Sunday, July 22, 2007

Fleur de Sel Caramels Enrobed in Bittersweet Chocolate

Caramels... garnished with fleur de sel and caramelized sugar.

I've been making candy this week, inspired by this new blog I'm reading, Sweet Napa. If you want to see some awesome confections, head on over and get ready to drool.

I first attempted to mimic her Scotch Bar, a layer of chocolate ganache with single-malt scotch, then a layer of fleur de sel caramel (oh yeah, fleur de sel is a gray, coarse, moist french sea salt), semi-enrobed in bittersweet chocolate.

First of all, I left the 350ml bottle of 12-year Glenlivet in my car while I was at work, and I got into my car at the end of the day and the car smelled like a still. The bottle had gotten so hot that it blew out the cork, tearing off the foil in the process, and fell over, dumping most of the scotch all over my car. I had to drive with the windows down for a few days to avoid getting a headache!

Luckily there was still enough scotch in the bottle for the ganache, which I made with just cream and chocolate, no butter, so it was light and soft even when frozen.

Sadly, I then overcooked the caramel. I was cooking it over high heat, so it cooked down much faster than it was supposed to, and I was taken by surprise, rushed off to get a glass of cold water for the cold water test, and by the time I did all that, it was much too hot. Batch one hardened into toffee.

I made a second batch, since the caramel is the cheap part. It's the chocolate and scotch that were expensive. I stopped it early, at 245F, the beginning of soft ball, instead of the 248 the recipe called for, hoping I'd get a softer caramel closer to a sauce. Then I watched in horror as the thermometer continued to rise, off the heat, to over 250. I guess my thick-bottomed aluminum pans really retain a ton of heat, and they kept radiating for a while.

Those candies were alright. The caramel was much too hard, but not quite toffee. I dipped them in melted chocolate to attempt that semi-enrobing, but the condensation off the ganache caused the chocolate to seize and it became kind of a messy affair. They didn't look terribly professional by the end. (As Nina from Sweet Napa said, "Well, rustic happens.")

I had enough cream left for one more batch of caramel, so for my friend Kate's birthday, I decided to give it one last shot. This time I stopped the caramel at 245F and had a pan of ice water ready to dunk it into, and it is a perfect consistency, not overly chewy but not quite liquid at room temperature. I melted the chocolate and this time poured it over the caramels, sitting on a cooling rack over a baking sheet, and after that cooled, I painted the chocolate foot on each with a pastry brush. I dusted the top of them with a little extra fleur de sel (I'm something of a salt addict. I get it from my mother.) And then to finish it off, I melted some dry white sugar in a saucepan, let it caramelize to a nice light golden color, poured it over a baking sheet, and let it run down the side so it made a thin sheet. When it cooled, I cracked it up into slivers and drove them into the tops of the caramels as a neat little garnish. And they add a nice candy crunch, too.

I'll post the recipe for the caramels here, but I'm just stealing it directly from Sweet Napa. But she copied it verbatim from Epicurious, where it was copied, verbatim, from Gourmet Magazine in 2004. I guess that makes it alright for me to use, then.
Fleur de Sel Caramels
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 5 tbs unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 tsp fleur de sel
  • 1.5 cups (300 grams) sugar
  • 1/4 c corn syrup (BHS: Good stores sell corn syrup made without high-fructose syrup -- avoid Karo and use it!)
  • 1/4 c water
Line bottom and sides of an 8″ square pan with parchment paper, then lightly oil parchment.

Bring butter, cream, and salt to boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside.

Boil sugar, corn syrup, and water in 3-4 quart saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring but gently swirling pan, until mixture is a light golden caramel.

Carefully stir in cream mixture (mixture will bubble up) and simmer stirring frequently, until caramel registers 248 on a thermometer, 10-15 mins. Pour into baking pan and cool 2 hours. Cut into 1-inch pieces, then wrap each in 4 inch square of wax paper, twisting 2 ends to close.

Makes about 40 candies.

Gourmet 2004


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Next up is Gangrene

I can't seem to not be injured these days. My knee rehab went well, and now I'm cycling just fine again, but then there was that fall with the road rash, which has finally fully scabbed over after 2 weeks. Yesterday was the first day I didn't have to tape gauze dressing over it just so I could wear, you know, pants.

Naturally, then, it's time for something new. Climbing on Wednesday, my right big toe was hurting, the toenail was getting ingrown, so I trimmed it, but by the end of the night my foot really hurt. It's been throbbing and painful ever since. I finally went in with my Leatherman to take care of the problem (the Leatherman was step 1; if it failed, Step 2 was ready to go in the shed.)

The Leatherman reconnaissance revealed that it's gotten infected. I'll spare you the details, but there's some pus. It's kind of gross. No wonder my toe's felt like it was going to explode for the past couple days. I'm hoping some careful trimming, sterilization, and Neosporin + Band-Aid will take care of the problem because I'll feel really silly if I end up having to take oral antibiotics to solve a toe-related injury from tight climbing shoes.


Sunday, July 1, 2007


I went riding with Kent and Kristine today. Our goal was a ride of 40 miles. I plotted one out on Bikely, and came up with something pretty decent, so we gave it a shot. The weather looked like it would hold up.

It didn't. 30 miles in it started pouring very briefly as we got to Dacy Ln & Bebee road. There was a school right at the intersection, so we darted under the school's front awning to avoid getting soaked. It passed quickly, so we kept moving.

I related to them a story about my friend Steve riding his fixie on a wet parking lot, and his conclusion that even with wet roads and thin tires, you still have quite a bit of traction. Don't worry, I meant to say, we'll be fine.

About 3 minutes later, I took a turn on Dacy Ln a little too fast and felt my bike tires lose traction as I leaned into the turn. I don't remember exactly what I did then, but I managed to get my feet unclipped before hitting the ground and my bike slid to the side as I slid on my left thigh and elbow down the wet, slick road. I stood up, feeling the road rash, and expecting the worst. I only had a first-aid kit for bikes, not humans. I could patch a tire, but not skin!

Elbow Road RashI checked and saw blood on my elbow, but I rinsed it with my water bottle and it was nothing major. I rinsed some dirt off my leg and everything looked O.K.

My bike shorts were a bit roughed up and had a new hole in them. Hmm. I peeled them back and saw that my left thigh had taken the brunt of the abrasion:

Thigh Road RashThis happened through the shorts, and is about 3 inches in diameter. It's going to be really pretty in a few days, I'll bet. I'll try to take some more photos if it ends up especially lovely.

My bike, impressively, was totally fine. Not even a scratch on the frame, and no visible damage other than a little shredded handlebar grip tape.

I hopped back on, and when we got to Buda I left them and sprinted the last 15 miles home to try to get something antibacterial on the road rash before it was too late. I haven't ever fallen while road biking before, so all my biking rash came from mountain biking, and that stuff can be bad. You get back home, hop in the shower, and spend a half hour slowly and painstakingly scraping dirt and splinters out of your skin to prevent infection.

Luckily this road was free of sand and grit, and my shorts were between me and the road, so it wasn't anything like that, and was pretty painless.

But it still looks kind of like raw hamburger.