dpaxson's birthday was yesterday, and I knew she would really appreciate some of my caramel for one of her birthday presents, so I pondered a batch to take with us to Pantheacon. But I'd already made Alton Brown's recipe...well, sorta. Raven's gotta fly, otter's gotta swim, wolf's gotta run, and Lorrie's gotta hack her a foodstuff.
Discussion of the Food Hacks
The first change I made was to lose the damned corn syrup. Buh-bye. All gone.
Now, the devout follower of the Cult of Alton will remember from the episode entitled "Citizen Cane", one potential pothole on the way to caramel goodness is that, given a sufficiently pure supersaturated sucrose solution, it'll seize up and form a pretty rock candy garden instead of the ooey, gooey goodness you desire. Corn syrup has no flavor other than sweetness, but is in candy recipes to reduce the price (if you're commercial) and inhibit crystal formation.
But there are other ways to spike that wheel--cream of tartar (tartaric acid powder) is one, but there are other deliberate impurities one might introduce in the form of other sugars that have other fun things in them--in this case, I substituted Grade B maple syrup. Remember, maple syrup grading refers solely to color and flavor: B has more than A, and if you don't want it to taste like maple, why'd you buy maple syrup?
The second change, which not only introduced alternate sugar compounds but also increased the flavor complexity to a more grownup level, was to go from white sugar to organic cane sugar. It's not bleached, but the golden color means there are many unrefined sugars in there, knocking about and preventing crystallization while also increasing flavor complexity. This also skews all of Alton's original color estimates, so one relies heavily on one's thermometer here.
Thirdly, my soy sauce is always wheat-free organic tamari.
Now, I've done that before--they're all straight-up swaps. Doing it again by and for myself is mildly boring, and besides it leaves me with 64 caramels and I am not eating those alone. What to do this time to keep it interesting?
Oh, wait...I have powdered chile peppers in my cupboard! Cayenne, ancho, and New Mexico. I admit, purists, I didn't have the dried peppers on hand, but this is California, not New Mexico or Texas, okay? Ancho is sweet and smoky, not unlike a good caramel, but I did want the heat to show up eventually. The given proportion is approximate, but should deliver a "...hello, sailor" level of heat instead of "CHILE HIT WITH MALLET!" If you're averse to chile in general, remember that it has to work uphill against a lot of sugar and a lot of milk fat (either of which would devenom peppers' sting), so this isn't as bad as you might think.
Also, in this particular recipe, as I was passing most of these around on Friday, the day of the con whose capping event is the Pomba Gira devotional, instead of coarse sea salt, I used red and black Hawai'ian sea salts in honor of the day.
If you do not have all of these dried, ground chiles on hand, you can find cayenne at any supermarket, especially if there is an Mexican section. A really good Mexican section will have more than one kind of chile to choose from. Ancho is a better accompaniment to caramel than cayenne, IMO, but if cayenne is all you can find, go for it--its higher heat, however, will require some adjustment to achieve a good spice/sweet/milk balance.
So, with all those changes made, I think I can claim this one for my own. As a bonus, the now-corn-free caramels can be safely eaten by the redoubtable pearlshadow, who is allergic to corn. In their next iteration, I'm going to try to find goat-based cream and butter so I can feed it to bearfairie too!
Recipe: Three Chile Caramels
14.5 oz raw organic cane sugar
1/2 c water
1/2 c grade B maple syrup
1/4 t cream of tartar
1 c heavy cream, room temperature
2 t wheat-free soy sauce (tamari)
8 T unsalted butter, cut into eight pieces, at room temperature
1 t ground ancho chile powder
1/2 t ground New Mexico chiles
1/2 t cayenne (ground red pepper)
1 t coarse sea salt
Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper.
Combine the sugar, water, maple syrup, and cream of tartar in a heavy 4-quart saucepan and put over high heat. Stir occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Cover and continue to cook for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the heavy cream and soy sauce in a liquid measuring cup. Have this and the butter standing by.
Remove the lid from the sugar mixture, and attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. When the sugar mixture reaches 230° F, reduce the heat to medium and cook, without stirring, until the syrup approaches 300° F, about 6 to 7 minutes. At this point, there is less likelihood of any crystallization, so gently swirl the pan to break up any hot pockets.
When the temperature approaches 350° F, remove the pan from the heat, and gently swirl again to break up all of the hot pockets. Cool for 2 minutes.
Carefully incorporate the cream and soy mixture and the butter into the pan. Stir to combine. Return the caramel to medium heat, stir until the butter is completely melted, and continue to cook with the candy thermometer in place. Add half of all of the chiles, then stir and taste extremely carefully, being sure to cool it before each tasting attempt. Season with the chile powders to taste, and continue to cook the mixture until it reaches 255° F. Remove from the heat and pour into the parchment-lined pan, tapping gently to release air bubbles.
Cool on a cooling rack for 30 minutes, and then sprinkle evenly with the salt. Continue cooling on the rack for an additional 3 1/2 hours. Cut into 1-inch pieces and wrap individually in parchment. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.