It’s holiday baking week here at SB Chic, and I’m very excited to welcome my husband, Sam, as my newest contributor. He’s the resident chef around these parts and he’s been making various forms of caramel for over a year now. He’s developed a number of tasty recipes which we’ll be featuring throughout the week. First up: chewy caramel bites with toasted pecans. Trust me, you can’t have just one. Take it away Sam:
Hey, I’m excited to be posting on SB Chic for the first time! Let’s get one thing out of the way about caramel, though: it is picky and it is hot. Get yourself a candy thermometer and be careful. The base for this recipe comes from Mark Bittman, and I like it because it’s a lot easier than other caramel recipes; by adding corn syrup, you’re ensuring that it doesn’t recrystallize mid-way through, and by putting most ingredients in at the beginning, you lower the risk of burning the caramel or yourself putting liquids in molten sugar. Let’s get started!
Chop up a cup of pecans, spreading them evenly on a baking sheet, and bake at 350F. Start checking after about 10 minutes. It should take about 15 minutes to get them nice and toasty on the outsides without burning underneath. Set them aside in a small bowl to cool.
For the caramel, put the following ingredients into a light-colored, thick-bottomed saucepan and make sure there’s plenty of extra room in there:
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 cups of cream
- 1/2 cup of light corn syrup
- 4 tablespoons of butter (1/2 stick)
- a pinch of salt
Light colored pans are good because you can see the color, and thick pans are good because the sugar heats evenly. Turn the heat to medium and stir the caramel continuously until the sugar is dissolved. Put the spoon aside after that, and resist urges to mess with the pot while it heats.
During this time, butter an 8×8 square pyrex dish (or similar) very well, and sprinkle some sea salt or fleur de sel on the bottom. Also, measure out a teaspoon of vanilla and set it aside next to your spoon, some pot holders, and the greased dish.
The mixture will heat up and start bubbling gently, first at the edges and then all over. It will hit about 225F and stay at that temperature for some time as the water evaporates. Keep your eye on it though: it doubles in volume, and you want to make sure it doesn’t boil over. Also, as soon as the temperature starts rising above 225 F, things start to change quickly. If it looks like the caramel is heating unevenly (color appears in some places but not others), stir it very gently. You’re looking for a light brown color, where the caramel hits 245 F. On a candy thermometer, that’s just higher than “soft ball”. In a series of quick steps:
- Get your trusty spoon
- Turn off the range
- Vigorously stir in the nuts and vanilla
- Get the pot holders and pour the caramel in the 8×8 dish, like so:
It will smell awesome and look gorgeous, but now is the time to tell you: do not try to sample the caramel while it’s soft. You will burn your mouth. Cool the dish on a rack at room temperature. It will take a while, more than an hour. When the bottom of the dish is no longer hot, use a knife to pull the sides of the caramel away from the edge of the dish all around. Use your fingers to pry the caramel out of the dish and onto a big piece of wax paper. Quickly flip it over so that the uglier bottom side stays on the bottom; that will help it flatten again as it continues to cool. If you’re a salt-hound like me, finish it with more fleur de sel:
Using a dry, room temperature metal knife, cut the square into strips, then cut the strips into little rectangles or squares. You can eat them over the next couple days, or wrap them in wax paper and they’ll keep for a few weeks (just avoid any moisture).