I’ll be the first to admit it – I am not by any means an accomplished baker or chef. And there are quite a few things that scare me to death in the kitchen. The first time I set brandy on fire for beef wellington I thought I was going to pass out. In fact, any use of open flame in the kitchen, whether I’m setting a sauce on fire or toasting marshmallows on top of a cupcake tends to make my heart beat a little bit faster. However, I am not one to walk away from the challenge, and I will likely try anything once, just to say I did. And then I’ll try it again just so that I’m not beaten by it.
One thing that fits neatly into my “holy crap I don’t know if I can do that” category is homemade candy. And I’m not talking about chocolates – those are cake! I’m talking about melting sugar down to a certain temperature and watching it boil and bubble. Sugar is an entirely different animal when you take heat to it. It melts into a smooth, beautiful shiny liquid, but if you touch it you’re sure to sustain first-degree burns! (yet, another reason for my hesitation)
Lately, I’ve been finding that my cravings for cupcakes have waned – just slightly! And I realize that it’s been awhile since I’ve posted any exciting cupcake recipes – don’t worry they’re coming! But the thing about pregnancy is that if you are not craving it, it takes a lot to inspire you to make it. So, I haven’t been baking lately. In fact, it’s been almost three weeks since I’ve baked at all! (a record in my book). Instead, my cravings have turned to “components” of cupcakes. For example, really delicious fillings (i.e. my jam canning obsession) and in this particular post – caramel!
And so, I’ve decided to take the beast – CARAMEL! Now, I think that in order to consider yourself any sort of baker or chef for that matter, caramel is an ingredient that you should absolutely master. And while, I’ve taken on making my own caramel before, nothing I’ve made has quite come close to the delicious, smooth, creamy, vanilla sugar syrup that I am craving.
Caramel is one of the most basic recipes. It involves, at the very least, only three ingredients: sugar, butter and cream. However, it is also a recipe that is full of self-doubt – how do I know when the sugar is ready? Is it the right color? Has it gone too far? Is it burnt? Is it the right consistency? The best way to quell your insecurities is to get into the kitchen and to start experimenting!
I started with the basics: 1 cup of sugar, 1 stick of butter (real butter – as always), and ½ cup of heavy cream. In a large pot, spread the sugar in an even layer and put it at about medium heat. You can poke around the edges of the sugar with a spatula, but once it starts to melt, leave it alone. There are some recipes out there that say to look for a specific color – the color of a penny, a deep amber – and others tell you to go to 350 degrees. Whichever you decide, wait for it, and then mix in the butter all at once – but BE CAREFUL! Hot sugar will bubble up in the pan when you add something to it – so use a BIG pan!
I think this may be where I went wrong. As you can see, my sugar seized up on me and began forming huge chunks. I don’t think I waited long enough or for the right color before adding the butter. However, the butter was added, the damage was done! So how do I fix it? Well, I read that if you keep the heat on low, the sugar should melt out and get smoother.
I ended up whisking the crap out of it. Still nothing. So I figured that I add more disaster to the slowly building goo in my pan, I poured in the cream. I kept the pan on low and stirred and stirred.
Finally I felt like I had smoothed things out and had the caramel I desired…. And then it cooled…into a hard, crumbly, caramel tasting mixture. I can’t even describe the texture. It wasn’t hard. It wasn’t soft, it was just bleck. Okay, well, lessons learned…
This war is not over caramel. I will conquer you.