We can’t get enough of these salty-sweet treats. Make a batch, put them in small candy boxes, and your holiday shopping is complete.
Special equipment: For coating the caramels in chocolate, you’ll need a kitchen scale and a chocolate thermometer such as CDN’s.
What to buy: Professional pastry chefs use a type of chocolate known as couverture, which sets up nicely because it contains more cocoa butter than regular chocolate. The only trick is, you need to temper it. For this recipe, we used El Rey 58.5 percent dark chocolate Discos; they can be found at many specialty grocery stores or online.
Game plan: The caramels can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container until ready to coat.
In our experience, it’s best to avoid tempering chocolate on a hot day or to work in an air-conditioned space. Chocolate behaves best at a room temperature between the mid-60s and low 70s. Also, chocolate stays in temper for only a short time, so have everything ready to go and work quickly.
Once coated, the chocolate caramels will keep for 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
- Yield: About 85 caramels
- Difficulty: Medium
- Total: 2 hrs, plus cooling time
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup light corn syrup
- 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick), cut into pieces and at room temperature, plus more for coating the pan
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 1/2 teaspoons fleur de sel or other coarse sea salt
- 1 1/2 pounds (24 ounces) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
- Coat an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with butter. Cut a piece of parchment paper—it should be a little less than 8 inches wide and long enough so that it rides over two sides of the dish when pressed into it. Press the parchment paper flat into the baking dish, creasing the paper at the corners. Coat the parchment-lined pan with more butter and place it on a wire rack.
- Place the cream in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, about 3 minutes. Stir in the sugar, corn syrup, and brown sugar and return to a boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the sugars have dissolved, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and keep the mixture at a gently rolling boil, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 255°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 20 to 25 minutes. (It will reach 225°F very quickly but then very slowly rise toward 255°F.)
- Remove the pan from heat, add the butter, vanilla, and 2 1/2 teaspoons of the fleur de sel, and stir until the butter has melted and the mixture is combined. Pour into the prepared dish and let cool until the surface of the caramel is set and the dish is only slightly warm, about 1 hour.
- Place the dish in the freezer until the caramel is just firm, about 15 to 20 minutes (do not let it freeze for too long). Run a knife along the edges of the caramel. Using the exposed edges of parchment paper, pull the caramel slab from the pan, flip it over onto a work surface, and remove the parchment. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 teaspoon fleur de sel and press gently so that the salt adheres to the caramel. Cut into 3/4-inch squares. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer all of the caramels to the baking sheet (making sure they don’t touch) and place in the refrigerator to harden again.
- Bring a medium saucepan filled with 1 to 2 inches of water to a simmer over high heat; once simmering, turn off the heat. Place 18 ounces of the chocolate in a dry, heatproof bowl. Set the bowl over the saucepan and, using a rubber spatula, stir until the chocolate has completely melted and has reached 118°F. (Make sure the chocolate does not come into contact with any water or exceed 120°F.)
- Remove the bowl from the saucepan. Add the remaining 6 ounces chocolate and stir until all of the chocolate has melted and the temperature has cooled to 80°F. (To speed this step up, you can place the bowl of chocolate over a bowl of ice water—but only once all of the chocolate has melted.)
- Once cooled, return the bowl of chocolate to the saucepan and stir until the chocolate reaches 88°F; immediately remove from heat. Do not remove the thermometer from the bowl; check the temperature periodically to make sure it stays between 87°F and 89°F. (The chocolate must remain in this temperature range while dipping the caramels or it will not set properly.) Keep the saucepan of water over low heat and, when needed, set the bowl of chocolate over it to reheat.
- To test if the chocolate is properly tempered, spread a thin layer on a piece of parchment paper and place it in the refrigerator for 3 minutes to set. If the chocolate hardens smooth and without streaks, it is properly tempered. (If it is not properly tempered, let the melted chocolate harden and start the tempering process over again: Bring the chocolate up to 118°F, then down to 80°F, then up again to 88°F.)
- Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the caramels from the refrigerator. Drop a caramel into the chocolate and, using a dinner fork, turn it to coat. Lift it out of the chocolate and tap the fork several times on the edge of the bowl. Scrape the bottom of the fork against the edge of the bowl to remove any excess chocolate. Place the coated caramel on the empty baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining caramels, using the first baking sheet when the second sheet is full and making sure the caramels do not touch. Let sit until the chocolate sets. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.