Chocolate-Covered Salted Caramel Cup

February 12, 2011

Candy making and baking are my happy places. I love cooking, too, but I am rarely as content in the kitchen as I am carefully measuring ingredients on my food scale, brushing pastry lightly with egg, or spreading icing oh-so-precisely. On stressful days at work, I fantasize about leaving nursing to work in a pastry shop. I imagine myself waking up early to pipe frosting onto striking layer cakes, to whip eggs into towering peaks, to bask in the sheen of my perfect chocolate ganache.

I can see the toddlers storming in, begging their mother for just one more cookies. Ladies who lunch gawk at my beautiful fruit tarts and are stunned to find they taste even better than they look. People ask…no… BEG the cashier to allow them to meet the culinary genius who created these marvelous treats! But time cannot permit such mingling. All the while I chuckle quietly in my corner, my face and hair streaked with pastry flour, wondering why anyone would ever want to be Santa Claus when you could be a pastry chef! The pastry chef brings the true meaning of joy to all who enter her store. The toddlers! The ladies! The plucky old woman who loves my perfect caramel–

Aaaand the fantasy stops here. Caramel is one of my favorite all time desserts. It is also my Everest. I have never made a good batch of caramel. My caramel always tastes great but it always comes out too hard, too chewy. Make that jaw-achingly chewy. Which some diplomatic friends point out, “That means it lasts longer!” Aw, I have such nice friends.

I adjust for altitude. I make sure my pan and spatula are spotless. I watch the stove like a hawk. Still too chewy. But when I looked in my fridge to find some heavy cream and salted butter, I thought I’d try a nice salted caramel sauce to indulge my caramel craving.

In the 6 previous times I’ve made caramel, it has never, ever crystallized. When I made this sauce, it crystallized. Like crazy. And the part that wasn’t crystallized was way too thin. I tried to let it set in the fridge, but that only resulted in a half-soupy, half-crystallized (but great tasting!) mix. I really wanted to use it, but I couldn’t figure out how to mask the imperfect texture. But then I remembered some toasted coconut left over from brigadeiros I made last week. A few pretzels in the cabinet. And some almonds. And I recalled David Lebovitz’s recipe for Chocolate-Covered Salted Peanut Caramel Cups. And lo and behold, a delicious use for my imperfect, crystallized caramel was born.

I filled some cups with toasted coconut caramel, some with toasted almond caramel, and others with crushed pretzel caramel.

Maybe someday I’ll conquer my caramel disability. But until then, these will do just fine.

CHOCOLATE-COVERED SALTED CARAMEL CUPS (adapted from David Lebovitz’s Chocolate-Covered Salted Peanut Caramel Cups)

Ingredients

12 ounces (340g) chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

1/2 cup (125g) Caramel Sauce (recipe to follow of the one I used)

3/4 cup fillings for cups (I used crushed pretzels, toasted coconut, and toasted almonds)

Recipe

Melt chocolate in a double boiler. Drop a little of the chocolate (about the size of a hazelnut) in a small paper baking cup. Use a pastry brush or a little spoon to evenly coat the bottom and sides of the cup. Chill at least 45 minutes in the fridge (this will get the chocolate firm).

While the chocolate firms, mix your caramel with your fillings. Save a little of each filling to decorate the top of the cup (this will also signify which filling is in which cup).

When the chocolate is firmed up, fill each cup about 2/3rds full of caramel filling. Smooth out the top using a spoon.

Put another dab of chocolate on top of the filling and spread it evenly across the top of the cup.

Refrigerate until the chocolate firms back up again (about 30 or 45 minutes), and take out of the fridge no more than 30 minutes before serving.

RICH CARAMEL SAUCE (from David Lebovitz’s Ready for Dessert)

Ingredients

1/2 cup (4 oz/115 g) unsalted or salted butter, cut into pieces

1 cup (200 g) sugar

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

Recipe

Place a dutch oven or large and heavy saucepan over medium heat and melt the butter. Add sugar. Stir every now and then, and cook until the sugar begins to caramelize and turns dark amber in color (David Lebovitz mentions that it should smell as though it’s just about to burn).

Remove the pan from the heat and quickly add heavy cream (be careful, the sauce will boil up quite a bit). Stir sauce until it’s smooth, then stir in vanilla and salt.

Allow the sauce to cool, and taste to see if you’d like to add more salt. Serve warm.

Sauce will keep for 2 weeks in the fridge.

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