The Chocolate Life

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I finally took a shot at caramels yesterday. For staters, I like to cook as a hobby, I like chocolate but I haven't done much by way of candy making. I bake with chocolate frequently bu don't have much candy making experience other than the occasional batch of toffee or brittle (which usually turn out fairly well). I bought Greweling's book as a starting point and yesterday was my first attempt so I decided to start with one of my favorites to eat (caramels) and something that looked relatively easy to make (the sweetened condensed milk version of the soft caramel recipe). Here's the good and the bad:

Good: Flavor was great!! I had planned to try all 3 soft caramel recipes in the book but now it's hard to imagine any of the others tasting better than these.

Color was good. I was a little worried here because the photo example in the book looked very pale. These had a nice deep, dark, brown, well . . . caramel, color. No complaints.

Bad: Way too soft! I poured them in a frame on a marble slab to cool. After slicing with a chefs knife, the sections would not hold their shape very well at all. Left them on the slab overnight and the sections had "melted" back together in a solid block although you could still see the lines made by the knife.

Bottom line is that these taste great but are way too soft to dip, IMO. I cooked them to 243 degrees, should I try going a little higher? Also, how sensitive is caramel to weather? It's unseasonably warm here (80 degrees today, nearly that yesterday). Do I need to cool the room? I know I do for tempering chocolate, not sure about making caramel. 

All comments, questions, and suggestions appreciated.

Thanks,

Walt

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That sounds perfect to me. Cool the caramel in a large bowl and scoop out bits and dip.  That way when the chocolate hardens the inside will be gooey instead of chewy, which is my preference. Care to share any of those caramel recipes?

The moisture after cook has a huge affect on texture.  Try a few degrees higher, maybe 245F.  There are other things you can do with recipe to control the cold flow, but moisture is the easiest.  Unless the caramel is very firm, it'll mend back if left as is after you cut, so cut just before you enrobe. 

I find I need to cook caramel to 250 F to get a firm but still chewy texture. 248 F and its to soft to hold its shape when dipping, 252 F and its getting pretty hard. I'm working at 5000 ft. elevation with (usually) low humidity, which may have an effect.

Thanks for the replies. I've made another batch since I first posted. I cooked it to 245 and the results were similar (maybe even a little bit softer) which makes me think the problem is more environmental since it was warm and humid both days. I may try a batch later this week since we're finally due for some cooler, drier air. My initial plan was to fine tune the texture before I started trying to dip them but it sounds like that may not be the way to go. Does dipping make them hold their shape better?

Are you sure your thermometer is accurate? Test it in boiling water. I can never find reliable therms, even fresh out of the package. I use them as guidelines only, I rely on the cold water test - have a bowl of cold water in the fridge, drop a small amount of the cooking candy in when you think it's close to done, after a minute in the water the candy is the consistency that it will cool to if you stop cooking now. The thermometer tells me when to start testing, but I never trust it to tell me when the caramel's actually done to my preference. After they're cooled and cut up, I refrigerate til dipping time and they are firm and easy to use. Hang in there, every good candy maker has thrown away a good many batches of caramels!!

-Amy

This is just my opinion & I don't know about everyone else, but I've never thrown out a batch of caramel, if it's too soft try cooking it again, it works. Mix some nuts in it to make it firmer, then dip it, give it out as samples, but don't throw it out or you'll never make any money in this business. Everybody makes mistakes but what you do with the mistakes could be the difference between making it and not making it.

Like I said just my opinion.

Christopher -

A great observation. "Rework" is an overlooked skill.

I'm all with you on not wasting, believe me - I live off-grid and milk the goats on cold winter mornings to get the dairy for my candies so I treasure every ingredient and every watt! But my caramels have never come out too soft - three times too hard. The first time I tried to suffer through them and my husband broke a tooth! This was a very expensive effort at thrift. Rework is valuable, but knowing when to quit is as well ;)

You can rework them even when too firm. You just cooked out too much water, so add water and recook. It takes a while to get the caramel back in solution. I found the easiest way is to put in the oven. In a few hours, it is in solution and ready to cook again. My mantra has always been "There are no mistakes in candy making---just rename it". I use that when all else fails:-)

I calibrated my thermometer and it boils around 214.5 so it looks like I need to add a few degrees to reach my target temp. I like the texture of my last batch so it seems my problem now is getting the cooled frame of caramel cut into even pieces with straight edges and having them hold their shape before and after dipping. So far I've been cutting by using a chefs knife and two of my half-inch frame bars side by side to make a 1" guide for the knife. The problem is the pressure required for the knife starts to deform the caramel and I want nice, perfectly square cubes. I read on another thread that some chill their cooled frame of caramel in the freezer before cutting in order to firm it up. Any other cutting tips, anyone? Thanks again for all of the help and encouragement. And for the record, I have yet to throw away a batch (perish the thought!). I top them with chopped pecans and some Callebaut callets and munch away. Low marks for visual appeal but they're darn tasty! :-)

contact Hilliards for caramel knife....basically it's a rolling pin with knife blades. you can place ice packs on your slab surrounding the caramel to help cool it before cutting & dipping. and caramel that is cooked too fast will have more moisture therefor much softer than a batch cooked slowly to same temp. making confections consistantly equal is an art form. good luck.

You can also pour the hot caramel into silicon molds. There are a number of people who do this - saw  it in mass production when I was in Seattle in October - and while it's expensive in terms of up-front investment, the labor savings is tremendous. You can put the molds right on top of your marble slab or water-cooled table.

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