Sunday, March 3, 2013

Salted Pumpkin Caramels

With so much pumpkin in the freezer (32 more cups!), I'm constantly on the prowl for yummy ways to use it; this recipe looked just fantastic. Fortunately, that draining trick cuts the quantity down almost to half. I wish I'd drained the pumpkin before freezing it, since I know now the freezer space is taken up by a lot of water. C'est la vie. The pumpkin I used in this recipe is what was left from the drained pumpkin that didn't go into the cheesecake.

Salted Pumpkin Caramels
adapted from The Tart Tart and Food 52
click to print

1/2 c raw, unsalted pepitas
1 1/2 c heavy cream
2/3 c pumpkin puree, drained
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
2 c sugar
1/2 c light corn syrup
1/3 c maple syrup
1/4 c water
4 tbsp unsalted butter, cut in chunks
1 tsp lemon juice
3/4 tsp sea salt

Line the bottom and the sides of a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper. Butter the parchment bottom and sides.

I found it was easiest to line the pan, crease the parchment to give the shape I needed, then remove the parchment, butter it, and return it to the pan.

Toast the pepitas in a large skillet over medium heat, tossing occasionally, until they begin to pop. Cool.

Spread the pepitas evenly on the parchment lined pan.

In a small saucepan, combine heavy cream, pumpkin puree, and spice. Warm the cream mixture over medium heat until heated through but not boiling. Set aside.

In a larger heavy bottomed saucepan, with sides at least 4 inches high, combine the sugar, corn syrup, maple syrup, and water. Stir over medium heat until the sugars are melted.

Allow the mixture to boil until it reaches 244°F, stirring occasionally.

How it looks at about 180°F, 220°F, and 244°F, respectively. It took about 7 minutes to go from 180 to 244°F; about 11 minutes total from the time the sugar is dissolved.

Very carefully, slowly add the cream mixture. Expect the boil to become a furious uproarious event once the first drop of cream is added.

Stir the mixture occasionally until it reaches 230°F and then continuously until it reaches 240°F.

About 230°F and 240°F, respectively. The last 10 degrees goes quickly, in about 5 minutes. From the time the cream is added until 240°F is reached took about 18 minutes.

Remove the saucepan from heat and stir in the butter and lemon juice. Stir vigorously so that the butter is fully incorporated.

Stirred for 2.5 minutes.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.

Let cool 30 minutes, then sprinkle the salt on top.

Let the caramels fully set (at least 2 hours) before cutting them into 1-inch squares with a sharp knife. Wrap in wax paper.

Okay, so they were really soft and sticky. Caramel stuck to the knife. So I made it a point to rinse the knife under hot water, wipe dry, and then cut. I did this for each of the 14 cuts.

Transfer each caramel to a mini liner.

Wow, these are soft, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth excellence! The finishing salt is a must! It is so freaking good I can't even believe it, very subtly contradicting the sweetness of the candy. Considering the role the salt plays here, I'm now open to trying salted chocolate chip cookies. Previously I thought that'd be a little over the top (seriously, aren't chocolate chip cookies divine already?), but wow, this has opened my eyes to the possibilities.

Anyway, the caramels are simple to prepare. About as easy as fudge. The majority of the time is spent either waiting or stirring. You should be aware that the cream mixture, when added to the sugar mixture will sputter and boil like crazy momentarily. Add the cream s l o w l y. I did it a scoop at a time at first, until the temperature became more stable, and then I poured the remaining cream in while stirring constantly.

It is critical that you don't get lazy and wander around while you're waiting for the syrup to get to temperature, especially once 230°F is reached. The last 10 degrees goes quick! And I'm finding that I'm a little annoyed with my thermometer. I wish it would just give me temperature instead of the different ball stages are. I found myself counting the tick marks repeatedly, verifying that 240 was actually 240 since it says "soft ball".

And here is where maybe I'm just a little picky - the caramels are a little bit too soft for my preference. After cutting them (and eating a few pieces), the cuts I'd made were starting to disappear as the caramels were oozing into each other again. Next time, and believe me there will be a next time, I'm going to let the final temperature exceed 240°F by a few degrees with hopes to get the firmness I'd prefer. I'd like the caramels to hold their shape a little bit better, but I'm not aiming for toffee, though that wouldn't be bad either. Like a pumpkin brittle!

raw, unsalted pepitas: $2.07
heavy cream: $1.44
pumpkin puree: free
sugar: $0.11
light corn syrup: $0.72
maple syrup: $0.62
unsalted butter: $0.28
lemon: $0.50
sea salt: $0.21

Total: $5.95 or about $0.09 for each of 64 bite-sized caramels.