When I was a kid, one of the big treats that my brothers and I had on Sundays after church was a little bag of soft caramels. We usually bought these in Bourg-en-Bresse, at a patisserie de boutique, a store that specialized in making caramels. Some were hard, some were very soft. My preference was for the softer ones.
I have tried through the years to make caramels, with different rates of success. The caramel recipe that I have here is almost foolproof. All you need is a good candy thermometer. I mold my caramels in a nonstick loaf pan. I oil the pan very lightly and put a strip of lightly oiled parchment paper in the middle, with the ends extending over the edges of the pan. The paper should be oiled on both sides, underneath because it makes it adhere well to the pan, and on top to make the caramel mixture release. I like to package them individually in plastic wrap or little squares of waxed paper or parchment paper. Bring these as a treat when you are invited out to dinner; they always get raves. If you like your caramels very soft, take them out of the refrigerator a couple of hours before eating.
I also love chocolate caramels, usually made by adding cocoa powder to the mix, but dipping one end of each caramel from the recipe below into the best quality melted bittersweet chocolate is easier and yields great results.–Jacques Pépin
LC Not-So-Skinny-Dipped Note
We thought we’d include Jacque’s not-so-skinny, chocolate-dipping take on caramels. They’re just as easy as the rest of the recipe. Just let the cut caramels firm up overnight, uncovered, in the refrigerator. Drop a few squares of very best bittersweet chocolate chocolate into a glass measuring cup and microwave for 1 minute. Wait a few minutes, and then microwave the chocolate for another minute. It should be thoroughly melted at this point. Dip one end of each caramel into the melted chocolate, so that it covers about half the caramel, and place the caramels on a piece of parchment paper to harden. When cool and hard, wrap the caramels and stash them in the refrigerator, preferably behind the tub of cottage cheese so no one goes anywhere near them.
Soft Caramels Recipe
Hands-On Time: 45 minutes | Total Time: 1 hour, not including cooling | Makes about 20 caramels
- 8 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup
- 1 cup sugar
- 1. Combine the butter, cut into pieces, and cream in a small glass bowl, and microwave for about 1 1/2 minutes, until hot. Set aside.
- 2. In a small stainless steel saucepan, combine the water, light corn syrup, and sugar. Stir just enough to moisten the sugar. The goal is to avoid having the mixture collect on the sides of the pan, which happens when you vigorously mix with a spoon or shake the pan; the sugar will tend to crystallize where it touches the sides. Pouring the water and syrup in first and then adding the sugar allows it to dissolve in the liquid without splattering the sides.
- 3. Heat over medium-high heat until the mixture comes to a boil, and then cover with a lid for a minute or so to create moisture in the pan and melt any sugar that may be clinging to the pan sides
- 4. Clip the candy thermometer to the pan and cook for about 6 minutes, until the sugar reaches a temperature of 320°F (160°C), at which point it will begin to take on a light golden color around the edge. At that point, pour the butter and cream mixture gradually into the pan, adding about a third of it at a time, and stir, using the base of your thermometer to incorporate it.
- 5. Continue cooking for another 5 or 6 minutes, until the mixture reaches a temperature of 240°F (115°C) on the thermometer, the soft-ball stage. (This will create a relatively soft caramel; if you bring the temperature to about 245°F (118°C), the caramels will be hard; so make adjustments based on your own taste.)
- 6. As soon as the caramel reaches the desired temperature, pour into an oiled loaf pan, with a base that measures about 7 1/2 inches long by about 3 1/2 inches wide, lined with a strip of oiled parchment paper that is long enough to extend up and slightly over either end of the pan.
- 7. Cool, uncovered, at room temperature for about 4 hours. Invert and unmold onto a sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper (pulling gently on the paper strips, if necessary). If the caramel is still too soft to work with, refrigerate for an hour or so to firm it up. Cut into strips about 1 1/2 inches wide, and then cut the strips into 3/4-inch lengths to have about 20 caramels. Wrap in squares of plastic wrap or waxed paper and enjoy immediately, or refrigerate or freeze for eating later.
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Soft Caramels Recipe © 2007 Jacques Pépin. Photo © 2007 Tom Hopkins. All rights reserved.