On the sixth day of Christmas, there was caramel. Gooey, soft, sweet, buttery caramel, dipped in dark chocolate and sprinkled with tiny grains of sea salt. I’m a huge fan of caramel, in any form. Dulce de leche, caramel sauce, and caramel truffles are all good in my book. I’ve never been much into making candy (I’m pretty sure it’s because of the time I burned myself with sugar syrup in high school cooking class), but as long as you pay attention during the last stage, you don’t even need a candy thermometer for these.
I’ve been making these treats since 2009, when I first posted the recipe on my former blog, Mixing in Mobile. Attention to detail is key. Sugar can go from light to burnt in a matter of seconds, so it’s imperative to watch carefully. No Instagramming. No YouTubing. Believe me; I speak from experience. Keep your eye on the pot, and you’ll be golden (or a lovely shade of caramel).
There are two main steps to making caramels: the sugar syrup stage, which determines how deep the flavor is, and the caramel stage, which determines the finished texture (i.e. soft to brittle). In the past, I’ve only let the sugar cook to a light golden brown, but I wanted to experiment with a deeper flavor. It almost burned, but I got it off the heat just in time for the syrup to turn a deep, dark amber. Then you add the cream and butter mixture, and it will bubble vigorously. Just keep stirring for about 10-15 minutes over medium heat, and every 4 minutes or so, take a spoonful of caramel and drop it into a clear glass of ice water. Try to gather up the caramel in a ball with your fingers. The first time it will most likely be mush, but you should be able to see and feel how the caramel is firming up with the next few tries. Wash out the glass in between tests. The final test should be in between soft ball (when you’re able to form a ball but it flattens out) to hard ball (when the ball keeps its firm shape).
After you pour them in a parchment-lined pan and they sit (in my case, overnight, covered), it’s time to cut and dip them. If you like, you could just cut them into rectangles, sprinkle with sea salt, and wrap in wax paper, but I like to gild the lily by dipping these in dark chocolate. I just melt my chocolate (dark chocolate chips) in the microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring until completely melted. Then I use a long-tined fork and just dip each caramel in chocolate and sprinkle with fleur de sel or any other coarse-grained salt while the chocolate is still wet. Then just let them sit at room temperature until set.
And try not to eat them all before you package them up for gifts (because these have some serious wow factor).
Sea Salt Caramels
Sweet, salty, buttery caramel enrobed in dark chocolate and sprinkled with fleur de sel.
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into pieces
- 1 teaspoon good quality large-crystal sea salt
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup
- 1/4 cup water
- 8 ounces dark chocolate melted
Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, then lightly butter or oil parchment.
Bring cream, butter, and sea salt to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside.
Boil sugar, corn syrup, and water in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
Boil, without stirring but gently swirling pan, until mixture is a light golden caramel.
Carefully stir in cream mixture (mixture will bubble up) and simmer, stirring frequently, until caramel reaches the soft ball stage,* (see note) 10 to 15 minutes.
Pour into baking pan and cool 2 hours. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Dip each piece in melted dark chocolate, then let harden on a wire rack.
*This stage can be determined by dropping a spoonful of hot caramel into a bowl of ice cold water. If it has reached soft-ball stage, the caramel easily forms a soft ball pinched between fingers while in the cold water but starts to melt after a few seconds. If the ball is firm, that's okay, too, but take it off the heat immediately.