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Has anyone tried adding liquor to a batch of caramel?  I'm thinking of Christmas (can't believe I'm thinking about it already) and adding rum as well as spices for a "hot buttered rum" type caramel.  In my experimenting, I'm getting some crystallization (I'm a novice, so I think that's what it's called) around the edges of the batch: sides and bottom.  I've thought that liquor would work in caramels and toffees, etc., as long as they didn't have sugar of their own in them, like I think Kahlua would, for example.

Does anyone have experience or thoughts on this?

Thanks!

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Alcohol reduces the solubility of sugar.  If your control's combined recipe and texture had your caramel on the edge of graining (crystallization) the alcohol can take you over that edge.  To compensate you can reduce the sucrose, and increase the doctors (glucose syrups, etc.).  Another option would be to control the crystallization, getting it to grain in much smaller crystals, done through technique.  However this will start to shorten the texture.

Mark,

Your insight is very helpful. I never knew that about Alcohol. Understanding and controlling how caramel crystallizes is so important. During the summer, I find that is when I have the most problems with crystallization. Do you know if Sorbitol will help? What about Lecithin? I add a bit of lemon juice to my recipe. I also add a good amount of glucose. Thanks again for your contributions.

Daniel

I'm no chemist, but my husband told me that alcohol is all some sort of fermented sugar, and presumably that is why the adjustments need to be made as Mark has said.  My caramel tasted sooooo good, but I don't know how to adjust formulas, so I guess I'll have to skip it.  

We routinely use combinations of caramel and alcohol - and the easiest way we have found to use it is to add the alcohol AFTER the caramel is made and after cooling if using a soft caramel (we add it to the piping bag itself with the caramel and massage to combine).  Crystallization has already occurred in the caramel itself, so the alcohol does not affect the caramel batch.  Adding after the fact does affect the viscosity of the caramel, so if we are going for a specific consistency we will cook the caramel slightly longer (take it to a few degrees more) to thicken the output prior to adding in the alcohol.  If adding the alcohol to a toffee/sugar candy, we add it just after taking it off the heat.  This limits the effects on crystallization.  Note that we only use the wet method of caramel making, as it is easier to control the output at our altitude and humidity levels (we had to adjust sugar temps for soft stage etc due to being a mile above sea level and almost no humidity). 

what effects does no humidity have on caramel and crystallization?

To answer this, I need to clarify where and how I have worked with sugar.  There have been two types of locations: sea-level at reasonable humidity rates (50-100%), and high altitude (5500 ft +) at low humidity rates (less than 15%) and at reasonable humidity rates (50%+).  I would love to try working sugar in a low humidity/low altitude location, I just haven't been in the right place at the right time to try it.  Based upon these different locations, here is what I have experienced:

From a crystallization point of view, I have not seen much difference in avoiding crystallization at different humidity levels.  The techniques to avoid crystallization (use of glucose in the recipe, careful when agitating, etc) are the same.  I have seen a difference in timing and temperature due to humidity and altitude changes to reach a desired caramel/sugar consistency, however.

For instance, when working at my current altitude versus sea level, and at low humidity levels, I reduce the temperature to which I cook the sugar solution by 8-10 degrees versus what I would do at sea level at higher humidity.  If it is humid here (which is sometimes is during monsoon season), I only reduce the temperature by about 4-6 degrees.  This indicates that both factors are a component.  As a specific example, right now at 10-15% humidity and 5500 feet in altitude, if I want a soft ball stage caramel I will cook it to 228-230 degrees F.  In July or August here the humidity will jump to 80-100%, and I will cook the same recipe to 232-234 degrees to hit the same viscosity.  At sea-level, I would have taken the recipe to 238 degrees to hit the same.  This convention (come across by great trial and error), holds true for any of our sugar based confections: fondant, caramel, toffees, nougats, pulling sugar, etc.  We hit the standard sugar stages at lower temps at low humidity levels.  My assumption for the reason for this is that at lower humidity rates and higher altitudes the rate at which the water evaporates from the supersaturated solution is higher at each degree of temperature than at higher humidity levels, meaning that we are losing water from the caramel at a faster rate and reaching the appropriate water/sugar ratio for a given stage earlier.  Note that this is merely conjecture, but it is what I am seeing in practice.

Back to the question of alcohol, upon reflection, every once in a while I will add alcohol (particularly a wine that may have residual sugars and adversely impact the desired flavor of the caramel) during the cooking stage, but only after the solution has come to a boil.  I have not had any crystallization issues with this, although it does seem to also speed up the stage levels but I have not experimented enough to come up with a quantified effect.

Thanks very much for this thoughtful response. Now that our weather is very cold and conditions are very dry, I noticed that my caramel is setting up at lower temperatures. I now know why. Thank you for the insight!

What about Caramels using Beer? These days it is popular to flavor caramel with beer. To create a caramel candy, When should one add the beer to the recipe? Should one reduce it separately and cook the alcohol off first?  I create a soft caramel, but one that we cut and then enrobe. 

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