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Vanilla Bean Caramels

  As much as I love making food, there are surprisingly very few kinds that I have no problem greedily stuffing my face with.  This is for two reasons: 1) I was always the kid who made sure everybody got their fair share, especially when it came to food.  I would run around the house with the last cookie, making sure everyone had gotten one, I would distribute much-appreciated treats that my dad brought home...stuff like that.  That's still a part of me, I guess.  2) I'm sorta picky.  I really am...but in the best of ways.  To quote the food critic from Ratatouille, "I don't like food, I love it.  If I don't love it, I don't swallow."  I'm definitely not that picky (or rude), but everyone likes food, duh.  I just happen to like it a bit more.

  For most chocolate is a huge weakness...I guess it depends on my mood and the form of chocolate, but otherwise I often find it to overpowering.  Don't get me wrong, I do like chocolate, I'm just not obsessed is all.
  So what do I find irresistible?  Enter caramel.  Sweet, chewy, golden, sprinkled with fleur de sel...I'm gone.  

  For far too long I thought caramel was those hardened, bland little Kraft squares.  While they no doubt serve their purpose in baking, and perhaps hold their place in a few hearts, they fooled me.  They are nothing, nothing compared to making your own caramel.  

  About that...making caramel is a daunting task, admittedly.  These recipe gave me no trouble, but I had some run-ins with an amazing caramel sauce (coming soon).  It took me four times to get that caramel sauce right...but I did it, darnit.  And I loooove it.  How did I do it?  I just rolled up my sleeves, spent a lot of time reading up on it, and I tackled it.  I would not give up. 
  And if you're intimidated by the candy thermometer, don't be.  Really, nothing could be easier.  Just make sure you've recently calibrated your thermometer so you can adjust the finished temperature for the candy, if necessary.  Mine's a couple degrees off (210 degrees on boiling), so I go to 246 degrees, it totally depends on your thermometer.  Also, do not just submerge your thermometer into a boiling hot mixture (or water), it's really bad for it.  Let it adjust to the temperature by having it in the pot the whole time.
  So anyway, I happily continue my caramel obsession, even with all its temperamental-ness.  It's so worth it. 


Vanilla Bean Caramels with Fleur de Sel
Yield: 64 caramels

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 5 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla bean pod, split lengthwise and scraped
  • 1¼ tsp. fleur de sel, plus more for sprinkling (I get mine from Williams-Sonoma, it really does make a difference.  But a coarse sea salt is also feasible.)
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • ¼ cup light corn syrup
  • ¼ cup water

Line the bottom and sides of an 8x8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper.  Lightly butter the parchment.

In a small saucepan, combine the cream, butter, vanilla extract, vanilla bean seeds, pods, and fleur de sel.  Heat over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water.  Heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved.  Remove the vanilla bean pods from the cream mixture (random step it seems, but right now is a much better time to do it so you don't rush yourself later).  Boil, without stirring but gently swirling the pan occasionally, until the mixture is a light golden caramel color. 

Carefully stir the cream mixture (hopefully you've removed the vanilla bean pods before this) into the caramel – the mixture will bubble up, so pour slowly and stir constantly.  Continue simmering the mixture until it registers 248˚ F on a candy thermometer.  Immediately remove from the heat and pour into the prepared pan.  Let cool for 30 minutes, then sprinkle lightly with additional fleur de sel.  Continue to let sit until completely set and cooled.

Cut into 1-inch pieces (a buttered pizza cutter works well).  Wrap the individual caramels in small pieces (about 4x4-inch squares) of wax paper.

Sources: Annie's Eats, originally from Confections of a Foodie Bride