I call this one “conquering your culinary fears” (aka I made caramels and didn’t die.)
You see, I’ve had this irrational fear of cooked sugar for years now. No idea where it came from, because as a child I boiled my way through my mom’s candy cookbook without a second thought. Perhaps I ruined a pan or two at some point in my life, unable to scrape the rock-hard mass out of the (supposedly) non-stick surface. Whatever the reason, I’ve been scared to attempt any sort of cooked-sugar confection, let alone caramels, for quite some time.
But to be honest it really wasn’t that hard, and I even made it complicated by adding peach puree to the recipe (disclaimer: you can’t even taste the peach).
I kept the candy fairly light in a (failed) attempt to keep the peach flavor front-and-center, but if you prefer a darker, more robust caramel flavor you can cook the sugar slightly longer. This will produce a firmer caramel, so you may want to increase the cream as well.
The peach is practically invisible in the final product, unfortunately. If you concentrate really hard you may be able to discern a slight fruity finish, but without knowing that there is basically an entire peach’s worth of fruit in there, you’d think they were just regular vanilla caramels.
I think some other kind of fruit might be more effective at flavoring the candies, and in fact I might try the same process with the blackberries I have stashed in the freezer or the exotic lychees I found at the Asian market last week.
My only other qualm with the final product, other than the lack of peach flavor, was that the candies felt slightly greasy. I don’t know if it was the butter or the non-stick spray or something I did wrong in the process, but I’d like to find out how to make them less greasy in the future.
1/2 cup peach purée (from 1 large peach, peeled, pitted, and puréed)
1 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Line an 8x8 baking dish with parchment paper, leaving a slight overhang on two sides. Lightly butter or spray the parchment and the sides of the pan with nonstick spray.
In a small 2-quart saucepan, warm the cream, butter, and salt over medium heat until the butter melts. Remove from heat and stir in peach puree.
Combine the sugar, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water in a large, 4-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan (do not use a smaller pan here as the sugar mixture will bubble and eventually triple in volume). Stir until the sugar is evenly moistened and forms a thick grainy paste. Brush the sides of the pan with a damp pastry brush to remove any stray sugar crystals. Clip an instant-read thermometer to the side of the pan so the tip is completely immersed in the sugar.
Cook sugar mixture over medium to medium-high heat, resisting the urge to stir, until the mixture boils and reaches 250°F. If you want firmer caramels, continue to cook the mixture up until 320°F. You may need to tilt the pan to get an accurate temperature reading, depending on your thermometer.
When the mixture reaches 250°F or desired temperature, remove from heat and carefully whisk the warm cream mixture into the sugar syrup. The sugar syrup will bubble violently. Stop whisking once all the milk and butter mixture has been added.
Return the pan to medium to medium-high heat and bring to a boil, again without stirring. Remove from heat when the caramel reaches 245°F to 250°F and darkens to a light golden color, about 15 to 20 minutes. Quickly whisk in the vanilla.
Immediately pour the caramels into prepared pan, without scraping the bottom of the pan (there are sometimes hard burnt bits on the bottom). Knock the pan against the counter a few times to help air bubbles work their way out.
Let sit, uncovered at room temperature for at least two hours or overnight. The pan can be covered only when the caramels have cooled to room temperature.
To cut, lift the caramel block out of the pan with the parchment paper flaps and transfer to a cutting board. Cut the caramels into candies with a very sharp knife or a rotary cutter sprayed lightly with nonstick cooking spray.
Wrap each caramel in a piece of waxed paper cut slightly longer than the length of your caramels, and twist the ends closed. Caramels will keep at room temperature for about two weeks.