I seem to go through cycles with caramels. I don’t make them often, but once I start, I want to make them again and again. For one thing, they’re delicious (duh). And for another, they’re not nearly as difficult as you might think. Well it’s been awhile since I’ve made them last, and I wasn’t really thinking about making any now, but I was browsing recipes online (as I do), and came across a recipe for some bourbon caramels. Oh my. Doesn’t that sound like a good combination? So now I’m thinking about caramels, and I can’t even remember the last time I made them (I seriously had to look it up – and it was the spiced maple walnut caramels I made a year ago). Way too long, right? Definitely time to remedy that.
Unfortunately I wasn’t crazy about the recipe – it used sweetened condensed milk, which in a caramel recipe is kind of pointless. The traditional method of cooking caramels achieves the same result, so I would rather just start with cream and sugar and let it condense naturally via the cooking process. Because that’s what we’re doing – as the caramel heats, the moisture boils away and we’re left with thick, rich, caramel goodness. Plus in my opinion, that other recipe didn’t have nearly enough bourbon.
Since I didn’t want to use sweetened condensed milk, I just went back to my go-to caramel recipe instead and modified it by simply adding the bourbon with the cream. Again, the cooking process here will boil away any excess liquid, leaving behind the flavour of the bourbon. Delicious delicious bourbon. That’s what we want.
I wasn’t really thinking about it as I made this, but when I tried my first piece, I realized it tasted a lot like Irish Cream. And it honestly wouldn’t take much to tweak this recipe to taste even more like it (all it really needs is a bit of coffee and chocolate, and you’re there!). I’ll be bookmarking that idea for next winter. Sounds like a perfect addition to my xmas baking repertoire.
This base caramel recipe was given to me, so I don't have a source to attribute it to. You can make these in either a 9 or 8-inch square pan, depending on how thick you want them to be. Note: when cooking sugar, subtract 2°F from the target temperature for every 1000 ft above sea level.
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon whipping cream
3/4 cup glucose (corn syrup)
1/4 cup bourbon
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel
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.
Combine the cream, glucose, and bourbon in a medium-sized saucepan and heat until scalding. Remove from the heat and then set aside.
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 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. If you'd like, you can add the cream at this point. If you'd like a stronger caramel flavour, however, 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). The reason this is done off-heat is that at this point the sugar can burn really quickly.
Once you're happy with the colour, pour the cream mixture into the sugar and add your thermometer to the pot. Return it to the burner and bring to a boil, then add the butter.
Continue cooking over high heat, whisking constantly until it reaches 245°F. If you prefer a firmer caramel, you can cook it to a few degrees higher (I cooked mine to just under 247°F because the humidity is pretty high here right now).
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 (I scraped this stuff off onto a separate piece of parchment for myself). 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). Allow the pan to sit for at least a couple hours, preferably overnight.
Once the caramel has set (preferably overnight), 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.