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Caramel (for creme caramel): ?Temp?

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Lots of recipes for creme caramel, all with similar preparation of the caramel which will harden in the bottom of the dish, but none (that I have found) which gives the temperature of the caramel when it is at the proper stage. I'm guessing "hard crack" 300 - 310 degrees F.

What say you?

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  1. Sugar carmamelizes at a temperature beyond hard crack stage. At approximately 320F/ 160C sugar becomes a 100% concentration of sugar but is still a clear liquid. The levels of caramelization progress as the temperature rises--a light brown to a medium brown to a dark brown to burnt. This can occur very quickly, even though there is about a 30 degree F window from the beginning of carmalization to burnt sugar (about 350F/177C).

    Since the color change occurs so quickly, often quicker than your candy thermometer can register the temperature change, I suggest going by color. Shoot for a color that is a few shades ligher than you want in a finished creme caramel (as it may still get darker when you go to cook the creme caramel). Have a pan of cold water ready to "shock" the pot when the caramel has achieved the desired color as there will be carry over heat that will make it darker.

    If you want to use a candy thermometer for the beginning part of the boiling process, I suggest pulling the thermometer out when it gets to 315-320F. You'll see a color change very quickly after that.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Non Cognomina

      Thanks - I generally do the job by color even though I have a thermocouple candy thermometer with alarms at various places.

      I don't shock the caramel until After I have poured the layer into the bottom of the pot. Then I do put in perhaps 1/3 cup of water* to keep the caramel from cooking more and also to keep it liquid for topping the dessert.

      *For the benefit of onlookers: That addition of water can be extremely dangerous. It should be done off heat and at arm's length. For extra safety with all sugar melting jobs, have an ample bowl of ice water handy in the event some of the product spills or splashes on you.

      1. re: Gualtier Malde

        I sometimes prepare caramel sauce at work, and even I (a real stickler for adhering to the recipe religiously) do not use a thermometer. I just wait for the nice, yummy, brown color like bourbon, turn fire to low, add water, and stir.

        Question: this just makes a caramel sauce. How do you go to a creme caramel, or is this one of those flan type recipes?

          1. re: Non Cognomina

            NC, perhaps I'm missing something, but I'm not getting that there's such a big difference between the caramel for creme caramel, and the caramel for flan. I don't understand jerry's question and your answer about this being a flan-type recipe. Perhaps my brain is on recharge this evening, but I don't get the distinction between the two (except IRT to vanilla and citrus). Please explain.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              No, you are right. Brain on cruise control. The caramel for flan and creme caramel are the same. I was thinking of caramel to line a ramikin vs. caramel sauce for desserts.
              Course, the custard base for the 2 are (or can be) different, but that is a whole other thread by itself.

              1. re: jerry i h

                Thanks for writing. For creme caramel, I pour the caramel into the bottom of ramekins,ladle the creme anglaise custard gentley on top of the caramel, and then bake the ramekins in a water bath. Best if those sit for a day after baking, and then are reheated before eating. Something about the custard's texture and flavor -- and I have heard many a chef say this -- is always better the next day. Just for true confessions: I also love creme brulee, and with it or creme caramel, a glass of Sauternes or botrytised wine for a beautiful dose of flavor ecstasy.

          2. re: jerry i h

            Yup, it's a flan. My favorite comes from the Jacques and Julia book but I reverse the half and half and milk, using 2 Cups for h&h and 1 Cup for milk.

            BTW: In Central America as well as some SE Asian recipes, the vanilla is replaced with lime zest and other stuff. An interesting change from a CC that is... well... vanilla.

            1. re: Gualtier Malde

              +1
              One of the most enlightening nights as a foodservice professional was one night as a substitute head pastry chef. I enlisted the help of a hispanic dishwasher, and she informed me that citrus zest (lemon, lime, orange) was a popular and cheap substitute for vanilla in most commercial-type baking and pastry recipes. To this day, this is one of my most potent culinary weapons, especially for job try-outs and I really need to impress and WOW the pastry chef or owner.