Homemade caramels

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Homemade caramels

Postby Bakemaster » Sun Feb 24, 2019 9:31 pm UTC

I'm planning to put together a homemade caramel sampler for a dessert fundraiser. I have made sugar syrup confections a number of times in the past but caramels only once this past December; it was very straightforward. I want to settle on 5 or 6 flavors, potentially different hardnesses but tending on the firm side for ease of handling and wrapping, and with interesting, attention-getting flavors. I will probably include 1 or 2 standards like a salted vanilla or chocolate and I'm going to try to replicate what I made last time which was a honey ginger caramel dusted with powdered ginger, very pleasantly warming.

Anyone have a line on a really unique and eye-catching caramel that I might try, or general tips for experimenting with caramel flavoring?

I have been brainstorming and would like to see if I can pull off a masala chai caramel with some real black tea presence focusing on cinnamon/cardamom/star anise flavors (since I already have a ginger showcase planned). My concern is being able to concentrate the chai flavor enough for it to really evoke masala chai as opposed to just spiced caramels. I could probably source an off-the-shelf concentrate or extract-type flavoring but I would like to have a high level of control over the masala blend using my own whole spices. Any advice will be appreciated; I also have one month to experiment on my own, as time allows.

I have access to an orange tree and we're right around the end of the season so I may see what I can do with some zest or peel. Would be very attractive to have a stick of caramel with a nice chunky spiral of peel showcased inside but not sure how I would achieve the clarity required to see through the caramel.

I've had some lilikoi caramels that were absolutely amazing from a local boutique; these were actually caramel filled chocolates, and the inside was very soft to the point of almost having a liquid consistency. I would be interested in replicating that, or maybe trying a grapefruit, but I don't know if I could pull it off successfully; balancing the fruit with the sweetness seems potentially difficult.

I also have access to fresh kaffir lime leaves any time and definitely want to think up a good plan to incorporate those. I could do a straight lime leaf caramel but not sure that's all that exciting to me; lime leaf and lemongrass is an obvious combination but not sure that sounds like a great caramel; I feel the same way about lime leaf and coconut. I'm not sure I have the balls to experiment with fish sauce in caramels. Maybe this is one that I could combine profitably with lilikoi, grapefruit, possibly other floral or fruit flavors to make a nice blend?

Not really interested in any meat or nut approaches for this product, so no bacon, no peanut butter, etc. Some other relatively standard things I could do that probably wouldn't be too difficult would be a spicy chile caramel or a coffee/espresso caramel. I'll probably reserve those for if I am not successful with my more experimental flavors, or to round out the assortment.
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby Zohar » Mon Feb 25, 2019 4:03 pm UTC

I recently got salted rosemary caramels and whiskey caramels that are both delicious. I also had some jalapeno cinnamon ones that were great.
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby pkcommando » Mon Feb 25, 2019 4:53 pm UTC

There's a caramel maker near me that does flavors like single malt (with actual scotch), curried butternut squash, and basil/cayenne. All of them, amazing.

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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby Zohar » Mon Feb 25, 2019 5:09 pm UTC

I made caramels with apples once, too. I don't remember where the recipe is, but I believe it used very boiled down apple cider.
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby freezeblade » Mon Feb 25, 2019 7:44 pm UTC

I've made some pretty amazing cardamom caramels once, I think it's a flavor that works out really well.
Orange/Clove is really good, especially if you can find sour oranges instead of sweet (keeps that fresh orange taste better when cooked).
Lemon/Ginger Is nice, especially with a little lemongrass steeped as well.
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby Bakemaster » Fri Mar 01, 2019 5:49 am UTC

There's a seville orange tree in the area somewhere but I'm not sure how likely it is to still have fruit at the end of February. I'll ask my friend who's always saying we should go harvest and make marmalade.

I have assembled so many interesting ideas since I posted. Now I just have to get ingredients and start experimenting. I would like to do a whisky or rum caramel, as long as I can get a really strong flavor out of it. Not going to go too outside the box with squash or hot basil; I did also come across an Iranian candy called sohan asali that seems interesting but also not exactly a caramel, so I may try to put together a spin-off with a saffron, honey, nut theme. Even though I said I didn't want to do nuts, I am such a fan of pistachio.
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby freezeblade » Fri Mar 01, 2019 5:55 pm UTC

For strong rum flavor, I suggest seeking out a funky pot-still rum, like smith & cross, should add plenty of that funky rum hogo.
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby Bakemaster » Sun Mar 03, 2019 6:08 am UTC

I drink so infrequently these days that I'd probably just use Myers's since it's my go-to "cooking shit with rum" rum.

Did a batch tonight to get in the mood and try out the Kitchn's recipe proportions. It's cooling but I sampled some and considering there's a cup of cream to 1.5 cups of sugar, it's surprisingly hard. Both last time and this time I used a two-step process but this time I went out and got a nice candy thermometer from the restaurant supply rather than using the cold water test, and also used a higher heat than before. I left out the corn syrup again, but where last time I added honey for flavor along with tartar for stabilization, this time I left out the honey. Last time I added only cold cream in the second stage, this time I added warm cream with melted butter.

So there are a bunch of possible factors to consider here, in terms of this batch being too hard for my tastes. The consistency is fine so I don't think it's an issue of crystalization; the cream ratio is pretty similar to what I remember using last time, though not completely certain; I did the first stage wet this time and dry last time but that shouldn't make any difference; I think the most likely culprit is that I took the temperature too high in the second stage. I used very low heat last time because the cold water test is cumbersome and I didn't want to overshoot; this time I tried to take it to exactly 250 and that may have been a mistake.

I think what I'll have to do is A) test the new thermometer in boiling water to see if it's true and B) do my next batch with the same ingredients and ratios but over a lower heat so that I can perform the cold water test while watching the thermometer, and see if that helps to clarify what temps I was hitting last time, when the result was just slightly softer than ideal.

It's good that I have lots of coworkers who like candy, and that the batches are easy and small, because it may take quite a bit of repetition to get to where I want to be by the end of the month. Unfortunate that I didn't bookmark the recipe I used last time to better compare.
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby Bakemaster » Tue Mar 05, 2019 4:15 am UTC

Very Interesting Thing: The caramels actually got softer as time passed (12–24 hours?) rather than continuing to firm up. 3 out of 3 coworkers today agreed they were a very good consistency.
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby Zohar » Tue Mar 05, 2019 3:18 pm UTC

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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby Bakemaster » Sat Mar 09, 2019 5:20 am UTC

Crystalized after about a week; I guess I should resign myself to buying corn syrup, or see if they last longer with some honey.
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby PAstrychef » Sat Mar 09, 2019 11:47 am UTC

You can use Lyle’s golden syrup instead.
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby Bakemaster » Sun Mar 10, 2019 12:11 am UTC

Yeah but same issue as corn syrup, I'll have it for this recipe and then any leftover will sit around indefinitely. I don't make pecan pie anymore... maybe actually that's the problem
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby Bakemaster » Mon Mar 11, 2019 5:20 am UTC

I found a masala chai concentrate at my local natural foods co-op and made a batch of caramels with it today. They're pretty good, although they have a strong nuttiness that wasn't present in the concentrate and may be the result of cooking it with the syrup in the second stage. I wasn't sure how much I could safely mix in at the very end so added 3 tbsp to the cup of cream and only 1 tsp at the end. I also used some buckwheat honey, which is pretty dark and could be responsible for the nuttiness, in place of corn syrup (still adding a little cream of tartar). We'll see how this batch fares as far as crystalization over the next week.

I was also thinking about trying this recipe but realized after buying the flowers that I don't have the extract so I dunno.
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby Bakemaster » Tue Mar 12, 2019 3:23 am UTC

The flavor of the masala chai caramels improved significantly overnight. They're surprisingly buttery, considering I cut the butter down from 4 to 2 tablespoons. Significantly softer than the earlier batch of orange vanilla caramels; maybe perfection is right in between, although if I had to choose, personally I think I'd prefer these softer ones (I do like a good chew but don't want to work too hard).

I think the only thing I may change about this recipe is to add a little ground spice at the end. The flavor is very classic sweet masala chai and I'm looking for something with just a bit more attitude, so maybe just a little cinnamon and cayenne for warmth will do it. I'll have to give it some thought. Nothing wrong with it as-is, though. I might cook it ever so slightly more next time to see if I can perfect the texture; I took it to just shy of 248.

Next, if I can find the damn puree, is lilikoi. I want to add another flavor or two to make it a nice sharp, bright, tangy blend; a trio, maybe, where the lilikoi can still be a star player. I'm thinking maybe grapefruit? I could try hibiscus but probably that's going to be too overpowering. I don't want to go full fruit punch so would avoid mango, pineapple, strawberry, etc. Maybe two fruits and a spice; I am fond of star anise, but will have to see how it smells with the lilikoi because I'm not sure in my head that works out. Clove seems wrong. Nutmeg? I could try lychee? Maybe even a light or medium rum? Okay, I'm way off in outer space, but I'm pretty excited about this one. I won't have time to do a bunch of batches and try a bunch of things, maybe straight passionfruit will be the answer... I could think about ginger, though. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Oh, another note about the chai caramels: AMAZING with apple slices. I'm totally going to include some pairing suggestions in the tin.
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby freezeblade » Tue Mar 12, 2019 6:42 pm UTC

I've found golden syrup as a good replacement for corn syrup. It comes in a smaller container, and has more uses in my kitchen than corn syrup (In tea, in cocktails, on pancakes, with cream on scones, etc.)
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby Bakemaster » Wed Mar 13, 2019 4:34 am UTC

Found the lilikoi pulp at La Superior; masala chai caramels are getting rave reviews from all my testers; things are looking very good
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby Zohar » Wed Mar 13, 2019 2:34 pm UTC

Bakemaster wrote:Found the lilikoi pulp at La Superior; masala chai caramels are getting rave reviews from all my testers; things are looking very good

And so, a confectionery empire begins.
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby Bakemaster » Thu Mar 14, 2019 3:19 am UTC

ahhhhhhhhh I just want to sit here and deeply inhale the smell of this lilikoi puree until entropy eats the universe
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby Emirett » Sun Mar 17, 2019 10:17 pm UTC

Bakemaster wrote:ahhhhhhhhh I just want to sit here and deeply inhale the smell of this lilikoi puree until entropy eats the universe


Soooooo yummy!

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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby Bakemaster » Mon Mar 18, 2019 2:55 am UTC

So... the lilikoi caramel is very tasty, but totally too soft to cut into individual candy pieces or hold a shape! While still being too thick/firm to make a good sauce. If I had experience and equipment for making chocolates, it would probably be just fine for filling a chocolate with, but I don't know that I want to go that road with less than a week to assemble my auction item and another recipe to test. (I've done four flavors and am hoping to round out the assortment with a fifth.)
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby Thesh » Mon Mar 18, 2019 3:12 am UTC

Shortbread cookies?
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby dubsola » Tue Mar 19, 2019 6:55 am UTC

Bakemaster wrote:ahhhhhhhhh I just want to sit here and deeply inhale the smell of this lilikoi puree until entropy eats the universe

Now that I know what lilikoi is, and having never smelled it, I'm with you on this. Tropical smells are the best smells.

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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby Bakemaster » Wed Mar 20, 2019 2:16 am UTC

Actually the masala chai caramels seemed like they' be perfect on shortbread cookies. I don't know if the brightness of the lilikoi would serve quite as well. Possible if I warmed it up I could dip some cookies in it but I have enough on my hands making caramels for Saturday without worrying about those leftovers
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby Bakemaster » Sat Mar 23, 2019 12:51 am UTC

I'm on my second round, the real deal, cooking my sugar for the ginger batch now. Orange vanilla (this time with real vanilla bean, ooh la la my fucking wallet) is cooling, sugar's cooking for a ginger batch, and I think I'll try to bang out an untested chocolate batch (using what seemed like the best option available at Raley's this afternoon) to round out the assortment at 5 flavors.

INTERESTINGLY: The firmness/softness has been really perplexing to figure out, for a bit there I thought that the temp of the first cook was a major influence but then I started taking the sugar up over 300 before adding the cream and those two batches came out quite soft! So now I've got another firm batch out of the vanilla orange and I'm not quite sure why. Possibly because it's the closest to strictly following the recipe that I have. Possibly something to do with whether there's corn syrup or tartar. Possibly who the fuck knows because it certainly doesn't seem like temp is the major factor and I'm not varying the cream-to-sugar ratio between these batches!
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby Bakemaster » Sat Mar 23, 2019 5:07 am UTC

Aaaaand I might have fucked the salted chocolate caramels all to hell. Won't know until morning but the butterfat separated during the second cook and I had to beat it back into shape. Wasn't coming to temp, the chocolate made everything too thick and I could tell I was getting a burned layer on the bottom/sides and cold water test was giving me way too soft a result; I kept whisking and turned the heat up slightly and made it to 250 but now I'm concerned it may turn into a rock. I can always leave it out and just have 4 flavors.
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby Bakemaster » Sat Mar 23, 2019 6:47 pm UTC

This is awesome: https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/article ... ivAbstract

And suggests that my result with the chocolate caramel, which has ended up very hard, could be solved by incorporating less chocolate or more cream. The chocolate flavor is more than rich enough, and the cream is already increased from 1 to 1.5 cups compared to my successful standard recipe, so I think reducing the chocolate from 10 oz is the first thing I'd try. I don't have time to do that today (or enough chocolate remaining) but if I do attempt that correction in the future, I'll report back.

I think I will include the chocolate in my assortments, but cut the pieces thinner so they pose less of a problem for initial chewing. They soften up wonderfully once you spend a minute chomping them, and so I think the chance that someone who really favors harder candies will enjoy them more than the softer flavors makes them worth including, provided they are cut small. My first few, I cut at 1" x 0.75" x 0.75" and that was just too much work; a 3/8" x 3/8" cross-section seems not too bad, but a 1/4" thickness makes the other dimensions the most flexible. The problem there is that it poured out thickly enough that I would have to cut it every 1/4" to achieve that, which makes the salted face very small and is also a lot of cutting work! So we'll see. I hope keeping them in is the right call.
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby dubsola » Mon Mar 25, 2019 1:17 am UTC

Just want to say how impressed I am at your level of dedication to this task. It's a credit to you.

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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby freezeblade » Tue Mar 26, 2019 8:16 pm UTC

I just looked up "lilikoi" as I had no idea what it was. Passion Frut! Love the stuff, try a pinch of fresh nutmeg in there with it, so nice.

I keep passion fruit puree in my fridge around for tiki drinks.

You're making me want to make some now.
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby dubsola » Wed Mar 27, 2019 3:49 am UTC

Wait lilikoi is the same thing as passionfruit? I thought it was a variant. In that case I have totally smelled passion fruit and it's great. Looks wild too, when you cut one in half and it's like a white and purple bowl with yellow ooze inside, with those dark seeds.

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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby Bakemaster » Wed Mar 27, 2019 4:27 am UTC

Sold both of my assortments at the dessert auction for above starting bid. I'm pleased but wish I could get some feedback from the winners! The vanilla orange turned out really fantastic, between the expensive extract (in sunflower oil rather than alcohol, for some reason) and the expensive vanilla bean something just clicked and it had the best balance of flavor, tasted like a caramel but not just a caramel. Pretty close behind was the spicy ginger, I just love the hell out of that and all it takes is rolling a regular soft caramel in the powdered ginger; it even absorbs most of the powder while in the wrapper, ends up being a little bit like one of those hard candies with sour powder on the outside; big punch that melts into sweetness. The chai could probably be improved by making my own concentrate, the chocolate of course had issues, and the lilikoi ended up being a bit one-dimensional (though good).

Lilikoi is what they call it in Hawaii, which is the first place I encountered it so that's then name that comes to mind. "Passionfruit" always struck me as kind of dumb to be honest. Rose by any other name?

freezeblade wrote:try a pinch of fresh nutmeg in there with it, so nice.

See, I was certain that it needed some kind of a spice to complement the flavor and make it more than just the fancy Starburst it ended up being, and PictureSarah convinced me to leave it alone. Nutmeg was on my short list, too.
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Re: Homemade caramels

Postby dubsola » Wed Mar 27, 2019 4:40 am UTC

Lilikoi is a beautiful name actually. I'll try and make it catch on outside of Hawaii


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