I’ve had many firsts but making homemade sea salted caramel is probably my favorite. For starters, salted caramels are at the very top of my culinary list. Though I’m not that particular and am happy with most any chocolate caramel, like with a good wine, I appreciate the subtleties and variations in the wide range available. To a certain degree I like them all. I’m perfectly content with a chewy Russell Stover’s caramel, very pleased with a creamy Godiva one and ecstatic when I indulge in one from the chocolatier Xocolatti on Prince Street in the Village. Every Valentine’s Day (that’s my birthday too!), I’m given an assortment by family and friends who know of my passion.
But now that I’ve made them myself (with Jackie actually), I’m overjoyed.
All it took was for Jackie to tell me about the homemade sea salted caramels that her husband gave her for Christmas and I started to obsess about making them myself. Her husband (Simon is his name) kindly offered to guide Jackie and I in our maiden candy making voyage and since I decided to make my caramel ahead of time, his help started with some texting tips. Though I used a recipe as a guide, since I burned my caramel the first time around, (something I learned is extremely easy to do), I improvised the second time and learned how simple it can be.
So if you’re stuck in all day tomorrow because of the snow storm and you have butter, sugar and cream, it’s time to get cooking!
How to Make Caramel
For starters, all you need to make caramel is a stick of butter cut into pieces, 1 ¾ cups sugar, a generous few pinches of sea salt and ¾ cups heavy cream. It’s really so simple to make but requires some patience in stirring, a watchful eye and some good instincts. Really all you do is place sugar in a 2 quart pot, cook over a medium heat while stirring with a whisk until the sugar dissolves. It will form some clumps before it begins to melts. Once it begins to melt it will form a liquid pretty quickly. You can use a candy thermometer but I tossed my aside after burning my first batch. If you do use one, bring the liquid to about 250 before adding the butter. If you’re doing it by sight, which I recommend, stir the sugar until the liquid becomes a deep golden color bordering on orange. At this point, you will want to quickly add the butter which will cause the sugar liquid to rapidly boil and quickly raise the temperature. Stir vigorously and remove from heat. Slowly pour in the cream, sprinkle with salt and mix until smooth. Cool for about ten minutes and then transfer to a glass jar for storing in the refrigerator.
Honestly you can stop right here. My kids would agree and said that homemade caramel is the best thing they’ve ever eaten — right off the spoon or drizzled over ice cream. But since I made the caramel for my all-time favorite chocolates, I’ll forge on to step two: making the chocolates.
How to Make Caramel Filled Sea Salted Caramels
So for the chocolate making you’ll need two silicone candy molds, a fine chocolate of your choosing and some sea salt. To make 20 candies, all you do is melt about two cups of chocolate over a double boiler until smooth and spoon half way into each mold. Simon instructed us to work the chocolate up on the side of the mold so that the caramel will be enclosed. Place the half-filled molds into the refrigerator until the chocolate is hardened (about 20 minutes or so). At this point you’ll want to dine on a lovely lunch that your friend made. Once the chocolate has hardened, spoon some caramel onto to the chocolate and cover with more chocolate. Return to the refrigerator until the chocolate hardens again. Invert the candies onto a plate.
Now for some brilliance from my friend Jackie which came to her when figuring out how best to place the sea salt onto the chocolate. Since the chocolate needs to be slightly melted for the salt to stick, Jackie had the ingenious idea to use a barbeque lighter to slightly warm the chocolate (a second at most!) with the flame. Once warmed, you’ll quickly drop a several flakes of salt onto the caramel. Voila! And then you have like I do something that rivals even the best store-bought chocolate.
And there’s one thing you can’t buy — the extraordinary experience making it with a dear friend. And that’s priceless! Happy Valentine’s Day!