jar and tie with raffia or a festive ribbon. That is, if you don’t eat all of them first.
A few notes before you begin:
- I didn’t have flaky salt, so I reduced the amount to 1 1/2 teaspoons.
- Boiling down the cider took me a solid hour, so know that the time will vary. At a certain point, it will begin to bubble violently, and then you know that its almost done. This happens very fast — keep a close eye on it after 40 minutes or so. (I posted a photo of what it should look like later in this post.)
- Better to let the caramels harden at room temperature over night — be patient, I promise its worth it! They’ll harden faster in the fridge, too, but when you take them out they’ll get gooey and messy.
- I used canola oil for knife in order to cut the caramels. Do it — it helps infinitely.
And below is the fabulous recipe, from Smitten Kitchen:
- 4 cups apple cider
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- Neutral oil for the knife
What your apple cider should look like when it’s done boiling (sans the burnt spot).
- Boil the apple cider in a 3- to- 4- quart saucepan over high heat until it is reduced to a dark, thick syrup, between 1/3 and 1/2 cup in volume. This can take 30 minutes or 1 hour. Stir occasionally.
- Meanwhile, line the bottom and sides of an 8- inch straight- sided square metal baking pan with 2 long sheets of crisscrossed parchment. Set it aside. Stir the cinnamon and flaky salt together in a small dish.
- Once you are finished reducing the apple cider, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter, sugars, and heavy cream. Return the pot to medium- high heat with a candy thermometer attached to the side, and let it boil until the thermometer reads 252 degrees, only about 5 minutes. Keep a close eye on it. (Don’t have a candy or deep- fry thermometer? Have a bowl of very cold water ready, and cook the caramel until a tiny spoonful dropped into the water becomes firm, chewy, and able to be plied into a ball.)
- Immediately remove caramel from heat, add the cinnamon- salt mixture, and give the caramel several stirs to distribute it evenly. Pour caramel into the prepared pan. Let it sit until cool and firm—about 2 hours, though it goes faster in the fridge. Once caramel is firm, use your parchment paper sling to transfer the block to a cutting board. Use a well- oiled knife, oiling it after each cut (trust me!), to cut the caramel into 1-by-1-inch squares. Wrap each one in a 4-inch square of waxed paper, twisting the sides to close. Caramels will be somewhat on the soft side at room temperature, and chewy/firm from the fridge.
All I have to say is: go make these. Now.