One of the highlights of spending Christmas with my parents in Florida (besides the salt-water swimming pools and the Siesta Key drum circle) was the visit to Katy Rose Olive Oils in Sarasota. Before any real foodie gets condescending about it, let me say that in southwest Michigan the idea of an oil and vinegar bar is pretty damn exotic, so I was mainly limited to what I could find on the shelf at Meijers.
You walk into this place and it is rows of "casks" of olive oils and vinegars. You can taste each one, and/or they will fill bottles for purchase. Everything they have is gluten-free, and they stock other gluten-free items, such as pastas and candies, elsewhere in the store.
The foodie impulse, of course was "one of EVERYTHING!" I ended up with a large bottle of an herbed olive oil, a medium bottle of a fig balsamic vinegar (so delicious on fruity salads!) and a tiny bottle of the red apple balsamic vinegar. The last is a thick vinegar with a rich, dark tart apple flavor, and I had a specific purpose in mind for it. As soon as I tasted it, I knew it was destined for homemade caramels.
Now the caramels are made, and so very, very tasty. I'll share the recipe, but know that you can either substitute another fruity balsamic or leave out the vinegar and they will still be very, very tasty!
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1 cup corn syrup
2 1/4 cups (lightly packed) brown sugar
2 cups heavy cream (can use whipping cream)
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon high quality, thick, fruity balsamic vinegar
Extra butter for greasing
Other handy things to have include a large sauce pan with a heavy/thick bottom, a basting brush, parchment and wax paper, and a 9x9 pan. A candy thermometer is handy, but not crucial. A flat-edge wooden spoon makes an excellent stirrer for candies. A bowl of ice water allows you to test for firmness and brush down sugar crystals on the inside of the pot.
line the pan with parchment paper and use the butter to grease the paper. I used two loaf pans and poured half the batch before adding flavorings (so that I'd have a plain half-batch and a fruity half-batch).
In the saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.
When it is melted, add the sugar and stir well until it is all incorporated.
Stir in corn syrup and cream
Cook over medium heat for two to three minutes, then raise temperature to medium-high.
Stir constantly until the mixture boils, then reduce back to medium heat.
Keep at an even boil until the mixture thickens (30 minutes to 1 hour), stirring frequently to prevent separation.
If sugar begins to crystallize on side of pot, use a wet basting brush and cold water to rinse down the crystals. They will cause the mixture to crystallize and separate if allowed to stay.
When mixture reaches 245 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer or a spoonful dropped into ice water forms a firm ball, remove caramel from heat.
Add sea salt and vinegar and stir briskly for a few seconds to incorporate.
Pour immediately into buttered parchment-lined pans.
Allow to cool for several hours or until completely firmed.
Cut into small pieces with heavy duty kitchen shears, a knife, or a pizza roller. Greasing the cutting edge with butter will help prevent sticking. Wrap each piece in wax paper.
The flavor of the vinegar will be subtle at first, but will develop more over time.
Next year, I think, I'll need a bigger bottle.
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