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Caramels and their relatives, toffees and taffies, are noncrystalline candies. Soft, buttery and chewy - caramels are widely popular candies made from a mixture of caramelized sugars (white or brown and corn syrup), butter and cream(and/or condensed milk). The mixture is then boiled to the Firm Ball Stage as measured with a Candy Thermometer. It is poured into a pan or molds to harden, resulting in a soft, pliable treat.
SARAH SAYS: Caramel and Butterscotch candy are made in similar ways to toffee, as is fudge. The difference is in the degree of boiling temperature and the ways in which they are cooled. Caramels have the highest moisture content, and are the softest of the noncrystalline candies. Toffees and taffies contain less butter and milk solids - taffies sometimes not at all.
Desirable quality characteristics for soft caramels:
- Appearance: smooth, glossy, evenly-colored.
- Consistency: soft-plastic, neither syrupy nor brittle.
- Texture: chewy, not excessively tough, not grainy.
- Flavor: mild, caramel-like, not burnt or off-flavor.
There are many variations found from caramels formed into lengths and cut into desired shapes, caramel apples and pecan logs to caramel and nut clusters, and they all have that incredible rich and deep caramel flavor. It comes from the milk ingredients or the protein molecules (an amino group) and reactions between these and the sugar syrups (the aldehyde group) during cooking, but they also include flavors(and their brown, caramel color) from the Maillard reactions. The process is still not fully understood by scientists.
NOTE: Caramelization is the thermal decomposition of sugar, when sugar or plain sugar syrup (sugar and water) are cooked to much higher temperatures until it turns brown and aromatic(caramelized). Colors can from golden to deep brown.
Caramels should be cooked slowly to allow the sugars and milk solids to caramelize; the longer and slower they are allowed to cook, the darker the color and stronger their flavor. The faster they are cooked, the lighter the color and flavor, and the likelihood they could scorch and have a burnt flavor.
SARAH SAYS: Occasionally, the caramel mixture will curdle while cooking. This is due to an excess of acid reacting with the milk. To fix this, add in a pinch of baking soda while the mixture is cooking, and prevent it in the future by making sure the mixture boils continuously.
When the caramel mixture reaches the right temperature, it becomes thick and glossy and requires constant stirring.
SARAH SAYS: If it reaches too high a temperature, add 1/2 cup hot water and stir until smooth. Continue cooking until the proper temperature is reached, again. Immediately remove from the heat.
When pouring out the cooked batch, do not scrape the bottom of the pan to get the excess caramel. Instead, scrap it into a separate dish and eat it separately. Scraping won't cause crystallization but because the last bits are cooked longer, they are usually tougher and will leave hard spots in your finished caramels.
Allow caramels to stand for 24 hours before cutting. This makes them less sticky and easier to cut, Store them in a cool place; not the refrigerator. Caramels easily absorb moisture from the air. Cut and wrap properly in cellophane type candy wrappers. They can be purchased from candy supply stores. Confectionary Twisting Wax Paper works well, too.
Cooking Caramel Candy for Caramel Apples
SARAH SAYS: If left on the heat, caramel will continue to cook and quickly change from pale amber to dark amber -- I counted 15 seconds! When you reach the desired color and temperature, immediately remove the caramel from both the heat and the pot, as it will continue to cook and turn dark brown.
From clear: When the sugar water mixture begins to boil it starts out as clear.
To pale amber: The mixture will thicken and change color. This could take as long as 40 minutes.
Then dark amber: The mixture very quickly turns from pale to dark amber. When this occurs, remove the pan from the heat and quickly transfer it to the water bath for 10 seconds to stop the cooking. (To clean the pan later, add some water and return it to the heat to soften the caramel.)
QUESTION: My apple stuck to the wax paper. How do I get it off without ruining the smooth caramel?
SARAH SAYS: Dampen your hands lightly. Try and lift the apple from the waxed paper from the bottom of the apple. Quickly, with your dampened hands, work the caramel into shape over the bottom of the apple, covering any thin spots. You can also cover any spots with drizzled chocolate. If the pooled caramel at the bottom of the apple bothers you, you can also use damped fingers to reshape the bottom.
QUESTION: Is there any other way I can decorate my caramel covered apples?
SARAH SAYS: After the caramel has completely set and cooled, you can cover the apples with drizzled chocolate. Melt 6-ounces semi-sweet and 6-ounces white chocolate chips, separately in top of double boiler above gently simmering water; remove from heat when almost melted and stir until smooth.
Dip tines of fork in chocolate and drizzle thin, random strips of chocolate over each caramel apple. Repeat melting and drizzling with semi-sweet and white chocolate. Sprinkle chocolate with chopped nuts or candy. Place apples on wax paper covered pan and let set about 1 hour.
If you wish to dip the caramel covered apples in real chocolate, I recommend tempering about 1 pound semi-sweet chocolate so it hardens properly. Let the caramel set first. Dip in tempered chocolate twice; let set between dippings. Let chocolate semi-set and then optionally coat in chopped and toasted nuts before the chocolate sets. After enrobing in chocolate, chill in the refrigerator for about 1/2 hour and then let set at room temperature.
QUESTION: I made a batch of caramel for my apples and the whole thing crystallized. Is there any way to save it?
SARAH SAYS: Once the crystals are there, even if you reheat it the batch is "seeded" so to speak and once it resets it will be grainy. Unfortunately there's nothing you can do.
QUESTION: I dipped my apple in the caramel and it immediately slid off the apple. What happened?
SARAH SAYS The temperature of the coating has a bearing on how well it clings to the apples. Melted caramel that is too thick will just slide off the apples. Warm it slightly over low heat. Be careful not to make it so hot that it simmers or boils because it burns easily.
If that doesn't help, you may need to stir in a 1/2 teaspoon or so of water (not cream) at a time and then warm it while stirring. Be careful that you don’t add too much liquid. If you do, the coating will be too thin, and will remain soft at room temperature, making the apple difficult to handle and eat.
SARAH SAYS: The reason you should thin your caramel with water and not cream is there's a possibility that it could separate if the mixture is close to being saturated with fat. Water is just safer in that regard, and serves the same purpose.
Make sure you also wash the apples and dry them thoroughly before dipping. Apple growers cover the apples in wax and if you don't remove it, the caramel can slide off the apples.
QUESTION: My caramel coating seems too thin. How can I fix it?
SARAH SAYS: If the coating is too thin, allow the mixture to cool slightly before continuing. Stirring helps cool the mixture faster.
QUESTION: I have a recipe to make caramel candy apples and it calls for heavy cream. Is it all right if I use whipping cream? Is it the same thing? Thanks for your help.
SARAH SAYS: Yes.
QUESTION Any tips on doubling or tripling the recipe?
SARAH SAYS: You can double or triple the recipe. The difficulty in dealing with larger quantities is that it'll take longer to cook and cool. Make sure you use a VERY deep and large pot and be very careful. Hot caramel is VERY dangerous and larger quantities are more so, especially when adding large quantities of cream and the mixture bubbles up and steam forms.
QUESTION: After the caramel has cooled in the pot can I reheat it again?
SARAH SAYS: Yes, you can reheat the caramel. Just make sure it doesn't burn. Reheat it in the top of a double boiler.
QUESTION: How far in advance can I make caramel apples and what's the best way to store them?
SARAH SAYS: Caramel apples keep for about 1 week, stored in an airtight container (without touching) at room temperature in a cool, DRY place. Do not wrap them tightly in plastic wrap because It'll be hard to peel away without making the caramel look marred. NEVER store them in the refrigerator. The high humidity will ruin the caramel.
QUESTION: Microwaving Caramel?
SARAH SAYS: The microwave is best used when making small quantities of caramel. Sure enough, it was fast and mess-free, but it was also far too easy to ruin. A few seconds can change the taste of the caramel completely, rendering it burnt and useless. Try using a clear glass bowl in a microwave oven and observe the change from golden liquid to amber syrup to ensure the caramel mixture heats evenly. However, I stand by the standard stove-top method for making regular quantities. The risk of overcooking outweighs the microwave's convenience.
QUESTION: I made a batch of caramels and poured the mixture into a buttered pan. When I tried to cut them into squares, I found the task exceedingly difficult. Should I have cut them before they were cooled or after?
SARAH SAYS: Cut them after they have cooled and set. If the recipe was correct, and then measured and cooked correctly, these should be easy to cut. Put another way, if they are too hard to cut, then something is wrong.
QUESTION: The caramels I made are too hard to bite into and they crack. Why is this happening and is there anything I can use them for?
SARAH SAYS: Make sure that you carefully measure the liquid in the recipe. Hard caramel is yummy in it's own right!
QUESTION: Why would caramels crystallize a week or so after they were made? They were OK when they were first made. What is causing this?
SARAH SAYS: Your caramel crystallizes because of the way in which it's being stored. They have to be stored airtight in a cool, dry place. The crystallization tells me the sugar crystals in the caramel are becoming damp from humidity from the refrigerator or being stored at room temperature and not in an airtight container. The sugar in caramels attracts water and it's certainly doing its job!!
QUESTION: I live in Phoenix, Arizona where the altitude is 1,117 feet. To what degree would I cook my caramel?
SARAH SAYS: This altitude is not high enough to be of any concern. In any case, cook the syrup until the color is right, and don't worry about the temperature.
QUESTION: I made a batch of caramels and the whole thing crystallized. Is there any way to reheat this pan of crystal to try and save it??
SARAH SAYS: No. Unfortunately, it's ruined. Next time, resist all temptation to stir!
QUESTION: My caramels are too soft and don't hold their shape. Can I save them?
SARAH SAYS: Yes. Place the mixture back on the heat and reboil.
QUESTION: I've read that recipes for cooked candy, such as caramels, should not be doubled as larger batches will supposedly not set, even when cooked to the proper temperature. Why is this?
SARAH SAYS: This is a myth, and simply not true. Almost any recipe can be doubled, tripled, quadrupled, etc., and this one is no exception. In fact, commercial candy makers routinely make successful recipes just like this one, and they work in quantities hundreds of times greater than those here. However, if you more than double the recipe, it's wise to weigh the ingredients because it's more accurate.
One thing to note, however, doubling the amount of water only doubles the cooking time, which is unnecessary. The water is basically cooked off anyway, right? So if you do want to double the recipe, it's only necessary to increase the water to, say, 1 1/2 cups. Use just enough water to ensure that the starting sugar/water mixture is not too thick and sandy to begin with. Also, be sure to increase the size of both the pan that you cook the syrup in and the pan that you mold the caramel in!!
Note: Remember your math. It's an 8X16 pan (if such a thing exists), and *NOT* a 16x16 pan that is double the size of an 8x8 pan. Think of an 8x16 pan as two 8x8 pans side-by-side. In other words, do not get a pan that is double the size in both width *and* length. A 16X16 inch pan is *four* times the size of an 8X8! Best thing to do: Use two 8x8 pans and carefully pour half the finished syrup in one and half in the other.