Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sweet Tooth

Marshmallows (with tie) and Caramels
packaged up for my niece & nephew.
I kind of have a new hobby, and it's not good. First of all, I'm diabetic with some impulse control issues. Second, I'm seriously trying to eat healthier and lose weight so I can get that pesky diabetes under control. So candy-making? Probably not the best hobby to pick up.

Friends and family aren't complaining, though, because after my husband and I eat a couple/few pieces of my experiments, I package up the rest and mail 'em out. With the summer approaching, I'm going to have to take a break, and only do this when I have a special occasion to cook for, but it has been a blast - all two weekends of it.

It started out innocently enough. Several weeks ago, I stumbled across a book on Amazon and wishlisted it: Sugar Baby: Confections, Candies, Cakes & Other Delicious Recipes for Cooking with Sugar. When I have a chance to get myself a small treat, it's usually a book, so a wishlist is a great way to see what I want (in case I forgot) and what's on sale, etc.. So, when I had the opportunity to pick out a new book, this was it.

My first caramels, using Hungry Girl's recipe.
In the meantime, one of my friends on Facebook (Hi, Debbie!) shared a link to a recipe for some yummy-sounding Demerara Caramels. There I was, all in the mood to make some candy, and the book wouldn't get to me by the weekend, so this was destined to be my first candy-making* experience.

My attempts to procure a candy thermometer could almost earn their own blog post! In just a little over a week, I have owned four thermometers, three before the Sugar Baby book arrived and I just followed her recommendations and got a classic Taylor Thermometer (around $10 at my "local" grocery (local is relative in the country)). The first one broke in the utensil cup of my counter-top drain rack before it could be used once. The second one, although found with the caramel apple-making supplies at a concession-supply store,** was really for meat and the temperature did not go nearly high enough. Number three would go high enough, but was digital and I got it wet somehow when I rinsed off the probe (should have just wiped it down, yes?). It's what I used for the first attempt, but it was a little glitchy.

It turns out that we own pretty decent pans for candy-making: heavy-bottomed stainless steel. I didn't think I could get the Demerara sugar called for in Hungry Girl's recipe (turns out I didn't look closely enough), so I used Turbinado sugar and dark corn syrup instead. Despite have a glitchy thermometer, I actually managed to get my first batch of caramels done on the first try! They were the perfect (to me) consistency/texture, and the flavor was deep and rich. We had a couple pieces each, and the rest went to family & friends. (I posted a message on Facebook, offering up caramels to anyone that wanted them (in the US -- I wasn't sure about mailing them internationally.) The folks that chimed in got a package of sweets in the mail.) They were pronounced "yummy," and it was good.

Then, the book arrived. Being a very novice beginner candy-maker, I'm probably not the best reviewer, mostly because I don't know what I'm talking about. From my limited perspective, it's fantastic! Great pictures, clear directions and tips that made this beginner comfortable enough to dive in.

One batch of Marshmallows. I actually got
a plate dirty to take the picture.
First up: marshmallows. Oh, yes, I can see myself making these again. I'd like to try piping them or, if poured and cut again, I need to find a way to keep the goop from sticking to the sides of the pan. (Wondering if cooking spray would work?) I did the full recipe, adding in the (optional) egg whites. Since I've never done it before, I'm not sure if I did it all exactly right, but they sure looked and tasted like marshmallows when I was done! The only thing I think I'd do differently next time is add more vanilla, just because I think I'd like the flavor even better. I also want to try some variations -- strawberry marshmallows are calling to me.

Fleur de Sel Caramels, poured and salted. (Next time,
I'll measure the salt for the top!)
Caramels, take two. These had the perfect, traditional caramel taste, with the sea salt making the flavors pop even more. I kind of had a reading comprehension fail while I was making them and added the butter, salt and vanilla too early, so I don't know if that accounted for the texture difference. (Basically, I skipped a step, but was able to get the mixture to the right temperature anyway.) These were much closer to a hard candy than the first type I made (they also called for twice as much cream, so I'm hoping that's the explanation). Seriously, these were beautiful. (I don't have the book handy, but I think they're called "Fleur de Sel Caramels.")

Cutting the caramels. (That's a pizza cutter, not a machete.)
They hardened up pretty quickly and that, along with the
butter, kept the pieces from sticking until wrapping.
The only real problem with these? Cutting the caramels into smallish pieces as I did was a good thing, because bigger pieces could give you a sore jaw if you insisted on chewing them (I have little patience with "sucking candies"), but cutting them small yielded way over 100 caramels and wrapping them seemed endless. Oh, that and the fact that they were there, all weekend, taunting me. Yup, that's my big complaint: it made a lot of candy and I ate way too many of them.

It became immediately clear that I had to get most of those caramels out of my house! I went through a rough patch recently, and several people helped cheer me up by sending surprises in the mail (and email - knitting patterns are a great pick-me-up!), so I made cute little bags out of gift wrap and put together little "Thank You" packages for several of them. A few people commented on the pictures on Facebook again, so some packages went to those folks as well.

PS: There's a companion blog for the cookbook, with extra photos, video tutorials, etc.: SugarBaby Cookbook.

*As fun and cute as they are, I don't count melting those candy discs and pouring them into molds as making candy. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not knocking it, and my collection of molds is staying put -- but it's a different thing altogether.

**I need to write about that. Fun times!

1 comment:

g said...

It's Gesine of SugarBaby sugariness. Saw your comment on skipping the step by adding butter, etc too soon. To answer your question, yes, this does affect the caramel. By taking the caramel off the heat at the right temperature and then adding the butter and vanilla when the caramel is off the heat, you drive down the temperature, thereby creating a softer caramel chew.