Caramels, and the Science Thereof

4 Jan

So.  If anyone sees me trying to make candy again, stop me for the love of god.

Okay, it wasn’t that bad. And they turned out to be quite delicious.  But.  Making candy is very stressful, especially if you’ve never done it before, and I had never done it before.

These caramels are were a tradition in my house since as long as I can remember. My dad makes Christmas cookies and candied nuts, my mom makes caramels.  She gave up recently and now I know why.  But before I knew why, I thought I would make them this year.

That said, the science behind caramels is super cool.  Caramels are essentially the products of a huge Maillard reaction.  The Maillard reaction is responsible for browning bread into toast and giving your cookies and cakes a lovely golden color and a caramel-y sweetness.  It is, in other words, responsible for the best flavors one can achieve while baking.  Caramelized sugar, for example, is pure Maillard.  The crunchy goodness on top of your creme brulée?  Maillard.  It’s a very fascinating process, especially when you start to realize how many things you eat have gone through it.

In any case, I bring to you, Martha Stewart’s golden caramels:

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 cups light corn syrup
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks butter, unsalted, cut into small pieces
  • 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp vanilla
  • enough cooking spray to drown a small mammal

Proceed with caution:

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First, get a half-sheet pan (~11×16 inches) and line it with parchment paper.  Spray the parchment paper like there’s no tomorrow.  This is very important, or else you will have beautiful caramels that you will have to wrest out of the pan with a fork and your teeth.

Put it somewhere where it won’t be moved, because once you pour you do not, under any circumstances, jostle this thing.

Then, in a small saucepan, combine the condensed milk and heavy cream.

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In a large sauce pan, stir together the corn syrup, one cup of water, the sugar, and the salt.  Stick the candy thermometer on the side of the pan.  Make sure it’s sufficiently submerged or you will get faulty readings like I did and you will get very upset like I did.  Also don’t let anyone near you while you’re doing this, because I asked my dad for help with something and then he dropped the thermometer in the pot.

You gotta go this alone, gurl.

Okay sorry.  Caramels.

Cook on high heat until the sugar is dissolved (you shouldn’t be able to see any grains in there), stirring constantly.  It should take 8-12 minutes.

Once you’ve done that, brush the sides of the pot with water to dissolve any sugar crystals that may have formed in the process.  According to the Internet, you do this because sugar molecules are pointy little buggers and like to latch on to things.  If you have errant sugar molecules in your caramels, they’ll snag everything they can reach and you’ll have a giant mess instead of caramels.

Then, reduce heat to medium and allow it to boil, not stirring it, until it reaches 250 degrees.   This should take 45-60 minutes, and by then it will be at the hard ball stage.  That means that, if you take a spoonful of the stuff and drop it in cold water, it will be a hard candy when you pull it out.

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In the meantime, warm the cream over low heat without boiling it.

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When the sugar mixture reaches 250 degrees, add the butter and heavy cream mixture, stirring slowly and keeping the whole thing boiling.  You could make candy without any of these milk products, but it makes the caramels creamy. These additions will drop the temperature, so now you stir constantly until it comes back up to 244 degrees (right in the firm ball stage).  This will take 55-75 minutes, and yes you have to keep stirring.

Some things you can do while you stir the rest of your life away:

  • read about caramel science
  • read about meringue science (inquiring minds wanted to know)
  • read about longboards and different bushings
  • bring longboard into the kitchen and rock back and forth on it, admiring the softness of the bushing you now know about
  • sing badly to whatever music you’re listening to
  • watch a movie

Okay, so now that you’ve turned yourself into the guy from the 5 Hour Energy commercials, the caramels should look like this:

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Quickly, stir in the vanilla and pour into your prepared pan.  Do not scrape the pot.  I actually don’t know why you can’t but… don’t.

Let it sit there for a day without moving it.  Unless someone comes along and moves it themselves, and then you must yell at them and make them very sorry indeed.

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Also, good luck washing all of that.  I will warn you now: hardened caramel is a bitch to clean.

The next day, hack apart your caramel.

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Notice that this required two knives.  It was also wicked slippery, which caused coffee spillage and much agony.

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You would never suspect that such sweet little things took such awful effort.  But there you go, folks.

I’m finally, finally, finally reading Gone Girl.  My boss recommended it a while ago telling me not to read anything about it first, as usual.  I could never find a copy in the libraries, but my roommate just sent me hers now that her dad is done with it.  So here we go.  Finally reading the summer It Girl of the literary world.

Damn, damn, damn.  It is so worth your time.  It’s worth more than that, actually, because it takes hardly any time at all to read it.  The chapters alternate between Nick Dunne, a borderline unsympathetic character whose stunning wife (and our other narrator) has gone missing after they moved to Missouri from New York City.

It’s hard to describe the characters as anything other than real.  They’re so realistic.  They have all these tiny little details and particular thoughts that, as a composite, make two very real, very believable people.  And they’re liars.  Both of them.  They are the most unreliable narrators to come along since wham.  They lie about each other, themselves, their feelings, their friends.  It’s incredible how a book spun out of so much lies can be the most truthful book I’ve ever read.

I won’t bore you with the plot or with the huge, wrenching twist that takes place in the middle of the book, or any other silly details like that.  Just–go read it.

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One Response to “Caramels, and the Science Thereof”

  1. sani panini 04/01/2013 at 5:08 am #

    Such a cute idea!!

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