camparigirl has alluded to my uselessness at baking in the past. I don’t know what it is about me that causes that which is meant to rise to flop, and that which is meant to blend to separate (in food terms!!). Even when it all looks right – the outcome will be … meh.
sofabrother even bought me a step by step guide to baking for my last birthday – everything I have tried from the book has turned out mediocre. Which is annoying as I have followed the recipes exactly as directed. “Well”, said Claudia, “the thing about baking is you have to try it over and over again, you seldom get things right first time. That’s why pastry chefs need training. There are complex interactions between with ingredients that create the outcome. Once you have understood all that – it becomes easier” … she paused …”eventually.”
All of that made perfect sense, but goes against my naturally waste-averse grain. The thought of throwing away expensive concoctions makes me sweat between my fingers. I would rather go and buy the perfect item, made by someone who has done all of the above. That way my investment has a secure return. The other day sofapal Tracey (of bellowblogs) and I were noodling through receipe books, looking for something to make for this post. I have a file of ‘one day’ makes – torn from magazines. And I amuse myself from time to time by paging through the recipes laughing wryly when there are over a dozen ingredients or the method involves days of prep …. that’s never going to happen. Which put paid to the confit of duck, 12 hour pork shoulder in Chinese spices and bread made from a biga that I would have to grow in a cupboard for a week (feed it, take out half, replace with water, feed it take out a quarter, replace with water etc.) sofabrother works for a group of artisan bakeries … much easier to pick up the ready-made ciabatta. We were getting nowhere until I turned over a crumpled bit of paper stuck into the pouch at the back of the file …. “Ooooo salted caramel”, we both said in unison: “I love salted caramel.”
And we had a winner.
Caramel was so much part of my childhood. We used to buy a long thin box of Wilson’s with our Sunday Sweets money and try to make them last all afternoon. The creamy melting muddle that formed in your mouth as you slurped those sweeties still makes me sigh. I bought a packet the other day – and they just weren’t the same. Time, change in recipe, maturation of palate – whatever it was, had rendered the fudgey caramel over-sweet and grainy. Plus, Salt wasn’t part of the sweet world back in the late sixties and the candy needed that edge.
Our first batch wasn’t a success, we read the fahrenheit on the sugar thermometer instead of centigrade and put the remaining ingredients in too early. Now you know why you need glasses. But it wasn’t a total failure – we carried on cooking the sweet-creamy-buttery-mix until we hit 115 degrees and ended up with a couple of jars of delicious ice-cream topping (or pie filling now that I think about it).It just didn’t set into toffees. Jasper was delighted. Which meant it wasn’t a waste – gladdening my stingy heart. The process itself was fun too – lots of stirring and smelling sugar turn into heaven … so I thought I would try it again.
A sugar thermometer and a pair of glasses are essential – as is measuring out all of the ingredients ahead of time. You don’t want to be rushing around when there is sugar burning in the pot. I opted to use Golden Syrup – a very SA ingredient… but you’ll find corn syrup at speciality baking shops if you prefer it. The Golden affects the flavour only slightly (in a good way) but doesn’t hurt the consistency at all. Make sure you use a large, deep pot as the mix will foam up and spit – so you don’t want to get too close. Heavy bottom is best (said Kanye to Kim), and stir the mix constantly or the sugar will burn and stick. Le Creuset is ideal if you have it. Otherwise use a regular saucepan and make sure you keep a close eye. To clean out the sugar – just bung the pot in some hot water and let it soak.
1 cup/200g light brown sugar
¾ cup/160g castor sugar
1 x 14oz/380g can evaporated milk
¾ cup/185 ml thick cream
¾ cup/185 ml light corn syrup or golden syrup
2 tablespoons/30 ml unsalted butter (don’t be tempted to substitute with salted for this recipe…)
¼ teaspoon/1.25 ml vanilla extract
½ Tbsp/7.5 ml Maldon sea salt (or any flake version you have – I alternated fresh ground pink salt with Maldon)
- Lightly grease a 20 cm square baking pan with non-stick spray and line with baking paper.
- Bring the brown sugar, castor sugar, evaporated milk and cream to a boil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, over medium heat. Add the corn syrup and continue cooking until the mixture reaches 110C/230F.
- Add the butter and vanilla extract – the mixture will foam and rise. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the caramel reaches 120C/250F (this takes a good while, up to 40 minutes – so turn the telly on and pour yourself a glass of wine. But keep your eye on the thermometer).
- Remove from the heat and carefully pour into the baking tray.
- Sprinkle with the sea salt and allow to cool for at least an hour somewhere cool. I put ours in the freezer for an hour – worked perfectly.
Lift out the baking paper or invert onto a cutting board covered with baking or parchment paper and cut into pieces with kitchen shears. Your toffees can be stored in a sealed container in a dry area e.g. pantry for up to 2 months.
As I was stirring the caramel I watched my current Reality Show obsession “Restaurant Start Up” (featuring Joe Bastianich and Tim Love). They were interviewing a potential business partner who used bacon in all of her sweet treats. I can’t help feeling that a couple of sprinkles of super crispy bacon bits, in amongst the salt, might not take the caramel into a whole other realm. Hmmm – next time.
(Image of caramel copyright campari&sofa, image of baking equipment by Helen Cathcart from Paris Pastry Club by Fanny Zanotti.)