Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Temperamental Caramel

My brother-in-law’s birthday was a few weeks ago and one of his favorites things are those Brach’s caramel squares.  I thought it would be fun to make my own caramel and surprise him with something I was sure would impress.  I did my research on caramel and found that it was just a few simple ingredients.  What I also learned is that caramel is subject to mood swings at various temperatures.  A candy thermometer is a must have for this.

Caramel Ingredients

I decided to make a single batch first to see how they’d turn out.  I followed this “Salted Caramels” recipe from Inspired Taste.  The steps looked simple and the guided instruction was helpful.

Tangent:  You might know by now I have an aversion to box mixes.  The other aversion I have is when recipes call for a microwave.  Microwaves were invented to save time (like a box mix), I understand that. You may be familiar with a box meal we call a “TV dinner” and how it goes nicely with a microwave.  Well,  why don’t we all just slow down a bit and throw out those so called “dinners” in a box and use the oven or stove top..

Anyway… the first step is to bring the sugar, corn syrup, and water to a boil.  The sugar water needs to be heated to a hefty 320F and that’s why a candy thermometer is handy.

Sugar Water

Tangent #2:  I’m not a big fan of corn syrup in recipes but sometimes I just bite my tongue and use it for the good of the recipe.  However, I am absolutely against  High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) which is what you’ll find in the store bought versions. In the end, I consider myself better off.

While that’s coming to a boil, heat (in a stove top pan) butter and heavy whipping cream until the butter has melted.

Butter and Cream

Melted Butter and Cream

Once the sugar  water has reached 320F we slowly add in the butter/cream mixture, stirring as it’s added.  It will froth and foam as if it were alive but don’t worry, it’s not alive… or is it?

Hot Sugar Water

Sugar and Cream

More Sugar and Cream

Here’s the tricky part, now that all the ingredients for caramel are in one pan it needs to heat to a very specific temperature and then removed from the heat.   Combining the butter/cream with the sugar water is supposed to bring it from 320F down to something like 220F but I had different results.   Here’s a chart for how caramel will turn out as it’s heated to various temperatures.  Just 5 degrees can make a difference in the outcome.

Heating Caramel

I let ours cook to ~240F as the recipe indicates, which I found out later was not high enough and it turned out way too soft.  In the refrigerator or freezer it was the right consistency but at room temperature it was a thick caramel sauce.

Nonetheless, you then pour the heated sauce into an dish, lined with wax paper and a little oil to make removal easier.

Dish

That’s me pouring, so exciting…

Pouring Caramel

Now it rests for 30 minutes at room temperature and then into the refrigerator for at least 4 hours to set.

It's resting

Right out of the refrigerator, I pulled them out of the dish and cut them into squares. Looks pretty good right? Right?!

Finished Caramel

I humbly admit that the resulting thick caramel sauce was amazing!  Way better than any store bought caramel sauce.  I got compliments from all my closest family members and I didn’t listen to what the others said so I couldn’t tell you their response.

While some of you may consider this a failure, I do too.  I had high aspirations of cutting squares of firm caramel and wrapping them in a blanket of chocolate and sprinkling sea salt on top.  Instead, I had to settle for dripping chocolate sauce on top of thick caramel sauce and sprinkling with sea salt.

Chocolate Caramel

These, I also humbly admit, were also very tasty but not worth the mess they caused.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Use an official candy thermometer (not a standard meat thermometer).
  2. Don’t blindly follow a recipe that says 240F when clearly it should have been between to 250 – 260F for the “firm ball” state.
  3. Don’t make two batches using the same recipe… oops.  I wasn’t patient enough to see how the first one turned out so I threw a second one together.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.  Don’t be afraid of heated sugar.  You can do this and so can I!  I will try again and I will triumph and you will read that blog as well.

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The Cajun Side of Me

A year ago I took a trip to Florida for work and we went out to eat at The Yard House in Boca Raton, FL.  Little did I realize that I was about to experience the best Jambalaya I’ve ever had.  I didn’t know what to expect, but I was amazed at the mixture of flavor.  The spices, meat, and rice were just perfect together.  I knew I had to attempt this dish at home.  I went to my trusted source at FoodWishes.com and Chef John provided a recipe for Creole Sausage and Shrimp Jambalaya.  I consider this a “one pot” meal because, frankly, you only use one pot (or pan).

I’ve found when cooking cajun/creole type food there’s a lot of cutting and dicing that’s best to do first. The holy trinity of cajun style cooking is celery, green   pepper, and onion. There’s usually tomatoes that follow that up as well. While I was doing this, The Mrs. was prepping the shrimp.  We just had frozen shrimp that needed some attention before we could eat them.  Once you have those ingredients prepped you can start cooking.

Spices

We start by browning a couple Andouille sausages in butter. Yep, butter.  When the meat is nearly done you add in a few spices (paprika, cumin, cayenne) and let it finish up.

Andouille

Then it’s time to add the tomatoes, wait about 30 seconds and then add in the “holy trinity” (celery, onion, green pepper in case you’ve already forgotten) and let that saute for a few minutes.  The salt and bay leaf cut in at this part of the dance.  I don’t own any leafs of the bay so I just omit that.

Mixing it up

We cap off the interactive portion of this recipe by adding in the brown rice and 3 cups of chicken stock.  You may think 3 cups is a lot but believe me, it cooks off nicely.  This last attempt I only used 2 cups and it turned out drier than I’d prefer.  Now you sit back and let it all simmer together for 45 minutes.  During the last 5 minutes you throw in the raw shrimp which cooks to just the right temperature.

Simmering

Finally, the meal is ready to eat!  It’s got a little kick to it due to the cayenne so adjust it to your taste if necessary.  While this recipe is not as good as The Yard House jambalaya, it will hit the spot and give you the satisfaction of saying “I’ve made jambalaya.”  People are impressed when you throw around that word. I think it’s because most people don’t know what jambalaya is, they just know that people in Louisiana eat it.

Jambalaya