Ever since I learned how to caramelize sugar, I have been fascinated with it. It amazes me how one simple ingredient can change into something that resembles nothing of it’s original state both in it’s look and taste. It feels like magic. But really, it’s just science.
In case you have never tried it before, put 1 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup water into a heavy bottom pan over medium-low heat. Stir it until the sugar dissolves. Then stop stirring and watch it. I’m serious. Just stand there and watch it. Caramel will appear before your very eyes. (Make sure the pan has fairly high sides and you probably shouldn’t put your face really close to it either or you will hate me for trying this.) I’m sure some of you have done this many times before and it seems like no big deal. But to someone who has never tried it, the first time is magical!
Once the mixture turns an amber color, it is done. You don’t want it to go too far or it will taste bitter. You can pour this onto parchment paper, let it cool, and break it up into shards to top a dessert. Or find a good brittle recipe to use it with. (but find the recipe before you make the caramelized sugar, you have to work fast!) Or throw in some vegan butter, soy creamer, and a pinch of salt and you have yourself homemade caramel sauce. How easy this is, is scary information to know people!
Making chewy caramel candies is a bit different than going all the way with caramelizing the sugar. The process is similar, but you don’t heat the sugar to as high of a temperature. In the process described above, where sugar gets caramelized itself, you are taking the temperature up to “The Caramelization Stage” of sugar stages. The temperature will be somewhere from 320-360 degrees F. For making chewy caramel candies, this mixture will only be heated to 250 degrees F, which is known in candy making as “The Hard Ball Stage.” And yes, you do need a thermometer. You see, sugar goes through numerous stages of change when it is heated up. You do need to know how hot it is getting. A candy thermometer is a good investment! I promise.
So why shouldn’t you stir when making caramels or caramelizing sugar? It is important that you do not stir past the point when the sugar has melted. If you stir too much your sugar will begin to crystalize again and you won’t get that smooth syrup you are looking for. Trust me. I learned this the hard way.
I saw Giada make these caramels the other day and I HAD to make them. I had all of the ingredients on hand to make a vegan version and I just couldn’t get it out of my head until I tried them. She suggests just spraying the pan down and making them without liners, stating that they will easily pop out of the tins. But here is the thing about Giada. She is a liar. They most definitely do not just “pop right out of the tin.” Take my word, use foil liners. It will also make them less sticky to handle.
- mini muffin tin
- mini muffin liners
- candy thermometer
- ¾ cup smoked almonds, coarsely chopped
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup heavy cream OR soy creamer, room temperature
- ½ cup butter OR vegan butter, (such as earth balance), room temperature
- ½ TBSP water
- 4 oz dark chocolate (I used 72% Ghiradelli)
- Fill 12 mini muffin tins with mini muffin liners.
- Split up the almonds between the 12 muffin tins, placing them in the bottom of the liners.
- In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the brown sugar, soy cream, vegan butter, and water.
- Stir over medium-low heat until the mixture is smooth, and the sugar has melted. Stop stirring and allow the mixture to come to a boil. (keep on medium low heat unless the mixture is not boiling within a few minutes.)
- Without stirring, allow the mixture to bubble and cook until a candy thermometer registers 250 degrees F, about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Let the mixture cool for 30 seconds.
- Carefully spoon the caramel over the nuts.
- Allow the caramel to harden, at room temperature, for 1 hour.
- Put the chocolate in a small, microwave proof, bowl.
- Heat the chocolate in 20 second increments, stirring in between, until it is melted, smooth, and glossy.
- (Alternatively, you could melt the chocolate over a double boiler if you prefer)
- Spoon the chocolate over the caramel and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Serve straight out of the fridge if you prefer a harder caramel, or let soften at room temperature for at least 1 hour if you prefer a softer caramel.
- Store in an airtight container.