Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Salty caramels

Hi there.

So right before Christmas, I was walking around New York City, just shopping and eating and drinking way too much coffee. I came across a little outpost of the Brooklyn Flea in the old Tower Records on Lafayette and Bond (or Great Jones or something). Walking in, I was delighted to find about 40 vendors packed into the space selling a great variety of wares, from clothing to beer brewing kits to jewelry to Pee Wee's Playhouse temporary tattoos (I bought 5). I also found a great little lady selling flavored caramels, like salted, chocolate, and probably some other ones that I forget. On a whim (and with a great deal of Christmas joy in my little black heart), I decided to try the salted caramels. At $5 per bag (with each bag containing only 6 little caramels), I was set to be blown away by the taste. And frankly, I was.

These were simply AMAZING. Sweet and buttery and creamy with a salty finish. I savored each one over the course of the day, partially due to the cost of $1.20 per piece, but also because they were seriously delicious.

I've been making cakes with a salted caramel layer for years, so why hadn't I thought to just eat it straight? Duh. So I got to work at home making my own. Making caramel is pretty straightforward and easy (and so cheap, Miss Five Dollars A Bag) - water, sugar, corn syrup, butter, cream, and salt. The only part that's remotely challenging is getting the sugar to stop cooking at exactly the right temperature. It just takes a bit of attention.

After a few experiments - one resulting in caramels that were a little too hard for my taste, and one that was a little too soft and mushy - I discovered the perfect cooking temperature of 248. They were firm when they went in your mouth, but they softened up quickly when you bit down. I also experimented with the amount of salt that went in, and found that I could put in quite a bit of salt. I also topped them with even more salt which added a savory punch of crunchiness. I only used Maldon Salt because it actually tastes good, unlike regular table salt.

Here's my third attempt:

I hand-wrapped each and every caramel in these really colorful candy wrappers that were lined with wax paper. At least I thought it was wax paper...


Turns out, the "wax paper" was more like regular paper, and was not suited to candy at all. After receiving, filling, and delivering 20 orders for these things from my friends at the Ace Hotel, I discovered, to my extreme horror and embarrassment, that every single caramel was stuck to the paper inside. So unless you wanted to eat paper with your caramel, they were totally inedible.

They looked cute, though.

This was a major fuck-up on my part. At first, I asked my friend Ashton at the hotel to remove my name from the bags and not take anyone's money, then a few hours later I asked him to just thrown everything away. I was pretty upset about this one. Total fail. I spent hours and hours making and wrapping and packaging these things, only to be ruined in the end by a stupid piece of paper. Well, that and my lack of experience making candy.

But trust - now I know. I found more suitable candy wrappers and I'm ready to go. I usually like doing some stuff for Valentine's Day, so that might be where these surface next. I've also purchased Maldon's smoked sea salt, so maybe I'll give that a shot, too. It's delicious.

This Friday, I'm making two birthday cakes - red velvet and chocolate bacon - for a couple of friends who are having a joint 30th birthday party. Then at the end of the month is one my best friend's 40th birthday, so of course I'll be busy for that one, too.

If you were to receive a Valentine's Day box of goodies, what homemade goodies would you want in it? Caramels? Cookies? Marshmallows? Chocolate? Let me know!

Thanks for reading. More coming soon...



Anonymous said...

pink marshmallows shaped in hearts!

Estrella said...

ups! well, this situation will help you further, i think will be a perfect gift for valentines though.
And i supous you wont seel 6 for 5 dollars, would you?

Christian said...

Definitely not, Estrella! That seems far too expensive!

paul said...

Earl Grey short breads, with lavender lemon licorice, i love herbal licorice. some PG Tips, favorite non=flavored tea. and of course. tied in fabric, ribbon and maybe in a mug. Great blog Mister, i'm going to dive in now.

Kiesha Jenkins-Duffy said...

I realize it's no longer Valentine's Day, but I'd want marshmallows and caramels! Chocolate can take a hike!

I really enjoy your blog, and am so happy to find guys who both blog AND bake!

Ashley said...

What a story! I can only imagine the frustration. Commented earlier and really enjoying reading some of your past posts. My husband's a big baker and I'm looking forward to sharing your site with him, too.

Riley Family said...

This happened to me last night, luckily before I gave them out and they were little cups. I cried really hard for several minutes and grabbed my chefs knife and cut those suckers out of the cups, chopped up my parchment and twisted away. My heart goes out to you. I felt your pain. Luckily my husband is a saint and helped me redo them. The packaging way way cute, bravo for your merchandising.
I love toffee. I have to admit I rocked out my toffee covered in chocolate topped with chopped pecans for Christmas. Give that a shot, its a sinful indulgence.

Christian said...

Geez, how can you go wrong with toffee, chocolate, and nuts?! Well, I'd maybe add a tiny pinch of salt on top. But maybe not. Those sound amazing!