Caramel: A Love Story

2 Mar

Here is a brief evolution of the famed candy that Americans love today. Before sugar came to be, honey was used to cover fruits, seeds, and flowers in China, India, Egypt, Greece, Romans, and used by Indians. The honey acted also as a preserver, which helped when traveling. Fast forward and we are in the Middle Ages, sugar cane was now discovered and brought in. It was not widely used and reserved for the rich, who used it to sweeten food or as medicine (by adding spices to the sugar). These “candies” were called sugarmeats, not very appetizing if you ask me. Sugar was also called, “white gold” and used as savings. It was after Columbus arrived in the Caribbean that it became more widely grown (in the Americas and West Indies), and therefore no longer only available for rich people. Caramels were thought to be created in the early eighteenth century. Candy is the English word that comes from “qandi”, and Arabic word that means something made with sugar. Let’s get technical here for a minute.The most common sugar in the bakeshop is sucrose, it is a disaccharide meaning there is two sugar units (saccharide). Sucrose is made up of one molecule of glucose that has bonded to one molecule of fructose. Commercial production of sucrose involves removing and purifying the sucrose from the sugarcane or sugar beets. Moving on to my favorite…the caramel. I love caramel in any form. Especially on top of ice cream or spicy chewy caramels. Yum! If caramel could be a food group I would be extremely happy. Let me explain myself, I don’t eat a lot of sweets. So when I decided to make caramel, I might have gone overboard. I had a wee bit too much caramel and shortbread…. and I passed out. For a good hour and a half. It was so delicious though! Caramel has many forms, and determined only by the amount of time you cook it and also by the moisture content. Caramel can be a sauce, soft like in a candy bar, chewy, or hard like toffee. Caramel is made from sugar, water, butter, cream, and sometimes corn syrup or other flavorings (like vanilla). Make sure your butter is soft, and you have your vanilla or other flavorings measured out already. You start by bringing the sugar and water to a boil. I whisk it until it starts to simmer, then I stop. If I continue to whisk after that it will crystallize the sugar, and we don’t want that. While that is coming to a boil, put the cream in another pot and bring to a simmer. The cream has to be hot so it doesn’t shock the caramelized sugar and make it harden. What happens when sugar caramelizes? When the sugar is heated, chemical reactions occur that will break down the sugars into small fragments. These smaller fragments (molecules) evaporate easily, and creates the caramelized sugar smell. As you continue to heat, these fragments get into fights react with each other and they form large molecules called polymers. The polymers do not evaporate, however they do like light and they absorb it. That is where the beautiful amber brown color you see comes from. However, don’t overheat these little large guys because then they turn bitter on you. Check out the illustration below to see what I mean. Many different ways to enjoy caramel: in ice cream, truffles, mousses, chewy caramels, and many more. I decided to make shortbread cookies to be the caramels side kick this time. Above has the ingredients of caramel broken down individually. I made the caramel, let it cool and then divided it in half. I added lots of cayenne pepper to one half, and left the other half plain. I then made some shortbread cookies, half of them I cut into circles and the other half rectangles. I then baked the cookies and let them cool. The real fun begins now, and that is the decorating! I choose to make mini shortbread spicy caramel sandwiches, chocolate dipped shortbread, and caramel shortbread rectangles with chocolate drizzle. I used a pastry bag and tip to pipe the caramel on the shortbread. Creating a nice texture in between the shortbread cookies. I topped them off with a sprinkling of cayenne pepper for a pop of color. Let’s be honest it needed some color! My violets decided to bloom, so I thought just for you I would add it to the cookie plate! I topped the shortbread rectangles with some caramel, then drizzled the chocolate over it. I then placed them in the freezer to set up nicely. I piped the chocolate hearts and then added them when I was ready to plate. For the middle cookie, I just dipped it straight into the chocolate and finished it with some sea salt. This concludes my segment on caramel, if you have any questions feel free to contact me! Happy Friday everyone and I hope you have a great weekend!

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