My last post about Chicago was intended to be reminiscent about food but as I typed, the story took on a life of it's own and I decided to let it stay that way. So today it's back to the business of food.
I was indeed thinking about my trip to Chicago that day but specifically about my and Toni's experience at oENOlogy. If you took the experience and picked it apart piece by piece then yes, it was a bit pricey for what we got. Toni had a total of 15 ounces of wine and I had 10 ounces, 1-1/2 ounces of cheese each, about the same amount of charcuterie each, and 3 pieces of chocolate for each of us for a grand total of $136, not including tip. Sheesh! That's almost my grocery bill for the entire week.
But sometimes it's best to focus on the big picture and not the minute details, I tell myself. We enjoyed the atmosphere, we enjoyed each other's company, and we enjoyed the experience as a whole. I, myself, particularly enjoyed the chocolate flights called "The Devil Wears Chocolate" and "Cocoa Cabana." We cut each piece in half so we could share and we took our slow, sweet time tasting each piece. As I savored the chewy, rich piece of chocolate covered caramel with sea salt, it brought to mind a blog post by Anita of Dessert First for Honey and Sea Salt Caramels that I bookmarked some time ago. I knew that very soon after I returned home from vacation it would be at the top of my list of things to try.
Caramel is one of my favorite things - I love it as a smooth, warm drizzle over ice cream or eaten straight from the jar with a spoon, and of course caramel popcorn from the now defunct Caramel Corn snack shops that used to fill our shopping malls with sweet smelling aromas (more nostalgia here). Having never made caramel candy before, Anita's adapted recipe was perfect for a novice. It required very few ingredients - ones that are staples in any well-stocked pantry - and the technique was fairly simple. The most difficult part of the recipe was the amount of patience it required waiting for the candy to reach the proper temperature for each cooking stage. I have ZERO patience when it comes to...anything, really, so it was hard for me not to get impatient while waiting for the candy to reach temp. I thought it should happen in like a minute or two, but as it started heading into more like 5 minutes, 10 minutes, infinity...well, I hurried the first batch and it didn't set up quite like it should have.
Anita gives a great tip that if your caramel doesn't set up then you can reheat it to the proper temp for a quick save. In my effort to hurry my caramel along to the proper stage, I kept increasing the temperature and in the end could taste a faint hint of "burnt" in my candy so I chose not to reheat for a save. It didn't taste entirely bad so I just poured it into a bowl and deemed it fit for ice cream topping.
After a couple of deep breaths and a few yoga-like moves, I approached my second batch of candy with a clear conscience and renewed patience. Once my caramel reached the proper temperature (and without monkeying with the heat source), I let it sit there for just another minute or so. It was hard to do, but well worth it... my caramel set up perfectly! And after exercising even more patience by letting it sit on my counter for a full day to cool and set up, I was rewarded with a buttery smooth confection and the little extra sprinkle of sea salt on the top gave it just the right combination of sweet and salty. The only thing that would have made this (much less expensive) trip down memory lane more perfect would have been a glass of the 2006 Valter Barbero "Serena" wine.
Head on over to Dessert First and see what it's all about!
Honey Butter Caramels with Sea Salt
adapted from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert
makes about 80 caramels
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup honey
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
3 Tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces, room temperature
Line the bottom and sides of an 8 or 9 in baking pan with foil or parchment paper. Let the sides of the foil or parchment hang over the sides of the pan; this will make it easier to remove the caramels.
In a large saucepan (use at least a 3 quart saucepan, as the boiling caramel will increase in volume), combine the corn syrup, honey, sugar, and sea salt, and bring to a boil. Let the mixture continue cooking until it reaches 305 degrees F.
Meanwhile, place the cream in a small saucepan and warm on the stove until it is just at a simmer. Turn off the heat and cover the saucepan to keep the cream warm (you do not want to add cold cream to the hot caramel or it will seize up and harden.)
When the caramel is at the right temperature, take it off the heat and add in the butter, stirring until it is melted and combined.
Add in the cream slowly - when you pour it in it will bubble up violently, so don't add the cream all at once or it might overflow. When you have added all the cream, stir the mixture until combined.
Return the saucepan to the stove and cook on medium heat until it reaches 250 degrees F.
Pour the caramel into the prepared pan. Let it set overnight before removing and cutting into individual pieces.