Introduction: Chocolate-covered Dark Coffee Caramels
Supplies you will need:
2 Cups sugar
1/2 Cup water
1/4 tsp Cream of Tartar
2 Tbsp instant coffee
1 Cup cream
Chocolate for coating
Pots, pans, baking dish, wax paper, knives, forks, etc.
Cream of Tartar acts as an inverting agent, which helps keep candies from crystallizing. You could also use a couple tablespoons of lemon juice or 1/2 cup of corn syrup.
Instant coffee is not ideal, but it's pretty good, and you work with what you have! If I win the contest, I will be able to improve upon all my coffee-based goods with some amazing home-pulled espresso shots. Please vote for me! If you want to use regular coffee, make it as strong as you can, and use it instead of the water.
This recipe is for caramels in which the sugar is actually caramelized, rather than undergoing a maillard reaction with the cream. For some caramels you add all the ingredients and cook to a certain temperature, below the legal at which the sugar actually turns to caramel. While you get good candy, I like this way better. For these, you start with the water and sugar (and tartar), caramelize it, and then add the rest.
Step 1: Dissolve the Sugar
Sugar will need some water to get it dissolved. For the 2 Cups of sugar here, 1/2 cup of water should be enough. If it's not, add a little more, but the more you add, the longer it will take. Heat it on a medium heat, and when it's all dissolved it will go clear. Don't stir after that. If there are any sugar crystals on the side of the pan, wash them off with a wet brush or something. Then hook in your candy thermometer. You are heading for 300ºF!
Step 2: Caramelize It!
You need to get your sugar over 300ºF, where it will start to caramelize.
When it gets near that temperature, watch it closely, because it can change quickly! Don't use too high a heat, but you may need some more power to get it that high. Maybe medium-high. When it starts to look delicious, take it off the heat and move it to a cool burner right away. It will still darken a little more. Don't bump it or jostle it or scrape the thermometer, it could cause it to crystallize. Leave it for a bit while you mix the cream and coffee.
When the caramel drops to the 200-250ºF range, add the cream and coffee. It may bubble a lot, so add slowly and be prepared. A large pot is good for that reason, but you can avoid the problem by letting it get cooler.
Step 3: Cook the Caramel & Cream & Coffee Mixture
Mix in the cream and coffee with the caramel. I waited too long and the caramel was a thick lump, but ya know what? It's ok, it worked fine, I just had to stir it a little with the heat on. You need to cook it to the hard ball stage, which is 250ºF (121ºC). If you go too low it will be soft and sticky, and if you go too high it may be too hard.
While it's cooking, butter a baking dish or other pan. This is where you will pour the caramel. Butter it well and make sure to get the sides, too.
When you reach the hard ball stage, gently picky up your pot and pour it into the buttered dish. Don't scrape it, or you may cause it to crystallize. Once it's poured, let it cool to room temp or cooler. Clean your dishes, go to bed, pick it up again the next day.
Step 4: Cut Caramels and Temper Chocolate
I pried the cold caramel out of the dish in a big hunk with a spatula and my (clean!) hands. Cooking to the hard ball stage helps, having it cold helps, and butter helps. Butter your knife (or pizza roller) and slice up your caramel to size. I would cut these smaller if the were just meant for wrapped caramels, but dipping in chocolate can take a while, so I made them bigger to cut down on work.
This is necessary for good chocolate covering. You can use the grocery store dipping/melting chocolate to avoid temperature, but I highly recommend getting good chocolate and trying to temper. This is only my second time ever trying it and it came out perfect! If it doesn't come out right or you don't temper it, the chocolate will be soft and melty, and if you keep it around for a couple days it will develop a "bloom," which is the cocoa butter coming to the surface. Tastes fine, but looks funky and affects texture. Tempering it will keep it hard and dark and lookin' sleek and on fleek and professional. You don't even really need a thermometer. Here's how:
1. I used dark chocolate (semisweet or bittersweet), and recommend you do too. Get the best chocolate you can. I found this scharffen-berger chocolate on 50% sale about 2 years ago and have been waiting for a great way to use it. Fortunately chocolate doesn't go bad and this is still delicious on its own!
Step one is to melt it. I used the microwave for ease and simplicity. Chop it into small pieces (or don't, that's fine), and zap it for 20 second and stir it well, and repeat. You want it so that it just barely melts all the chocolate.
2. Cool it down. Stir it periodically. Stirring helps get a good temper. Add in a little bit of already-tempered chocolate (chopped into pieces from the bar, the bar is usually tempered) or just stir longer and let it cool more slowly. You will notice it reaches a point when it stops melting the little pieces, and may get stiffer. Some of the pieces may grow as chocolate solidifies on them. This is good!
3. Test it. You need to see if it's "in temper." Use a cold knife or spatula or a little scrap of wax paper and dip the edge in the chocolate to pick up a little dip. Set it down and let it cool at room temperature. No rush, give it a couple minutes. If it's in temper it will be hard and dark, and you can give a soft poke without leaving a mark. If it's not in temper yet it will be lighter in color and soft and melty, and even a soft poke will leave a fingerprint. If it's not tempered yet, keep stirring it and zap it for 10 seconds to keep it from solidifying too much.
4. Use it! Heat it up a little so it's workable again and less lumpy, but just a little! If you get it too warm it will de-temper and you'll have to go back to step 2. I heated it up just a wee bit from step 3 with about 10-20 seconds in the microwave. I left some lumps in it and just worked around them, and I believe I have those lumps to thank for my delicious chocolatey success. When it's workable, dip your caramels! I cushioned the bowl with dish towels to keep the heat in so I could work with it longer without heating it.
Step 5: Dip Your Caramels
I cut the caramels from the longer strips as I went. To cover them I used two plastic forks and broke off the inner two tines so I had just two outer tines on each. Just flip the caramel around a bit in the chocolate, swipe it off if there's too much on it, especially on the bottom, and gently ease it onto some wax paper. If the chocolate gets too stiff or chunky, give it a little zap in the microwave. You should see them get solid and pretty as you go. If you want sea salt on top, add it to each chocolate just after putting it on the wax paper.
Step 6: Enjoy!
Let them solidify and then they are good to go! If they tempered well they should be hard and dry and not smudgy.
Leftover chocolate can be scraped into a container and stuck in the back of the fridge until next time. It's probably fine outside the fridge too, but just to be careful about melting...
Thoughts for next time:
- Good coffee makes good flavor. I'd love to be able to use espresso for these, and I'd give it a good 4-8 shots. Vote to make a young person's dream come true!
- I cooked my sugar a little high, and it ended up a pretty dark caramel. It delicious, but I might see what it's like a little lighter next time.
- Or with maple syrup instead of sugar...
- Smaller caramels means a higher chocolate:caramel ratio, which is always good.
- You could add any number of coffee/mocha-type flavorings you want. I'd cook the sugar-cream-coffee mix just a couple degrees higher and add your flavoring before you pour. Cooking to a higher temperature will make up a little for the small amount of extra water the flavoring will add.
Good luck! Let me know if you have questions, and I will try to help!