I give Christmas a lot of clout, but Thanksgiving needs its due too. What’s not to love about Thanksgiving? It is a holiday that is all about food and the people we choose to surround ourselves with to eat it. Thanksgiving is amazing. My family always contemplates getting big paper serving plates for us all to eat off of instead of the standard dinner plate size. Of course, we always remember that getting a serving platter to eat off of is insane, so we resort to simply going back for seconds or thirds. For some reason this is more socially acceptable. Go figure.
Thanksgiving’s classic flavors make the holiday really incredible. The juicy turkey, rich stuffing, sweet cranberry sauce, fluffy mashed potatoes, warm rolls…oops sorry drool check. Thanksgiving really is home cooking at its best.
As someone that is in love with everything sugar, I decided to mix the classic flavors of Thanksgiving with one of my favorite candies—caramel. Specifically the Liddabit Sweets salted caramel. I love the texture and the flavor of their caramel. Not too hard, not too soft, their caramel is delightfully chewy with a great combination between sweet and salty.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Liddabit gave me a fantastic opportunity this summer to work with them for a few days and learn the magic of their layered confections. The flavors and textures Liddabit creates in just one bite makes you understand why they’re becoming such a popular small batch candy company.
I have a very special relationship with this particular salted caramel. I made it many-a-times during my time in Brooklyn, and I have the burn scars on my forearms to prove it. I considered myself initiated into the candy-maker club after achieving these painful trophies because everyone I’ve met in this sweet business has their arms and hands littered with scars (and sometimes chests, faces, legs, etc.). Of course my baby burns don’t even begin to compare. Dangerous job!
I combined the wonderful salted caramel from Liddabit with the flavors of Thanksgiving to create an epic confection. It gives you the most memorable parts of the meal (in my opinion). The sage stuffing, thyme turkey with a little spice, salt, and lemon, sweet cranberries, and full-bodied red wine are my favorites.
But first, the science!
The most basic component of caramel is burnt sugar, believe it or not. That’s what caramelization is—the browning of sugar. But you probably knew that. Do you know what the other components of caramel do?
There are two sugars other than granulated sugar—what you normally think of I’m sure when you read sugar in the preceding paragraph—in caramel. Lactose, milk sugar, and glucose from the corn syrup. The amount of each of these sugars is really important. Lactose and glucose are reducing sugars that, in the presence of the milk proteins, undergo Maillard Browning and enhance the flavor of the caramel. I have explained this in the past. These reducing sugars will also keep the caramel soft and prevent the granulated sugar from crystallizing. I’m sure you’ve experienced grainy or extremely hard caramel. Extra moisture also promotes crystallization. That’s why you have to boil so much water off of the caramel mixture.
It is the milk that makes caramel extraordinary though. It’s what makes caramel different from a lot of other confectionery products. The proteins in the milk contribute to hardness of the caramel and the Maillard Browning I mentioned earlier. The fat from the dairy also has a huge part in the texture of the caramel. Fat from condensed milk and cream is the most important to caramel’s flavor and it is boosted by butter fat. The fat produces a fuller mouthfeel of the caramel and it creates a firm texture. This allows caramel to retain its shape at room temperature but feel chewy and soft in your mouth.
Caramel is pretty complicated, and there is more to it than I mentioned here, but these are the basics! No matter which way you put it, caramel is absolutely delicious, and I hope you like the Thanksgiving flavors!
Adapted from Liddabit Sweets (which happens to be one of the best cookbooks ever because there is plenty of science-y stuff in there for geeks like me)
3 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ¾ cup granulated sugar
1 12 oz can of evaporated milk
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out + pod
A little more than ¾ cup (300 grams) light corn syrup
4 teaspoons coarse salt
¾ cup dried cranberries
Dry red wine
½ teaspoon lemon zest
¼ teaspoon dried thyme, chopped finely
¼ teaspoon dried sage
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 bay leaf
1. Chop the dried cranberries, put them in a bowl, and pour wine over the top to cover. Let soak for 15 minutes.
2. Put the sugar, evaporated milk, cream, bay leaf, and vanilla seeds/pod in a large saucepan/pot over medium-high heat. While heating, measure out corn syrup (into one container) and the remaining ingredients into another container. Strain the cranberries from the wine and set aside. Also prep a glass 11 ¾ x 7 ½ casserole dish with parchment paper in the bottom and cooking spray all around the bottom (on top of the parchment) and sides. Set aside.
3. Once your sugar and milk mixture comes to a boil, add the corn syrup and put your candy thermometer in. At this point, you need to pay close attention and constantly stir the mixture. Make sure you really scrape around the pot sides and bottom because it will burn very easily.
4. When the mixture reaches 230⁰F, add the remaining ingredients continuing to stir. Remove the vanilla bean and bay leaf with tongs around 240⁰F. Make sure you continue to stir vigorously and heat until the caramel reaches 242⁰F. Very quickly, add the drained, chopped cranberries and stir in. Remove from the heat and VERY CAREFULLY pour into the prepped pan.
5. Let the caramel cool. When completely cooled, flip it over onto a greased cutting board and cut to the desired size. Wrap your caramel pieces in wax paper to prevent them from coming into contact with water.
6. For storing, do not keep your caramels at a temperature higher than room temperature for prolonged periods of time. This will keep your caramels from becoming rancid (fat oxidation).