You want some advice? Well, here's a piece of advice from me to you: lay off the caramels.
— Roxie Hart (Chicago)
Vanilla beans are ridiculous. Just ridiculous. You want me to pay how much for two beans? No, seriously. It's just two beans. How much again? I could buy enough vanilla extract for all the cakes in a ten mile radius for the same price.
Sadly, vanilla beans are also addicting. It would be much easier for everyone involved if they could please just not be any good, but they're kind of fantastic. I love almost anything when made with vanilla beans. Mint-coconut cream cheese? I'd rather die. But tell me that it's made with vanilla beans, and next thing you know it's in my mouth.
That having been said, I'm more than a little reticent to use them. I still have a bean and a half, and I'm clinging on for dear life. Only every oh-so-rare once in a while—for example when it comes to caramels—I'm willing to dig into my stash.
I loves me some caramel.
I tried making these caramels, and (while they were delicious) I must have done something wrong because they were the sort of things one bites into only after having moved all stocks into dentistry.
Mostly undeterred, I rolled up my proverbial sleeves again. And I must say, I'm extremely glad I did. G doesn't like the results quite as much as raspberry truffles, but I beg to differ. And no matter who you ask, they can't be that bad... they're disappearing faster than can be good for anyone's arteries.
Me: "How about we take some caramels to C's on Monday?"
G: Blank stare. "Very funny." [pause] "I'll kill you if you try." [pause] "But I love you."
Chocolate-Covered Caramels (adapted from the CIA)
1¾ cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 twelve-ounce can evaporated milk
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
1 pound milk chocolate
Flourless cooking spray for greasing
Lightly coat an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray. Cut two 8 x 16-inch rectangles of parchment paper. Lay one strip of the parchment in the baking pan, pressing it to the bottom and sides. Lightly coat the parchment with cooking spray. Lay the second parchment rectangle across the pan in the opposite direction to form a cross. Press the parchment to the bottom and sides of the pan and lightly coat with cooking spray. You should have a few inches of paper hanging over each side of the pan.
Combine the sugar, evaporated milk, vanilla bean, and cream in a 4-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once the mixture begins to boil, add the corn syrup and continue to stir. Cook the caramel until it reaches 230˚F on a candy thermometer, and then add the butter and the salt. Continue cooking and stirring until you reach 238˚F; immediately pour into the prepared pan – do not scrape the caramel from the bottom of the pan. Remove the vanilla bean with the tip of a knife.
Cool to room temperature. Using the excess parchment paper as handles, lift the caramel slab from the pan and place onto a cutting board. Cut the caramel into squares with a large sharp knife. If the caramel sticks to the knife when cutting, lightly coat the blade with vegetable oil.
Heat two-thirds of chocolate in a metal bowl above simmering water, to 105°F. Add remaining third and stir vigorously until chocolate is cooled, 95°F. If chocolate melts completely above 95°F, add more unmelted chocolate and continue stirring. If chocolate drops below 95°F without fully melting, return briefly to heat. Chocolate should achieve a nice shine if it is properly tempered.
Drop caramel squares, one at a time, in tempered chocolate. Using two spoons, cover caramel in chocolate. Remove caramel from chocolate with and drain off excess. Carefully return each caramel to baking sheet. Chocolate should harden at room temperature.
Makes 64 1-inch caramels.