12.11.09 How Sweet It Is

Salt 790 xxx
Does candy-making seem way too daunting? Here's a little secret: all it takes is a clip-on thermometer and a tireless stirring arm. (Doesn't even need to be yours!) More than ten years ago, I began making caramels to give away to clients and friends during the holiday season. They've developed quite the rabid fan base and, at this point, I can't really get away with not making them. (Quite a few people have suggested I start a business selling these caramels, but I think, like Haley's comet, their occasional appearance contributes to their coveted status.)
Boil 790 xxx
molten deliciousness
Early on, I tweaked recipes from Martha Stewart Living for golden vanilla and chocolate versions. I add grey sea salt from Brittany or flaky Maldon salt as a final touch, giving them that great sweet-salty counterpoint we all love so much, and providing just the slightest crunch to an otherwise creamy mouthful. Another key to their divinely irresistible deliciousness is the quality of ingredients. I use mostly organic or artisanal products, including Kate's homemade butter, Nielsen-Massey vanilla and Askinosie chocolate. This year, I debuted two new flavors: chile-chocolate and cardamom-vanilla. I was instantly converted. I think I am most partial to the chocolate, which delivers a smooth, slow burn against a dark, dreamy chocolate base that's punched up with a bit of espresso. Who knows what next year could bring—lavender? anise? saffron? bacon?

Chile-Infused Chocolate Caramels

makes about 250
*You can also double the recipe, making sure your pot is big enough (I like my 15-qt jam pot). To get the right consistency, I suggest you only cook it to about 242º.
  • — 4 cups chile-infused heavy cream
  • — 2 1/2 cups light corn syrup
  • — 4 1/2 cups sugar
  • — 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • — 2 teaspoons instant espresso, dissolved in 2 tablesoons hot water
  • — 1/2 - 1 teaspoon ground cayenne, optional
  • — 1 pound plus 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped in small pieces
  • — 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
  • vegetable-oil cooking spray
  • textured sea salt, like Maldon or grey fleur de sel


Pour 4 cups heavy cream into a large saucepan over medium heat. Crumble in 6-8 dried red chiles de árbol (you can substitute 2-3 heaping teaspoons dried red chile flakes) and gently simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to sit, covered, for 2 hours or longer. Dip your finger in to test spiciness. You should feel a rather intense heat at the back of your throat. If not, allow to infuse longer. When it has reached desired spiciness, strain thoroughly, discard chiles, and set cream aside.


Spray an 11 3/4-by-16 1/4-inch baking pan with vegetable-oil spray. Place in a level spot where it will not be disturbed.

In a heavy 4-quart saucepan, combine 2 cups cream, corn syrup, sugar, and salt. Clip on candy thermometer. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, 15 to 20 minutes. Wash down sides of pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to remove any sugar crystals.

Cook, stirring constantly, until temperature reaches 220 degrees, 6 to 8 minutes; watch so mixture doesn't boil over. Continue stirring, and add chocolate and butter. Keep mixture boiling, and slowly add remaining 2 cups cream, instant espresso and cayenne, if using. Cook, still stirring, until temperature reaches 244 degrees (firm-ball stage), about 60 minutes, keeping mixture at a low boil.

Without scraping pot, pour mixture into prepared pan. After it has cooled slightly for about 15 minutes, sprinkle a thin layer of salt over the entire sheet, pressing very lightly to set salt into caramel. Let stand uncovered at room temperature for 24 hours without moving.

To cut, unmold caramel, salt side up, onto wooden cutting board. Using a large, sharp knife, cut into 1 1/4-by-3/4” pieces, or whatever shape you like. Wrap each piece in foiled or waxed paper. (Enlist helpful elves in this task!)

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1 Comment

first i was all "wow! how generous to share the recipes for these coveted gems!" but truly, i'm fucked. do you realize that i will make these and eat them all, one by one, savoring every last melty moment until i fall flat on my face in a sugar coma?! thanks for sharing (bitch).
Joc on December 24, 2009 at 4:16 am —