Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels, with almonds and without vanilla

 I’ve made caramels twice before this, and this might just be my favorite. The golden syrup gives it a hint of smoky flavor that’s quite enchanting. Remind me again what this recipe is called? Because I completely forgot to add the vanilla. But guess what, the caramels still tasted awesome!
I topped each caramel to with a toasted almond to give it crunch and cut the sweetness, and I think I like them better that way. I might include them chopped up next time, so the smaller nut pieces are surrounded by the caramel for a more integrated flavor experience. When almonds are toasted they taste 14 times more delicious, so if you add them please don’t miss out on that step.
Caramel takes time to cook. A long time. Like, at least 30 minutes for it to get up to the required temperature. Treat it like cooking meditation. I lost the notes I took for the cooking times, gomenasai. I promise to have them here the next time I make these, because I personally feel more secure when a recipe includes these timings.

Parchment paper 'V' in action on the right

It was nigh impossible to cut the caramel even with a very well oiled thin knife. It may have been due to the weather, or the caramel not being cold enough… Who knows. It was as if the knife wasn’t even oiled. Instead, I fold a V shape with a long thin strip of parchment paper down the long side, and place the knife sharp side down into the V, I then press the paper-knife sandwich down into the caramel. Voila, no sticking. I am a genius.

Wrapping them is a time consuming bitch. It helps to have a kitchen elf, good friends, good music or possibly all three. And water, because you’ll get thirsty eating the caramel in front of you. It’s tempting because eating them means less caramels to wrap.
Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels
adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich
  • 1 cup golden syrup
  • 400g sugar
  • 5/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened
  • almonds, well toasted, 80g (optional)
    1. Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with parchment paper. Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Coverer and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heal until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

    2. When the sugar mixture reaches 151.7°C, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 118.3°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 127.7°C for soft, chewy caramels or 129.5°C; for firmer chewy caramels.
    3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Press the almonds neatly on the surface of the caramel, if using, once it has cooled a little. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.
    4. Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.
      Variations:

      Fleur de Sel Caramels: Extra salt, in the form of fleur de seI or another coarse flaked salt, brings out the flavor of the caramel and offers a little ying to the yang. Add an extra scant 1/4 teaspoon of coarse sea salt to the recipe. Or, to keep the salt crunchy, let the caramel cool and firm. Then sprinkle with two pinches of flaky salt and press it in. Invert, remove the pan liner, sprinkle with more salt. Then cut and wrap the caramels in wax paper or cellophane.

      Nutmeg and Vanilla Bean Caramels: Add 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg to the cream before you heat it.

      Cardamom Caramels: Omit the vanilla. Add 1/2 teaspoon slightly crushed cardamom seeds (from about 15 cardamom pods) to the cream before heating it. Strain the cream when you add it to the caramel; discard the seeds.

      Caramel Sauce: Stop cooking any caramel recipe or variation when it reaches 225°F or, for a sauce that thickens like hot fudge over ice cream, 228°F. Pour it into a sauceboat to serve or into a heatproof jar for storage. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for ages and reheated gently in the microwave or a saucepan just until hot and flowing before use. You can stir in rum or brandy to taste. If the sauce is too thick or stiff to serve over ice cream, it can always be thinned with a little water or cream. Or, if you like a sauce that thickens more over ice cream, simmer it for a few minutes longer.
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