Because of the number of hours I worked right up until Christmas was upon us, I didn't get to do anything fun like make Christmas cookies. So after the flurry of opening presents was over, I decided to do a little cooking. And since it seemed like cookies were a little bit of a late idea (Santa had already come!), I decided to try something I had never done - homemade caramels. I had read about a shop in California that supposedly has the best caramels in the country, Little Flower Candy Co., and I scoured the internet for information on how the owner makes them. While the recipe is not available, the owner does drop hints here and there, and after matching these items up with the recipes available, I found that Ina's comes the closest that I have found. Tweaked very slightly further, and I got an amazing caramel that is chewy but not sticky, with a deep caramel flavor offset perfectly by the salt. Amazing.
Note: I used an expensive, very high butterfat butter (Buerremont 83%) in this recipe, and I highly suggest you do the same and use the best butter that you can source. After all, butter makes up a significant chunk of the ingredients in this candy. Garbage in = garbage out.
Vanilla Bean Fleur de Sel Caramels
Adapted from Ina Garten
1½ cups granulated sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for the pan
1 teaspoon fine fleur de sel, plus extra for sprinkling
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, allowing it to drape over 2 sides, then brush the paper lightly with oil.
In a deep saucepan, combine ¼ cup water, the sugar and corn syrup and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil until the mixture is a warm golden brown. Don't stir -- just swirl the pan.
In the meantime, in a small pot, bring the cream, butter and 1 teaspoon of fleur de sel to a simmer over medium heat. Turn off the heat and set aside.
When the sugar mixture is done, turn off the heat and slowly add the cream mixture to the sugar mixture. Be careful -- it will bubble up violently. Stir in the vanilla bean paste with a wooden spoon and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until the mixture reaches 248°F (firm ball) on a candy thermometer. Very carefully (it's hot!) pour the caramel into the prepared pan and refrigerate for a few hours, until firm.
When the caramel is cold, pry the sheet from the pan onto a cutting board. Cut the square into bite size pieces. It's easier to cut the caramels if you brush the knife with flavorless oil like corn oil. Sprinkle each piece with fleur de sel.
Cut glassine or parchment paper into 4x5-inch pieces and wrap each caramel individually, twisting the ends. Store in the refrigerator and serve the caramels chilled.
Makes approximately 100 pieces