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French Caramels

Hi Everyone.
I recently had some homemade chocolate covered "french caramels" from a local farmers market and wow they were incredible. Not like any caramel I ever had. Melt in your mouth, brown sugary, not stretchy stick to your teeth. Is that what makes these French caramels?
I've Googled it and see pictures of caramels sprinkled with salt. Maybe there was salt in them, but not on them. The caramels were almost 1" thick and almost 2x2" square covered in a choice of milk or dark chocolate and very uniform in size. The person at the stand wasn't giving up any info other than it was her great grandmother or some other long lost relative's secret recipe. I'd be glad to revisit this stand to purchase over and over and give as gifts, but at $6 a piece that's not possible. So I figured if great granny could do it, couldn't I learn? But where to begin?

Can anyone here give me some info on "French caramels" or steer me in the right direction? As mentioned they had a slight brown sugar taste, which I loved, especially for the milk chocolate covered. So does that mean brown sugar was used or not necessarialy? Very uniform; are they made with a mold or just cut with precision? Specific kind of chocolate to cover them?

I'm fairly new to Chowhound and if this has already been covered I apologize, but I haven't had much luck with the search feature uncovering what I'm looking for...for anything! So if you have any tips on that I'd appreciate those too. Thank you.

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  1. So the caramels are soft and buttery, right? European, not American. This is the easiest recipe I know that will give you those results. You can choose to sprinkle them with salt or not. You must do everything exactly as it says, though. However, I have used kosher salt instead of fleur de sel and added it to the mix rather than sprinkled on top and it was good. I also add one tsp of vanilla after I've mixed cream and sugar for a little more depth of flavor. Remember to make it in a large capacity pan because it will boil up quite violently, at least 5x it's volume. It helps if you make this in a light colored pan, so you can watch the color of the caramelizing sugar. And one last thing, when you are done and pouring the caramel into the pan, merely pour, DO NOT scrape the pan! The scrapings will crystalize. I pour the caramel into the pan and then I scrape what's left onto a silpat. The husband rolls that up and eats it, a few crystals don't bother him.

    http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

    Oh, and the recipe says to oil the pan but I've found it tastes better if you lightly butter the pan.

    2 Replies
    1. re: runwestierun

      Fleur de Sel Caramels? With that name I never would have found that recipe so thank you for the link and the tips!
      Yes they were buttery and fairly soft, but held their shape. Not tacky. Nice brown sugar flavor so I'm surprised there isn't brown sugar in the recipe. Are they ever made with brown sugar?
      The ones I had were covered in chocolate and I was surprised how long they kept. Bought 4 and I didn't get to the last one until about 4 weks later. Just wrapped loosly in the same cellophane bag that all 4 came in. Not individually wrapped. Maybe not necessary because they were chocolate covered? Any tips on how to cover with chocolate? Must be some trick to doing that without melting the center. I'll have to investigate. The closest I've ever come to making candy was fudge so very little experience here and if you have any other suggestions or recommended reading I'd appreciate it. Thank you!

      1. re: Island

        There are many skills you will have to learn to make a perfect chocolate covered caramel that you can store in open cellophane.
        1. You need to learn how to caramelize the white sugar without crystalizing it. You heat it exactly how it is described in the recipe until it is caramel colored. It goes very slowly for a long time and then very quickly. You must learn when to stop that process by pouring in the cream so the caramel tastes caramel-ly, not burnt or just sugary. Brown sugar is white sugar with molasses. It's not the same thing. You can make candy with brown sugar but they are not caramels, they will just taste sugary.

        2. If you want to cover them in chocolate you are going to have to learn how to temper chocolate, and how to get it to adhere to the slippery buttery caramel.

        3. Storage for caramels is touchy, because they tend to get grainy or slimy over time.

        There are so many skills involved in making chocolate covered caramels, that I would suggest trying to make the caramels alone first. Alot depends on your altitude and the humidity the day you make them. If you can master that, then we can work on the chocolate part.

    2. Here are a couple forum threads to read where professionals discuss the finer points of caramel making.

      http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?/...

      http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?/...

      4 Replies
      1. re: runwestierun

        runwestierun. Thank you so much for all the info and links! Yes sounds like I definitly have a lot to learn. Agree, I think I need to work on my caramel innards before thinking i can jump to chocolate covered.
        Just curious, is candy making one of your specialties? Do you know of a good "how to" cookbook for a beginner?
        You mentioned using a big pot because it will bubble up. Other than flimsy stock pots for boiling pasta, my largest is a Le Creuset dutch oven. Will that work? Or if I were to buy something appropriate what would you suggest? i do have a gift certificate from a local kitchen store that's burning a hole in my pocket. Thank you. This sounds like it may be a fun science project!

        1. re: Island

          I am sorry, Island, I don't know a good beginners cookbook. I rely on the internet mostly, because you can read comments on recipes and it helps me understand variables better. Candy making is so touchy because things like humidity, weather, altitude and barometric pressure matter. People go to school for it. It's not a specialty of mine, there are just a few things I can make.

          I have made caramels in 2 things, an All Clad stainless steel pot and a stainless steel lined copper pot. Both are fine because they are light colored so you can easily watch the sugar change color as it caramelizes. I think the Le Creuset would work because it's light inside and it's heavy and distributes heat evenly. I think you should try it before you buy a single purpose pot.

          And it doesn't have to be a giant stock pot type pot. Heaviness is important for heat distribution. My copper saucepan is 4 qts. That is fine for a double recipe. Good luck!

          1. re: Island

            My first caramels were the 'fleur de sel caramels' from epicurious. They came out great, and I'd recommend them to try first. I did not coat in chocolate, but I can tell you they did not get slimy/ too soft after a couple of days at room temp.

            1. re: jeanmarieok

              if you made the dark choc fleur de sels, i def recommend this! i didn't dip in chocolate either, just dusted with unsweetened cocoa powder. soo easy, and so well-received.

        2. I've used a similar recipe that I got here on Chowhound--http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5806... . I was always nervous about caramelizing sugar, but these came out great on my first attempt. I've made them several times since with only one small glitch (I got a few crystals in them once). I did increase the salt in this recipe to 3/4 tsp. of fleur de sel (and twice that when I used unsalted butter). I cooked them in a big All-Clad dutch oven (mine holds a triple batch) and poured them into 9 X 9-inch silicon pans. That made them MUCH easier to get out of the pan--the cooled slab of caramel pops right out and you can slice it on a cutting board.

          1 Reply
          1. re: MsMaryMc

            MsmaryMc thanks for that link and the tips. I read elsewere the silicon pans worked well. I've never used any, but I think it's time to give it a try. Thanks for the recipe. I'll start with that and the epicurious one provided by runwestierun.