Balsamic Vinegar and Sea Salt Caramels

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If you haven’t tried one yet, I highly recommend looking up one of the new oil and vinegar bars in your area.  The ones I’ve visited tend to be fairly similar. Usually, everything they have is gluten-free, and they stock other gluten-free items, such as pastas and candies, elsewhere in the store. If you love to cook you may want to leave your credit card at home to save your budget.

When I first visited one, I fell in love with the red apple balsamic vinegar.  It’s a thick vinegar with a rich, dark tart apple flavor, and I had a specific purpose in mind for it.  As soon as I tasted it, I knew it was destined for homemade caramels, and it gave them a delicious subtle flavor depth.  Of course, you can either substitute another (high quality) fruity balsamic vinegar or leave it out altogether and they will still be very, very tasty!  If you leave out the vinegar, add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract instead.

1 cup unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1 cup corn syrup*
2 1/4 cups (lightly packed) brown sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon coarse ground sea salt
1 1/2  tablespoons red apple balsamic vinegar
Extra butter for greasing

  1. line a 9″x9″ pan with parchment paper and butter the paper.
  2. In the saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.
  3. When it is melted, add the sugar and stir well until it is all incorporated.
  4. Stir in corn syrup and cream
  5. Cook over medium heat for two to three minutes, then raise temperature to medium-high.
  6. Stir constantly until the mixture boils, then reduce back to medium heat.
  7. Keep at an even boil until the mixture thickens (30 minutes to 1 hour), stirring frequently to prevent separation.
  8. If sugar begins to crystallize on side of pot, use a wet basting brush and cold water to rinse down the crystals so that they do not affect the texture of the caramels.
  9. When mixture reaches 245 degrees Fahrenheit (firm ball stage) on a candy thermometer or a spoonful dropped into ice water gives you the right texture, remove caramel from heat.
  10. Add sea salt and vinegar and stir briskly for a few seconds to incorporate.
  11. Pour immediately into buttered parchment-lined pans.
  12. Allow to cool for several hours until just warm to the touch and firm enough to handle.
  13. Cut into small pieces with heavy duty kitchen shears, a knife, or a pizza roller.  Greasing the cutting edge with butter will help prevent sticking.  Wrap each piece in wax paper.

The fruity flavor of the vinegar will be subtle at first, but will develop more over time if they sit.

*On corn syrup:  Corn syrup has a bad rap because it is confused with high fructose corn syrup.  Regular corn syrup, like the Karo brand in stores, has been around for a hundred years and isn’t any worse for you than sugar.  Its purpose as an invert sugar is to keep the mixture from crystallizing.  If you tried to substitute a simple sugar syrup, for instance, you would get fudge instead of caramel.  If you have a corn sensitivity, look for recipes online (or commercial sources) for invert sugar syrup.  It involves chemically changing the sugar syrup with acid, and can take some practice to make.

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