Wednesday, June 16, 2010
I was recently browsing a specialty foods store when I spotted some very unusual caramels. I was instantly a fan of the salty pretzel and sweet caramel idea, but to infuse the whole mix with beer? Was this crazy talk or the best idea ever? I'm always up for trying innovative treats, and it wasn't long before I was standing over a boiling pot of ale-infused caramel in my own kitchen.
After a little trial and error I finally came up with a soft, chewy caramel that is easy to make and eat (it won't stick to your teeth). It's salty and sweet, and has a distinctive ale flavor that melds perfectly with the caramel. Very, very YUMMY!
I made the caramels in two different shapes, and both batches went into silicone pans. I've never loved silicone for baking, but I own a few specifically for candy-making. I made square caramels in the Wilton Brownie Squares silicone pan, and the rest of the caramel was poured into a 9x9 square silicone pan.
This recipe uses an entire 12 oz. bottle of ale. One part ale goes into the main caramel mixture, and the other part is what gives it an extra kick of brown (or pale) ale flavor. Instead of using vanilla extract as a flavoring, one cup of ale is reduced on the stove-top until it is concentrated and a little syrupy. It is then added to the bubbling hot caramel right before it is removed from the stove-top.
When I make these again I'll probably use the pretzel rods (per recipe below) versus the broken pretzel sticks I used in the square caramels. I like how the finished caramels look, and the texture is just right. The recipe is really simple, but use care when handling the hot napalm-like caramel. It stays scalding-hot for a long while.
One thing you must know about soft caramels: they must be wrapped! If left to their own devices they will relax into little misshapen blobs. Of course they'll still be yummy, but not as cute. Wax paper works great for wrapping and it is a good kitchen staple to keep on hand anyway.
Here's something else that might go well with beer and pretzels. It's the bromance happening between the new dog and Hubby. We think a male must have provided whatever small amount of care he received prior to his fostering. He loooves Marcus, and I'm just a weensy bit jealous. He still sleeps a lot and I can never seem to get a picture of him upright!
We tried on lots of names for him; Rocky, Remi, Rugelach: (which was a fave of mine) all the names that were kindly suggested...only to settle on one of the first names we picked, Churro. I may have to do a churro post in his honor! Thank you so much for your suggestions.
Ale and Pretzel Soft Caramels [click for printable recipe]
Yield: 75+ caramels
1 12 oz. bottle of brown or pale ale, divided
2 cups sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup light corn syrup
1 8 oz. package pretzel rods (can use pretzel sticks too)
1 roll of wax paper
In a small saucepan bring 1 cup of ale to a simmer and cook until reduced and syrupy. This will take about 20 minutes and yield about 1 tsp. of concentrated ale flavoring. Set aside.
Butter a 13 x 9 inch pan or 2 -9x9 inch pans and set aside. Combine remaining beer and all other ingredients except ale reduction in a heavy 4-5 quart pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Butter will melt and mixture will begin to boil.
Continue to cook until candy thermometer reaches 244 degrees, this will take about 30 minutes. You can test your caramel in a bowl of ice water to check the consistency. It should form a firm ball.
When the correct temperature has been reached, stir in the ale reduction and remove from heat. Pour into prepared pan(s) and top with pretzel rods. Let cool for several hours or place in fridge until firm. Remove caramel block from pan and turn pretzel-side up on a cutting board (if refrigerated, let caramel block warm up a little for easier cutting). Cut between pretzels and then into 1" pieces. Cut wax paper into approx. 5 x 5 inch squares and wrap caramels.
NOTES: Caramels must be wrapped or they will lose their shape over time. Use silicone pans for easy removal.