Apparently I’m on a caramel kick right now. A few weeks ago I made some coconut caramels, and then I just made these amazing chocolate coconut caramels – they were seriously good! Deep, rich flavour, not too sweet. I was sad to see the end of them. I wanted more. So I obviously had to make them again, right? But maybe some sort of variation. It’s the chocolate caramel that I was really loving, so I decided to skip the coconut and do something different with the caramel itself. What else goes well with chocolate? Pfft, silly question – pretty much anything, right? How about espresso? YES.
I’ve made espresso caramels before by just taking a wild guess at how much espresso powder to add (and I totally lucked out – the flavour was great). That was a completely different recipe, though. I didn’t want the espresso component here to be too subtle, but I also didn’t want it to overwhelm the chocolate. I decided to go with the same amount (a tablespoon) – if nothing else, it’s a good starting point, right?
And my first impression was the espresso was a biiiiit too strong. It’s a good espresso caramel – but for a chocolate espresso caramel, I thought the chocolate was getting a bit overwhelmed. I ran them by a friend of mine and she said the same thing. However, two other friends both said it needs more espresso! So, your mileage may vary. Next time I try this, I’ll cut it down to 2 teaspoons (I’ve noted this in the recipe below as well). But you may prefer the full tablespoon (or more!).
These could probably be made with real espresso too, since as the caramel cooks, the excess moisture is cooked away, leaving just the flavour behind. But I have no idea how much you’d use – it would take some experimenting. Or you could use some coffee extract if you have it. Personally, I always have some instant espresso on-hand for baking – it’s so convenient and easy to measure to control the flavour. I’ve used it in several cookie recipes, as well as brownies and cakes.
I modified the original cooking instructions for this recipe somewhat. The original instruction is to heat the sugars to 248°F before adding the rest of the ingredients, but I took it much further and fully caramelized the sugars in the first heating stage. I went into more depth on explaining this in the chocolate coconut caramels post if you’d like to read more about it. Essentially, this is a technique I learned at a caramel-making course and will give you a less-sweet, more caramelly caramel. If you’d prefer something sweeter (totally personal preference!), feel free to refer back to the original recipe on Martha Stewart’s site.
chocolate espresso caramels
Adapted from Martha Stewart's site. I cut the original recipe in half and modified the cooking instructions considerably, plus I skipped the coconut and added espresso. Feel free to check out the original recipe. Note: when cooking sugar, subtract 2°F from the target temperature for every 1000 ft above sea level.
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon instant espresso or espresso powder
1-1/8 cups sugar
5/8 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate
Line an 8" square pan with parchment paper. If you don't have one, a 9" square will work, but the caramels will be a bit flatter. There's no need to oil the parchment as the caramels shouldn't stick. Set aside.
Combine the cream, vanilla extract, and espresso powder in a medium-sized saucepan and heat until scalding. Remove from the heat, add the chopped chocolate and allow to sit for a minute. Stir the chocolate until it has completely melted and the mixture is smooth, and then set aside (you've essentially made a ganache here).
Choose a large (3 to 4 quart) heavy-weight saucepan to cook your caramel in – it needs to be large enough to accommodate the bubbling up that will happen (it will bubble up a lot), but deep is better than wide so your thermometer will be covered by enough volume to register an accurate temperature (most digital thermometers have a guideline indicating minimum depth).
Combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water in this large saucepan and heat over medium heat until the sugar has melted. Raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Using a pastry brush and some cold water, brush down the sides of the pot to ensure any sugar crystals that may be clinging to the edge are melted. Alternately, you could put the lid on the pot and let it boil for a couple minutes covered – the steam that builds up under the lid will also melt away the sugar crystals. Do not stir the sugar at this point. Stirring may cause recrystallization. Instead, just gently swirl the pan a few times.
Continue to cook the sugar until it's amber coloured and it begins to give off a bit of smoke – the bubbles should have reduced in size by this point too. Remove the pot from the burner and allow to sit and continue to caramelize off-heat until desired level of caramelization is reached. A lighter colour will give you a sweeter caramel, while a darker colour will give you a more bitter caramel. It's totally a matter of taste (I cooked mine to about the colour of a shiny penny).
Once you're happy with the colour, pour the cream mixture into the sugar and add your thermometer to the pot. Bring to a boil and add the butter.
Continue cooking over high heat, whisking constantly until it reaches 248°F. Normally I'll cook my caramels to a slightly higher temperature because the humidity is usually quite high in Vancouver, but 248°F worked perfectly for me.
Once it reaches temperature, you need to work quickly as the temperature will continue to rise.
Remove from the heat and stir in the salt. Pour the mixture into your pan – carefully, it's very hot. Don't scrape the bottom or sides of the pot in case there are some hard bits (I scraped this stuff off onto a separate piece of parchment for myself).
Allow to sit for at least a couple hours, preferably overnight. If you like, you can sprinkle a bit of fleur de sel on top of the caramel after it's cooled for 5 or 10 minutes (if you do it too soon, it will just melt into the caramel, but if you wait too long, it won't stick).
Once the caramel has set, you can cut it into squares or rectangles and wrap in pieces of parchment paper or wax paper. If you're lazy like me, you can buy them pre-cut.