26 dicembre 2012

Pumpkin Spice Caramels (and common mistakes people make when making caramels)


A lot of people think caramel is hard to make. If this is you, don’t worry, I used to feel totally dumbfounded by caramel too. I tried recipe after recipe but something always seemed to get screwed up. Eventually I discovered what I was doing wrong and since then I’ve realized that caramel is actually very easy as long as you follow some rules. Let’s talk about some of the problems with caramel:
Problem #1: When you start the caramel by putting the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a pan, a little OCD person inside of you says “look at how undistributed those ingredients are, stir it, STIR IT!!!!”
Tell that evil voice to shut up and do not stir it. Otherwise, this will be the death of your caramel before you even began, and your caramel will crystallize and get gritty. Even though the ingredients look undistributed, it will all eventually melt into a very homogenous sugar syrup, like this:

Problem #2: caramel requires patience + human beings are not patient = burned caramel
When you make caramel, you need to watch it. Caramel is a diva, you see. It’s going to take its sweet time getting brown at all, then when you turn your back to the stove for two seconds to get a spoon, it’s practically on fire (okay, I’m exaggerating a little).  It’s in our nature to look for shortcuts and do things faster but keep the heat at medium and be patient with it.
After the sugar turns clear, it will start to develop a golden honey amber color, like this:

To make these caramels pumpkin-y, heat up some cream, pumpkin puree, butter, and spices in the microwave:

Give it a good stir and you’ll have a pumpkin cream mixture:

Standing back (it will bubble ferociously), add the pumpkin cream to your amber sugar syrup:

And this brings us to…
Problem #3: You don’t have the right tools.
You can follow all the necessary rules for making caramel but if you don’t start with the proper equipment, your journey to caramel will be rough.
  • Use a heavy pan with a thick bottom. If you make your caramel in a super crappy, thin bottomed pan, the bottom layer of your caramel will likely scorch.
  • Use an accurate thermometer. You need to cook this to the soft ball stage, to 248 degrees F. There’s no way you can guess that. Spend $20 and get a thermometer like this if you don’t have one. There are several brands that make some well rated thermometers in the $20 range.
  • Use a good spatula that can scrape the bottom of the pan well. Okay, so you’re probably wondering how can you use a spatula if you’re not supposed to stir? After you’ve fortified the caramel with butter and cream, you can stir the caramel without risking crystallization.

Which brings me back to Good News #1. I’m pretty sure I’ve found my dream spatula.
I’ve had spatulas snap in half in my hands (no more plastic spatulas for me).
I’ve had spatulas taint my food with unwanted smells and tastes that they’ve absorbed.
And I’ve had ones that were pretty good quality, but I had to hand wash them. I hate handwashing dishes. Stop for a moment and think about this blog, then think about how many dishes you might imagine I do. Yes, it’s a lot.
This dream spatula goes straight in the dishwasher, is heat resistant to 500 degrees F, and has good heft and quality to it…and it’s pretty =)
It’s made by a small family-owned company named Dexas. They sent me some of their tools to try about a month back, and since I loved them so much, I asked if they would do a giveaway for my readers!

Pumpkin Spice Caramels

Yield: 8x8 pan

  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/16 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/16 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/16 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • good quality sea salt, for sprinkling
  1. Line an 8x8 pan with parchment paper.
  2. Place the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a saucepan (don't stir it together) and cook over medium heat until amber colored (approximately 10 minutes). Again, don't stir during this process (you risk crystallizing the caramel), just swirl it gently in the pan if you need to move it around a bit.
  3. In the meantime, heat the cream, pumpkin puree, butter, salt, and all the spices together until melted, either in a saucepan or in the microwave.
  4. Once the sugar syrup has turned to an amber color, slowly and carefully pour in the pumpkin cream mixture, being aware that the caramel will bubble up a lot (wear oven mitts if you're concerned).
  5. Return the pan to medium heat and cook for about 15 more minutes until it reaches 248 on a thermometer (the soft ball stage), adding the vanilla extract right before it reaches 248. Pour into the parchment lined dish and refrigerate for a few hours until hard enough to cut into squares, then sprinkle the tops with a little bit of sea salt. Enjoy!

Recipe note: You can substitute the spices in this recipe with 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice if you have that on hand. Recipe note #2: I've made this both with an electric stove and a gas stove, and as expected, cooking with a gas stove will go much quicker. Be sure to keep your eye on the caramel.

Chocolate Dipped Coffee Spice Caramels

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