If given the opportunity to eat anything I wanted, the list of my top choices would look something like this: kettle chips/french fries, and anything with sugar in it. There are a very few things, like caramel popcorn, that satisfy both of these cravings in one bite, which really saves me the trouble of needing to eat two snacks at once (which, of course, I never do…) These little caramels are sweet, salty, and creamy, and oh so irresistible. The original recipe, from Chow, calls for dipping the finished caramels in bittersweet chocolate, although I love the “naked” sea salt caramels just as much.
These caramels are fairly simple to make, and require only a little stirring and thermometer-watching. This recipe makes 90-100 half-inch pieces of caramel goodness. As with any candy recipe, be sure to calibrate your thermometer beforehand to avoid under or over-heating the caramel mix.
Chocolate Covered Sea Salt Caramels – makes 90-100
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick), cut into pieces and at room temperature, plus more for coating the pan
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 1/2 teaspoons fleur de sel or other coarse sea salt. I used sea salt and crushed it with a wide knife blade so the pieces weren’t so large.
1 1/2 pounds (24 ounces) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
Line an 8×8 pan with lightly buttered parchment paper. Place the cream in a medium-large saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add sugars and corn syrup and return to a low boil, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved. Cook over medium heat until the mixture reaches 255 F. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla and butter, plus 2 1/2 teaspoons of the salt (or more, to taste.) Let the caramels sit overnight, or until firm. Cut the caramels into 1/2″ pieces and either wrap in waxed paper if you want to eat them as-is, or coat in chocolate.
If you want to dip them in chocolate, be warned that it’s a bit messy, but totally worth it. If you are particular about how hard the chocolate sets and how shiny it is, tempering the chocolate is an attention-intensive (say that three times fast) process which the original recipe recommends for the best results. I didn’t have the patience, plus holding a thermometer in chocolate, while stirring it in a makeshift double boiler, required more hands than I have; so I can’t comment on how much of a difference it makes. I just did what I’ve always done: melt the chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler until just melted (be careful not to overheat or it will not set properly), let cool a bit, and then coat the caramels. I found that a fork worked great: once the caramels are coated, lift them out of the chocolate and shake the fork a bit to even out the chocolate and get rid of any excess. Using a knife or another fork, gently ease the caramels onto a sheet of waxed or parchment paper. Before the chocolate sets completely, sprinkle the caramels with the remaining sea salt (this really helps cut the added sweetness of the chocolate). These will keep in an airtight container for up to a week (longer in the refrigerator), but good luck making them last that long!