Sunday, December 21, 2014

Creamy Dark Chocolate Caramels or Salted Vanilla Bean Caramels-- Two recipes to pick from (or make both!)

I am really excited to share two recipe variations from the "Black Licorice Caramels" that I posted a few days ago. I'm excited for several reasons. The biggest reason is that these are delicious, and exceeded my wildest expectations. Seriously!

If you were to ask me if I prefer Milk Chocolate or Dark Chocolate, I would give an enthusiastic nod to Milk.  Hands down.  These dark chocolate caramels have converted me.  I adapted the recipe for "Black Licorice Caramels" by omitting the Anise extract.

Instead, I used Trader Joe's Brand of excellent Dark Chocolate $4.99 a pound), that cooked along with water, sugar, butter and sweetened condensed milk.  The aroma of chocolate filled every nook and cranny of our kitchen/dining room area, in a very good way.
NOTE: You might be wondering if you can use chocolate chips. My answer is "I'm not sure".  I recommend using bar chocolates, and the best quality you can afford.  It will be worth it.

If you've never made caramels, I can assure you that this recipe is pretty fool-proof. However, in reading reviews for other recipes that I researched, it seemed that there were a number of  people who had trouble with their candy setting up properly.  I would venture to guess that they did not use a candy thermometer.  Candy making involves some science, in that the temperature is very specific.  Undercook the candy, and it will never set up properly. Overcook the candy, and it will become hard as lollipops.  I've made this recipe three times, with perfect results every time.  The target temperature is 242F, which takes about 40 minutes on my gas range.

My son loved the chocolate caramels so much, that a lot of them disappeared.  I realized I didn't have enough to go around for my Christmas gift list, so I would need to make more. (I also had to hide the rest.)   Since I'd had such good luck with the licorice and chocolate flavors, I got an idea...

I had a box of Maldon Sea Salt  and a jar of Singing Dog Vanilla Bean Paste.  So, I adapted the caramel recipe once again-- by adding vanilla bean paste and pure vanilla once the candy was cooked to 242F.  I waited about 20 minutes to allow the caramel to settle down a bit, before adding the Maldon Sea Salt (lest it melt into the caramel).

Oh! The pan that you see in the above photo...  I'm loving my newest kitchen gadget!  This pan is made by Chicago Metallic. It's made of heavy duty plastic, and has grid lines for cutting things like fudge or marshmallows.  Once the caramel set (allow 2-4 hours), I simply unhinge the pan and lift out the caramel!  Otherwise, I strongly suggest that one makes a parchment paper "sling" to lift out the caramel.  My new pan is so much easier, and I love that it stores flat.  I also use a very sharp chef's knife to easily cut the caramels. I get 100-120 pieces per batch!  I love this pan so much, that I ordered the larger pan for making homemade marshmallows.

My husband got the most excited about the Salted Vanilla Caramels.  I have to admit, that these turned out great!  I'm going to be honest, and tell you that I added a mound of additional sea salt just to photograph this caramel.  Isn't it purty?  Once the caramels are wrapped (which takes the most time), the sea salt slightly absorbs into the caramel. But, that's not a bad thing.  Why should the caramels be wrapped, you might wonder?  Answer: Because they're sticky!

By the way, if you don't like the sweet and salty combo-- leave the salt out!  These will be delicious plain vanilla caramels. I won't judge.

For me, I still love the Black Licorice Caramels, the best. 

TASTING NOTES:  The chocolate and vanilla caramels take me back to my childhood, when my mom would buy a bag of Kraft Caramels that had both of these flavors. I loved them both.  These should keep for a couple of weeks.  I can't prove it, because I doubt they'll stick around that long.

This is the first time I've made homemade caramel candies.  I gotta tell you-- this is a lot less work than cookie baking. As an added bonus, unlike cookies,  don't have to worry about these becoming stale.  I have a mound of caramels, in three different flavors, to present it gift bags to my friends and family.   Those who have already receive their caramel goody bag, have been delighted with them-- and they have raved about how delicious they are.

I especially get a kick out them asking me if I really made them myself. Why, yes, I did!  So can you! You'll be a hero, if you make any, or all of these flavors.  I will never buy caramels again! Why should I? These are amazing!

Both printable recipes cards are at the end of this post.

Happy Holidays!

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June Baby said...

Those sound fabulous! I'd love to get some of those as a Christmas gift, mmm :)

Pam Greer said...

These sound wonderful!!

bellini said...

I KNOW i would love them all Debby. Merry Christmas to you and your family. Savour every moment.

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

I would want some of each…they both sound great.

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

How could I forget to wish you the merriest of Christmases and the happiest New Year. Karen

Joanne said...

Not gonna lie, making caramels definitely scares me...but you had me at salted vanilla bean caramels!

Bill said...

I'm saving this recipe for next year. They'd make great gifts and I love to give homemade things for Christmas. Great post, Debby!