Sunday, December 20, 2009

Caramel


As the sweet, brown, buttery smells of cooking caramel fill the Kitchen Witch headquarters we know the holiday baking season is upon us.

Here in Colorado its pretty difficult to make candies and other boiled sugar confections because of our altitude. For you low landers, that's anyone under 3,000 ft above sea level, you probaly don't have any clue what I'm talking about. Let me tell you. Water boils at 212* at sea level. Here, at 6,000+ ft ABOVE sea level water boils around 190*. Whats the problem, Kitchen Witch, your water boils at a lower temp, things should cook faster, right? Well, no, not so much. What happens here is that the water in say caramel boils out too soon and the sugars start to recrystalize before we want them to, resulting in caramel that is crunchy and hard, not soft & chewy. Or cookies that are flat as pancakes, not soft & chewy and puffy. Altitude, its a bitch!

The caramel recipe I'm about to share with you is more of a 'cheaters caramel' compared to a traditional caramel preparation (sugar, butter and cream). I realize that true candy makers will probally shudder at the corn syrup addition to the caramel but its what allows this caramel to work so well at our altitude.
For those who are wondering, the corn syrup alters the crystaline structure of the dissolved sugar, and won't allow it to recrystalize and become hard or crunchy. The corn syrup is the key to a chewy caramel at the Kitchen Witches high altitude.
If you are in a lower altitude & would like to try a more traditional approach please do and let me know how it goes! For those of us, lowlanders and highlanders alike, who would love homemade caramels thats pretty fool-proof, give this one a shot! It has not let me down yet!

Chewy caramels
from the Better Homes & Gardens 'Complete step by step cookbook'
2 sticks unsalted butter
2 1/4 c brown sugar
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 t salt
1 t vanilla

Melt butter in a heavy bottom sauce pan. Add brown sugar and salt, stir well until it incorporates.


Add corn syrup and stir very well. *TIP spray the measuring cup with non stick spray before measuring the corn syrup, it'll pour right out and not stick to your cup that way*

Once mixture starts to boil add the sweetened condensed milk.

Notice how the caramel darkens as it gets closer to the target temperature.


Boil sugar mixture over med heat until it comes to the hard ball stage - that was 233* here at my altitude, please use the altitude conversion chart to determine what temp you should be aiming for based on your location.

Pour caramel into a buttered 8x8 pan, dust with kosher salt (salted caramel is amazing, try it!) and allow to cool completely before cutting & wrapping.

OR you can pour hot caramel onto pecan clusters to make 'turtles'. Top each cluster with a few chocolate chips. The residual heat in the caramel will melt the chips, all you have to do is come back & spread the melted chocolate over the caramel.

Candy stages, temp (at sea level) and cold water test results
Thread (230*-234*) -- syrup dropped from spoon spins 2 in thread
Soft Ball (234*-240*) -- syrup can be shaped into a ball that flattens when removed from water.
firm ball (244*- 248*) -- syrup can be shaped into a firm ball that does not flatten when removed from water
hard ball (250*- 266*) -- syrup forms a hard ball that is pliable
soft crack (270*-290*) -- syrup separates into threads that are not brittle
hard crack (300*-310*) -- syrup separates into hard, brittle threads

To do the cold water test, which is most accurate for high altitudes, get a small bowl of water, add 4-6 ice cubes, once water is very cold remove ice & drop small amounts of syrup into the water. I HIGHLY recommend doing this test through out the cooking process, to familiarize yourself with what the syrup looks like at the different stages.

ALTITUDE ADJUSTMENT: Decrease temperature about 2* for every 1,000 ft above sea level

Happy Winter Solstice everyone! I wish you all a very happy holiday season filled with yummy treats, good friends, family and fun! May your kitchen be filled with delicious treats to sustain you through the winter season. By the power of three by three I wish you all Blessed Be!
With much love,
Andrea the Kitchen Witch

3 comments:

becky said...

Thanks for giving all the useful candy making info! And,thanks for the high altitude candy-making hints, it helps me greatly to understand why i can't make candy that is up to my high standards!!

Staci Reynolds said...

I want to dive into that caramel sauce and go swimming in it, it looks so delicious!

carol.lim said...

After 2 other failed attempts, I tried your recipe for high altitude (in Salt Lake City, UT, around 4500 ft). IT WORKED!!! I believed your explanation about the corn syrup (the other recipes I had talked about the lower temp, but not the corn syrup). I only cooked mine until 229F and it was about the "firm ball" stage (not the "hard ball" stage that the recipe states). It was also a lot easier to make than the other recipes I tried. THANK YOU SO MUCH for this recipe!!

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