I’ve made caramel for many years now, but when I saw this recipe in the December, 2006 issue of Gourmet magazine I had a feeling it would become a staple in our Christmas candy repertoire. It has. I make it every year now, and it gets a lot of wows. Salted candy has been trendy for a few years now, but I think it’s a trend that will last a while. Salty and sweet are such a happy pair. And this caramel is that and more. There is a dark background note from the amber sugar, and the dark chocolate is fruity. I thought adding a smoky note with smoked flakes of sea salt would make it even better. Ooh, it’s good. I made a double batch this year so I can give little boxes of this caramel to its most devoted fans in addition to the usual cookie and candy boxes we deliver. And so that we can have a few extra, too!
Music for making dark chocolate caramels with smoked salt
Ella Fitzgerald’s rich, sweetsmoky voice is perfect. Ella Wishes You a Swingin’ Christmas
This recipe is part of the Cookie Baking and Candy Making Plan for 2010 (here).
Pay attention when you are bringing the cream to a boil. This isn’t a good time to take a quick phone call. It will boil up—and over—very suddenly. Mmm hmm, I’m off to clean my stove right now.
Use a very large pan for the caramel. When you add the chocolate and cream, the sugar will boil up, sputter, and steam. If you have an extra long wooden spoon, use it for this recipe, too.
I use a candy thermometer for this recipe, but you don’t have to purchase one to make it. In fact, I have made caramel for many years without one. Have a saucer or small bowl of cold water ready at your side. When the caramel begins to thicken, begin dropping a dab of caramel onto the saucer. Give it a little pinch with your fingers. It’s ready when it forms a defined but soft ball that you can squish easily. For more information on deciphering candy stages and useful videos demonstrating the appearance of each stage see The Science of Cooking’s The Cold Water Candy Test.
The original recipe suggests you cook the caramel to 255 degrees. Rock city. It needs to be cooked to the soft ball stage, which is a candy making notation to indicate, depending on the source, 235-245 degrees. Under 240 degrees, this caramel is not quite firm enough. At 242 degrees, it’s perfect.
If you’re using a candy thermometer, have a hot pad ready. The thermometer can become quite hot. And if your candy thermometer isn’t very tall, hold it rather than clipping it to the pan. If the caramel burbles up over the numbers you’ll be in a pickle.
If you’re using a digital thermometer, do not clip it to the side of the pan. The constant heat is not a happy partner for its delicate innards, and mine have gone on the fritz and then died. Conventional candy thermometers are perfectly happy clipped to the side of the pan, and I recommend them over their high tech counterparts.
Use the best cream and chocolate you can for this recipe. A higher butterfat content is better. I love Cedar Summit Farms’ luxurious cream and Lindt bittersweet chocolate is extra smooth.
Do not scrape the pan with a spatula when you pour the caramel into a pan. The caramel against the bottom and sides of the pan are hotter and will form a hard sheet in your caramel.
Dark Chocolate Caramels with Smoked Sea Salt
Adapted from Gourmet magazine
Yield: about 100 1½“ caramels
4 c. heavy cream
20 ounces excellent bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao), finely chopped
3 ½ c. sugar
1 c. light corn syrup
½ c. water
6 T. unsalted butter cut into tablespoons
1 T. smoked flaked sea salt (I use Maldon brand.)
- Lightly butter a sheet pan or jelly roll pan, line it with parchment paper, and lightly butter the parchment. Place the pan on a flat surface on one or two hot pads so it’s ready for the hot caramel.
- In a large saucepan, bring the cream to a boil over medium heat. Turn off the heat and add the chocolate. Allow it to rest for one minute. Then stir the chocolate until it is smooth.
- In a very large pan, mix together the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- Allow the sugar mixture to boil until it is deep amber in color. Do not stir it during this process.
- Add the chocolate and cream to the sugar mixture and stir them together.
- Boil the caramel until it reaches 242 degrees on a candy thermometer, or until a dab dropped onto a saucer filled with cold water forms a soft but defined ball. (See caramel tips above.)
- The caramel will begin to thicken, but the change is not as dramatic as with cream caramels.
- Turn off your stove and stir in the butter until it is completely incorporated.
- Pour the mixture quickly into the pan and tilt the pan to distribute it into an even, glossy sheet. Allow it to set for ten minutes.
- Sprinkle it with the smoked salt and allow it to cool at room temperature.
- When the caramel has cooled, run a knife around the edge of the pan, remove it from the pan on its parchment liner, and slice it with a sharp knife into squares or rectangles.
- Wrap each caramel in a square of waxed paper and twist the ends closed.
- I store the caramels in a tin at room temperature. They keep for a few weeks.