13 April 2006

New Mexico Caramels go to Piedmont

Posted in candy making, food at 11:57 pm by Tricia

I’ve made Nancy Baggett’s caramels three times now, with quite a bit of modifications this time around, so I feel justified in posting the recipe for my latest version.

For those of you who weren’t paying attention during the Olympics, gianduja is a concoction of hazelnuts and chocolate – think Nutella, only solid. In the Piedmont region of Italy, it is quite a specialty.

My inspiration came when I decided to compare-taste some of the varieties of Callebaut chocolate available in chunk form at my local bulk food store. They sell unsweetened, bittersweet (70% cocoa solids), semi-sweet (55%), milk chocolate, and the gianduja. (I prefer the semi-sweet to the bittersweet, but that’s neither here nor there for the purposes of this discussion!) Then a few weeks later, I noticed hazelnuts at Trader Joe’s, and decided to combine the two in a new batch of caramels. Since toasting the pecans was an improvement in the second batch of caramels, I decided to toast the hazelnuts as well. I use fewer nuts than she calls for (about 1 cup, instead of 2.5) because the littles in the family aren’t always crazy about nuts. (Then again, maybe I should use more so I don’t have to share!) This time I used half-and-half instead of whipping cream (the latter is so expensive!), and I don’t think the final result was adversely affected.

Hazelnut Caramels, dipped in Gianduja Chocolate

Ingredients:
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup dark corn syrup
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups half-and-half (or cream if you prefer)
1 Tab vanilla extract, combined with 1 Tab hot water
1+ cups chopped toasted hazelnuts [optional]
8 oz gianduja chocolate (as much as 1 lb would have been better)

Directions:

  1. Line a 9×13 baking dish with aluminum foil, draping over 2 sides. Grease the foil or coat with cooking spray. Set on a wire rack.
  2. In a heavy, nonreactive 6-quart pot, thoroughly stir together the sugars, corn syrup, butter, and salt. Stir in the cream until the sugars dissolve. Bring to a boil over med-high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.
  3. Adjust the heat so the mixture boils briskly. Insert candy thermometer. Continue boiling briskly, occasionally gently stirring and scraping the pot bottom, until the mixture thickens and darkens somewhat, 8 to 9 minutes.
  4. Reduce the heat somewhat and continue boiling, gently stirring and scraping to avoid scorching, until the caramel reaches 247 degrees F (soft ball stage). Note: temperature may rise rapidly at the end.
  5. Immediately remove from heat. Gently stir in the vanilla mixture and the nuts (if using), just until evenly distributed.
  6. Carefully pour the caramel into the baking dish. (She writes “do not scrape out the pot”, but I always do – can’t bear any caramelly goodness to go to waste!)
    My notes indicate this process took 45 minutes total, although I’m not sure where all the time comes from (n to initial boil, 9 minutes in step 3, 15 minutes more to get to soft ball – where are the other 15?).
  7. After cooling (at least 1.5 hours), cut into 1 inch squares and dip into chocolate if desired.

Baggett gives very detailed directions on how to melt and temper the chocolate for dipping. Her precise details comes in very handy the first few times you try this recipe, but basically it boils down to: melt chocolate (with a little flavorless vegetable oil), dip caramels in chocolate, let it set up and then enjoy. One handy tip is that she reserves some of the chocolate to stir into that which is melted, to help cool it off. (For all I know, that’s standard practice!) She also calls for much more chocolate – 2.5 pounds! – but we’ve never needed that much.

My caramels were about half an inch thick – they seemed thinner than previous attempts. Perhaps I used fewer nuts? or perhaps it’s my poor memory? Next time I might try a smaller pan.

So how do we like them? No one objected to the ‘new’ nut flavor or the different chocolate – the boys might even prefer it this way, without dark chocolate. Personally, I consider it a fabulous combination – the flavors of caramel and chocolate really meld together well. One objection we had to previous attempts was that the dark chocolate was so distinctly contrasting with the caramel. Dark chocolate has its place, too, don’t get me wrong! I think a dynamite combination would be two batches of caramels, some in gianduja and some in a dark chocolate.

On the down side, the gianduja never really firmed up entirely. I’m not sure if that’s a characteristic of the chocolate (before melting, it was much more soft than typical chocolate) or if that means I did something wrong in the ‘tempering’. No matter, the fridge takes care of that problem!

Footnote: I already had this idea before reading this review of Sahagun chocolates over at Candy Blog, but her review only reinforced my notion that it would be a worthwhile venture.

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