Honey and Sea Salt Caramels
I've been in Hong Kong for a couple of days and it has been a complete whirlwind - but of course you don't make a trip to the true city that never sleeps expecting a leisurely vacation!
Every time I return to Hong Kong there appear to be about fifty new high rises, sprouting magic beanstalk-like out of the cityscape; about a million more people navigating the streets, subways, and stores with a speed and efficiency rivaling the human circulatory system; and oh, I don't know, about several million more feet of neon everywhere.
I do love it here, and the fact that Hong Kong celebrates the holidays with such visual panache and culinary gusto almost makes up for my abbreviated Christmas baking season this year. It's hard to feel pastry-deprived when the streets are almost literally lined with bakeries and gourmet stores selling everything from French pâtisserie to traditional Chinese sweets to European chocolates.
One thing I haven't seen yet, though, are fresh, honey-sweet, buttery-fragrant caramels like the ones that have been sweeping through the blogosphere this year, and that I made before I left on vacation. Cut into individual pieces, sprinkled with Hawaiian sea salt in a festive red, and wrapped in wax paper, they are the perfect treat to scatter across the holiday party table.
These caramels are adapted from Alice Medrich's recipe for honey caramels in Pure Dessert, which makes more than enough for you to squirrel a few away for personal indulging after giving out the rest. Although the recipe calls for corn syrup, this is mainly to help keep the caramels soft and pliable instead of turning hard and brittle, and you can eliminate it if you wish. Medrich suggests trying different honeys with this recipe; I like lavender or wildflower. If you are using a light, sweet honey, you can reduce the sugar by a third of a cup - I like to let the honey flavor come through without being overwhelmingly sweet. Also, be sure you get the caramel to at least 250 degrees, which is hard ball stage - otherwise, the resulting caramels may not set up and will be too soft to cut properly. If you find your caramel is still too soft after letting it set up, you can dump it back into the pot and heat it up again - a great little save. Try cooking it to a few degrees higher to make sure it sets up firmer.
I hope all of you are enjoying the holidays - even though my oven isn't on, I'm still enjoying myself!
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 (200 g) 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.