Pop quiz for those who dine about town. What do the following items have in common?
A. All six appeared on episodes of IFC’s Portlandia.
B. These items have jumped the shark after showing up on far too many menus everywhere.
C. These items are gluten free.
D. Answers B and C are correct.
E. None of the above.
If you answered “D,” you win. As a prize, I offer a recipe for sea salt caramels from America's Test Kitchen, which features a handy instructional video. Sure, salted caramel desserts and ice creams are ubiquitous. But this is not always a bad thing. Wrapped up in wax paper, caramels make the perfect holiday treat. My caramels, sprinkled with a mix of flaked sea salt and smoked sea salt, are headed next door to my neighbor. (Smoked sea salt has a more intense salty flavor.) Took just 20 minutes to prepare. After firming up in the refrigerator for an hour, my buttery, tooth decay-inducing caramels were ready to slice and eat.
America's Test Kitchen Salted Caramels (Makes about 50 caramels)
1 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp. pure vanilla bean paste)
1 cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces
2 teaspoons fleur de sel or flake sea salt (or smoked sea salt)
¼ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup water
1⅓ cups (9⅓ ounces) sugar
1. Cut vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Using tip of paring knife, scrape out seeds. Combine seeds, cream, butter, and 1 tsp. salt in saucepan over medium heat. Bring to boil, cover, remove from heat, and let steep for 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, prepare 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper. Fold 2 long sheets of parchment paper so each is 8 inches wide. Lay sheets of parchment in pan perpendicular to each other, with extra parchment hanging over edges of pan. (Check out the video.) I didn't grease parchment; don't think this is necessary since paper comes right off.
3. Combine corn syrup and water in a large saucepan. Pour sugar into the center of pan (try not to let sugar hit the sides of the pan to prevent sugar from burning). Bring to boil over medium-high heat, and cook, without stirring, until sugar has dissolved completely and syrup has faint golden color and registers 300 degrees, 7 to 9 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook, gently swirling pan (or stir occasionally with a wooden spoon), until mixture is amber colored and registers 350 degrees, 2 to 3 minutes.
4. Off heat, carefully stir in cream mixture (be careful; mixture will foam and rise). Return mixture to medium-high heat, and cook, stirring frequently, until caramel reaches 248 degrees, about 5 minutes.
5. Carefully transfer caramel to prepared baking pan. Using greased rubber spatula, smooth surface of caramel, and let cool for 10 minutes (grease spatula for easy clean-up; otherwise caramel sticks to it and immediately hardens). Sprinkle caramel with remaining teaspoon fleur de sel and then let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Transfer to refrigerator and chill until caramel is completely solid and cold to touch, about 1 hour.
6. Lift parchment out of baking pan and place on cutting board. Peel off parchment. Cut caramel into ¾-inch-wide strips and then crosswise into ¾-inch pieces. Individually wrap pieces in waxed-paper squares, twisting ends of paper to close. (If not individually wrapped, caramels stick together.) Caramels can be refrigerated for up to 3 weeks.