Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Love Affair With Salted Caramel

Since today is Valentine's Day, and therefore everything must by default revolve around love, I thought I'd share a new love of mine: salted caramel.

In my quest to try new things, I recently stepped out of my comfort zone and tried the Mediterranean fleur de sel (translation: sea salt) caramel gelato at Paciugo and immediately fell in love. I've never thought of myself as a caramel person. Those cellophane-wrapped squares people used to give out around Halloween when I was a kid have never held any appeal to me whatsoever--give me butterscotch any day. The gelato is admittedly pretty salty, but the combination definitely works, and it's opened my eyes to a food I never thought I liked.

This newly discovered love is what led to the Chocolate with Shortbread and Salted Caramel that I experimented with last month (and the spoonfuls of leftover salted caramel sauce I consumed that same weekend with cookies, yogurt and by itself). Plus there was the second batch of salted caramel sauce I whipped up just to snack on. Hmmm, perhaps being so proactive in trying new things was not such a good idea...

Anyhow, after reading up on the subject, it seems that salted butter caramels from France (more specifically Brittany) are generally considered to be the standard by which all other salted caramel is judged. I must try some. I just can't bring myself to spend nearly $40 to have a box of Henri Le Roux caramels shipped to Dallas, and the second I even picture individually wrapped caramels my stomach starts to feel a bit queasy and I'm not sure I'll be able to eat them, but Amazon makes it oh-so-easy to purchase a slightly more economical selection (that's another post in and of itself) so a couple of quick clicks and they were on their way. On the bright side, I figure that if I hate them Jake would probably love them. But I didn't hate them.

In fact I loved them so much that I started making salted caramel candy in my own kitchen. Talk about a recipe for disaster.

Salted Butter Caramel Hard Candy

  • 1 c sugar
  • 3/4 c heavy cream
  • 4 oz unsalted butter
  • 2 t fleur de sel, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1 t vanilla

  1. Prepare a 9x9 baking dish with parchment paper.
  2. Heat sugar in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan until the sugar melts. Keep stirring (to avoid scorching) until the sugar melts completely.
  3. Quickly stir in the butter. As soon as it melts, stir in the heavy cream until the mixture is thoroughly combined.
  4. Bring the caramel up to hard ball temperature (260 degrees F/127 degrees C), remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and salt. Quickly pour the caramel into the baking dish and try to spread it evenly, getting it into the corners, etc.
  5. Let the caramel cool for 5 minutes, then sprinkle with salt if desired. Once it's firm enough to hold it's shape but still soft enough to cut (about 5-10 more minutes), remove it from the pan (still on the parchment paper) and cut into desired pieces. I find that a pizza cutter works very well here.
  6. Give it another 30 minutes or so to harden.

One of the things I love so much about this recipe is the consistency of the candy. It's hard, but not tooth-cracking hard. It gives with a bit of bite and if left in the mouth for a bit softens enough to be considered almost chewy, but still not actually soft. It undergoes a sort of a metamorphosis that's mesmerizing and completely intriguing.

Something to consider: using different kinds of salt can change the taste a bit, though not dramatically I think unless you use a smoked salt. I sprinkled Bolivian rose salt (a very fine salt) on half of the caramel and Peruvian pink salt (a coarser salt) on the other. Both are said to have a more mineral taste than table salt or Kosher salt, though I didn't find much appreciable difference in the sprinkling; perhaps if I'd used them for the bulk of the recipe...

Things I learned from this project:
  1. While not pretty, caramel is still edible--perfectly delicious, actually--if the butterfat runs out of the final product.
  2. I should never be allowed to cook without a recipe when I'm sick. The pretty batch was actually the second of the day, as the first was burned, bitter and sans vanilla. Oops...


  1. never tried salted caramel, it didn't sound that appealing to me but you never know so I guess I'll have to give it a chance!

    1. It never sounded appealing to me, either. On a whim I requested a taste of the gelato and was instantly addicted. To be honest I enjoy it most as a sauce, just below room temperature (I just lick it off a spoon) but that's not very portable...

  2. Yum. I'm glad you tried it again. Salted caramel is so good.

    1. I'm glad, too! It's sad to think I almost missed out on the deliciousness that is salted caramel!

  3. I'm impressed that you got a perfect hardness the first time (or second ;) It can be hard to hit the exact temperature, and you even did it while taking pictures! Sweet! Just for us who might try your recipe at altitude, subtract 1F degree for every 500 feet of altitude, or use the cold water test instead. I'm gonna have to try this! ~Marilyn

    1. With the candy thermometer it was really easy. I've read that they aren't necessarily 100% accurate but I've never had any issues with mine. The pictures went something like: get camera ready, keep stirring, stop stirring, quickly take photo, start stirring again immediately to avoid scorching my pot. It was something of a juggling act! And that's good to know about the altitude. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I haven't gotten confident enough in the kitchen to try any sort of candy making yet, but these look delicious, I might just have to give it a try :)

    1. As long as you have a candy thermometer (mine was $10 at Bed, Bath and Beyond) it's really easy. Just remember to stir constantly so you don't scorch your pot. Let me know how it turns out!