The best ever salted butter caramels, what a delicious mistake!

Saltedbuttercaramel

I’ve had a few near disaster in the kitchen lately, and that’s not counting this morning when I nearly sawed off my index finger with a bread knife. Blood and gore aside, I’ve also had a few great accidental “discoveries” as well. One of those resulted in the pretty caramels wrapped in parchment that you see in the picture above.

My friend Heidi recently wrote about her espresso caramels, which got me craving one of my favorite sweets, the salted butter caramels, caramel au beurre salé, from Brittany. A great balance between salty and sweet, chewy and meltingly soft, those caramels are the stuff of foodie dreams. I buy an arm load every time I come across them, but somehow they are never on hand when I crave one. Heidi’s post inspired me to make some caramels of my own.

I have some homemade salted butter left – made from the milk from our Normande cow share – but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to part with that. Luckily, I also had a quart of cream (from the same cow, Nutmeg) left in the fridge. Conveniently, Heidi’s recipe calls from cream instead of butter, so that’s what I planned to use.

There was one little kink in that plan. Heidi’s recipe also calls for cooking the cream and honey (which she uses in place of sugar) to temperature together. That wouldn’t do for me. I’m always complaining that caramels in America are cloying sweet and lack that bitter edge you get from burnt sugar caramels in France. So I would adjust the recipe a little. I’d cook the sugar first, get it burnt enough, then I’d add the cream and make my lovely caramel candies.

Potandcandy

A couple of months ago our friend Luca, who makes honey for Manresa up at the garden and also keeps beehives at his house in town, gave me a jar of one of the most intense, dark honey I’ve ever tried. It’s Redwood Honey, he said. It tastes a bit wild, sort of like chestnut honey but more piney, slightly bitter, and very fragrant – not flowery kind of fragrant, but more woody, earthy, reminiscent mushroom freshly parted from damp earth. The jar had been sitting in my cupboard waiting, as if just for this occasion. Instead of using mild honey that Heidi calls for, I’m going to use a mixture of sugar and this super intense honey to make an even more intense burnt sugar caramels, add these to Nutmeg’s ultra delicious raw cream, I might actually end up with the best caramels ever. I had high hopes.

So I set about making my best caramels ever. I started by adding the sugar and honey and let them melt undisturbed in an enamel pot. The puddle of dark honey melted quickly, like a pool of lava, quickly devouring the white sugar, turning the entire pot into bubbling, molten sugar in no time. I let it go until the sugar and honey is just this side of burnt, then, in haste since I was also working yet another pot of dulce de leche next to it, I forgot to warm up the cream first before adding to the caramel.

The fridge-cold cream touched the molten caramel lava, spattering everywhere, and promptly curdled. I stood there, staring in disbelief at the pot of dark caramel with curdle bits of cream suspended in it. I just couldn’t believe my moment of stupidity. What was I thinking adding cold cream to hot caramel, didn’t I know anything about cooking?

Frankly, if this was made from cream I bought from the store I would have dumped the whole thing and start again. But this wasn’t just any cream, this was special stuff, from our very special cow. We’ve got a quota every week from our share in Nutmeg, I drive to the farm weekly for a pick up, waiving hello to Nutmeg while she munches happily on a patch of grass, mingling with her friends Paris and Rosie. I know I risk sounding totally crunchy, but I am emotionally invested in this cream. I couldn’t just throw it out.

I had to do something to fix this. I tried whisking the content of the pot, no luck. So I pulled out the finest chinois I got and strained it. It worked well enough, separating the big curdled bits from the liquid. There were still tiny particles that got through, so I strained it once more, this time lining the chinois with a couple of layers of cheesecloth. The resulting liquid was free enough of curdled particles, I poured the liquid back into a pot, a larger one this time because I knew I had to cook this thing down a great deal to get the liquid intense enough to make caramel again.

I looked at the pot, the liquid in it looked quite watery, with most of the milk solids removed with the curds. I knew I had to add more milk solids into it or my caramel candies won’t reach that creamy deliciousness I wanted. I just had to give up that homemade butter in my fridge or that pot of caramel would end up a sad failure. So I did. I quickly warmed the butter in the microwave, not to melt them but just to bring it close to room temperature. Then I whisked in the butter, a small knob at a time, into the caramel. I used all I had, which was close to a third of a pound.

Now my caramel is looking like closer to what it should be. I let it continue cooking, over very hot stove, until, as Heidi recommended, it reached 260F. When it got there, after quite a long time boiling I should add, I dipped a spoon into the caramel and then very quickly dipped it into iced water to cool. I did this so I could taste the hot caramel without burrowing a hole into my tongue. It needed a bit more salt – I like my caramel bitter and salty – so I added a bit more flakey Halen Mon salt, which is the salt I use in my butter.

Then I poured the content of the pot onto a baking sheet lined with parchment, let it cool down enough to touch, and cut into little squares, rolled, and wrapped in parchment. There was a lot of wrapping for a baking sheet’s worth of caramels….I think I fell asleep that night with my two hands unconsciously rolling imaginary packets of caramels still. No matter the effort, the result, just ask anyone around here, is entirely worth it.

So, here’s the recipe, a close approximation to what I did, minus the stupid mistakes, and cut down the portion to what mere mortals without a surplus of cream would do. Have fun, and let me know how yours (or your disasters) go!

Salted butter and honey caramels

1 cup (250ml) heavy cream
1.5 cups or 300g sugar
1/2 cup (125ml) very dark, intense honey, if all you have is milder honey I’d use one cup of honey to one cup of sugar
4oz or 110g salted butter, room temperature
more salt to taste

Add sugar and honey into a large non-reactive pot. Turn on the heat and let the sugar and honey melt and cook until caramelized, that is to say change to a deep, dark brown color. Shake the pot if necessary to get all the sugar crystals to melt, but don’t stir.

While the sugar is cooking, bring the cream to a simmer.

When the sugar reaches the color you like, whisk in the butter in small knobs, until well mixed, then add the warmed cream, whisk until smooth. Let the mixture cook until the temperature reaches 260F or 125C. (You will need a thermometer for this, of course.)

Pour the hot caramel onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment or a Silpad. Let cool until you can touch it, then cut into small squares, roll, and wrap in packets of parchment or waxed paper. Try making one first, adjusting the size of the square and the paper until you like it, then cut the paper and the caramels into the sizes you want and begin wrapping.

Have fun!

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  • http://www.foodonthefood.com Tammy

    All I can say is WOOOOOOOWWWW!!! And, I want some. I love when disasters turn out like this.

  • http://herbivoracious.com Michael Natkin

    Nice save! I have some very local salted butter sitting in my fridge, sounds like it just found a job.
    Michael Natkin
    The Herbivoracious Blog

  • http://acookinglife.typepad.com GG Mora

    Yum…salt caramels. I used to make fleur-de-sel caramels to sell at my stand at the farmer’s market. One of my friends liked them so much, she wanted to give them as favors at her wedding…with 200 guests. I made and wrapped 600 caramels over about a two-week period leading up to the wedding.
    I hear you on the wrapping thing. I haven’t made caramels since.

  • Mondi

    They are so pretty, Pim. I can almost taste them from here.

  • alison

    sounds excellent – wonder how it would come out if i tried it with heather honey….

  • http://www.thewriteingredients.com jenn

    did you say salt and caramel? really, the best combination ever. EVER!!! did I say EVER??!!

  • http://www.steamykitchen.com Steamy Kitchen

    Hey Pim, Thanks for the recipe – this will be part of the holiday gift basket for my friends!
    jaden

  • http://www.steamykitchen.com Steamy Kitchen

    Hey Pim, Thanks for the recipe – this will be part of the holiday gift basket for my friends!
    jaden

  • http://www.steamykitchen.com Steamy Kitchen

    Hey Pim, Thanks for the recipe – this will be part of the holiday gift basket for my friends!
    jaden

  • http://www.flavor.sg good food

    Thank you so much for the recipe – We’re making this for Christmas!

  • Catherine Dry

    I made this caramels over the weekend. They were delicious but the texture wasn’t quite right. Too greasy. I wonder if the butter separated. Did you have this problem with yours?

  • http://halfanacre.blogspot.com Acre

    I just made them and mine were way too greasy/buttery, as well. But the flavor is so fantastic, I’m going to keep tinkering with the recipe.

  • haapi

    hi there– sounds great but can creme fraiche be used in place of the heavy cream? many thanks in advance…

  • jen

    Thanks for the recipe – I was looking for something special to do with my chestnut honey. It was awfully good (and looked pretty to boot) with some lightly toasted pistachios sprinkled on the still-warm caramel.

  • http://dineanddish.squarespace.com Kristen

    Thanks for sharing this! I did a couple of minor substitutions (used Irish Cream in place of Whipping Cream) and have never tasted a better caramel. This is a great recipe. Thank you!

  • johanna

    thanks for this recipe, pim! i just made these to give as a little christmas present and they are cooling. i didn’t have a thermometer but just sort of guessed (took the caramel off the heat when it looked really quite brown and thick) and i think it worked ok! i hope so at least -

  • http://jeremyskitchen.wordpress.com/ Jeremy

    Pim, confectionery work in general can be pretty tricky. Very few ingredients and a lot of room for error. Improvising mid-recipe like that takes some skill and confidence. Thanks for posting this.

  • Bitter

    I just made these, and I guess I should have done more research, but I burned the mixture. In the future, some details about what temperature to cook at would be helpful, or at least an indication of how long,
    Frustratedly yours.

  • Donna

    Where do you get the wrappers from? Thanks

  • Ousia

    Hey, I just made these (sort of )
    I substituted half and half for the cream, since I don’t have a cow, and put some vanilla in as well. I had the idea to use some BS molasses, but the can it was in didn’t want to be opened, so I’ll try that next time when there’s somebody stronger in the house. So far they look pretty good (they’re cooling). Thanks for the corn-syrup-free recipe~!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1218070583s23424 anna

    thank you so much for the non corn-syrup recipe! i loved the honey in this and also added dark chocolate for a little extra treat.
    the first time i made them and cooked the mixture until the thermometer hit 255, i found them to be much harder than i wanted and also a little granular in my mouth after i’d sucked on them for a bit. for the next batch i stopped at 233 (i read somewhere that this is mark bittman’s favorite temperature for a chewier candy) and they came out just the way i like them: not too soft, but definitely chewy and smooth as butter… yum!

  • Susan

    I’m so curious how this would work with agave. We have some great carrot honey from our local honier guy and I would love to try it in this recipe too. I love that is recipe doesn’t call for corn syrup! I’m so excited to try! Thank you.

  • ruth

    I made these last night and they came out really greasy too. They taste lovely but they are not dry to the touch but very oily. Perhaps this is because your recipe lost most of the cream, have you made them with both the cream and the butter? I wonder if the butter was really required?

  • http://mindylynnskitchen.com Mindy

    This is an awesome recipe. I had no idea caramels were this easy. I didn’t have a thermometer handy (it’s in the house somewhere…) so I just had a large cup of ice water and a spoon on hand and as it was cooking I tested it until I was happy with the end result. There was a little too much butter, but it’s not too oily so I’ll just cut it back a little next time (and there will definitely be a next time). I finished the caramels off with a little sea salt and wow it’s amazing. I let it get a little darker than I prefer but even that doesn’t deter from the awesomeness of these caramels. I’m so happy I found a recipe that doesn’t include corn syrup. Hooray I can now make my favorite caramels and not pay through the nose for them. THANK YOU for sharing this recipe.

  • Bec

    just tried out your recipe and loved the result! brings me straight back to my days in brittany… warm greetings from down under in oz

  • http://www.etipinc.com/raytek.asp raytek

    Oh wow! I have a sweet tooth for caramels! Thank you for taking time to write this recipe. I love it.

  • Brianna

    Just the type of recipe I’ve been looking for :) I’m going to try it next month with the kids and dip apples in it. I can’t wait! Thanks for sharing!!!

  • wanderlust

    I’ve tried this recipe a few times, I love the flavor but the end product has a somewhat greasy feel. Any suggestions?

  • Hollyd58

    A co-worker made some this weekend and shared at work. They were beautifully wrapped in the parchment. When unwrapped, the warm brown color and buttery bouquet promised a savory treat.

    They had a hint of moisture, more like dew than grease, and were absolutely exquisite in the mouth. Caramels from the store are dry and lack any hint of moisture. The flavor doesn’t hit until chewing, but these were immediately flavorful with the flavor intensifying. My low fat oatmeal raisin muffins were put in their proper place as nourishment for the body. The caramels were nourishment for the soul!

  • lemilie

    Entertaining story and great simple recipe!  I didn’t have a thermometer so I just watched the color of the sugar and I reduced the butter and cream slightly, however they turned out wonderfully, I will definitely be making these again! Thank you!

  • Hunting4e

    After finally finishing the embarrassing amount of caramels we took from Manresa, I had to have more. I just made these for Thanksgiving, and not only was it really easy, they are delicious! My thermometer broke during the cooking process, so I had to estimate, but it all still worked out. Thank you for sharing this delicious recipe!

  • http://twitter.com/RyBacon Ry Downs

    This recipe needs to be a lot more clear.

    For one, you list sugar twice in the ingredients, but only use it once in the recipe.  Are we supposed to use the 1 1/2 cups you initially mention or the 1 cup you mention the second time?  Also, you never mention at what step in the process to use the salt.

  • cat

    The curding of the cream was also produced by the high acidity of the honey you used

  • J.S. @ Sun Diego Eats

    I’m normally not a fan of caramels and then I had the ones at Jean-Georges in NY and was converted. Turns out I don’t like the American preparation either.

  • Rilig

    I know it’s late, but I just wanted to reply for clarification of future readers. The recipe doesn’t call for sugar twice. The recipe says “1/2 cup (125ml) very dark, intense honey, if all you have is milder honey I’d use one cup of honey to one cup of sugar” but the part “one cup of sugar” is cut off and put on the next line by the formatting.

  • vvv

    I just wanted to say that I’ve made these caramels every year since this recipe was posted (usually a double batch) with honey from my friend’s bees — and it is fabulous! I usually dip the caramels in chocolates and top the chocolate with a few grains of sea salt. They’re always a big hit. So, thanks, Pim, for the great recipe!