Invented by the French sometime after fire but before the airplane, the caramel has been married to salt for at least 400 years. Caramels are amorphous candies like brittles, toffees and taffies, but there’s an extra challenge here, because the sugar is cooked to a point where many bitter compounds are created. Salt can tone down the bitterness while elevating the butter and coffee flavors the bitterness typically hides.
14 1/2 ounces sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
2 teaspoons soy sauce, for saltiness, color and funk
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces at room temperature
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper.
2. Combine the sugar, water, corn syrup and cream of tartar in a heavy 4-quart saucepan and place over high heat. Stir occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Cover and continue to cook for 5 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, combine the cream and soy sauce in a liquid measuring cup. Have this and the butter standing by.
4. Remove the lid from the sugar mixture and attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. When the sugar mixture reaches 230 degrees F, reduce the heat to medium and cook, without stirring, for 6 to 7 minutes, until the syrup is golden and is approaching 300 degrees F. At this point there is less likelihood of crystallization, so gently swirl the pan to help break up an hot pockets.
5. When the temperature reaches 350 degrees F, the syrup will become deep amber. Remove the pan from the heat, gently swirl again to break up hot pockets, and cool for 2 minutes.
6. Carefully pour in the cream mixture and add the butter. Stir to combine. Return the caramel to medium heat, stir until the butter is completely melted, and continue cooking until the mixture reaches 255 degrees F. Remove from the heat and pour into the parchment-lined pan; tap the pan gently on the counter to release air bubbles.
7. Cool on a cooking rack for 30 minutes, then sprinkle evenly with the salt. Continue cooling on the rack for an addition 3 1/2 hours. Cut into 1-inch pieces and wrap individually in parchment. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Recipe and images © Alton Brown, 2014