My daughter, my sister, and a good friend kept urging me to learn how to make caramel. Just about everybody loves caramel, they insisted, even if I don’t. Well, I guess they were right, because salted dark caramel was my top seller this holiday season. Two people alone bought a total of 33 boxes.
Even with the assorted boxes I sold, people told me the salted caramels were their favorite. I must have made about a thousand caramels in December. I actually started to like it after sampling each batch to make sure the taste and texture were just right. I have to admit—the combination of caramel, dark chocolate, and salt is deeply satisfying.
Caramel is actually much harder to make than chocolate. There are so many ways it can fail, and once it does, there’s no saving it. When you’re boiling the sugar, a few seconds more or less can result in caramel that’s too dark/burnt or too light and flavorless. After you add the cream and butter and boil it some more, a difference of a degree or two can leave you with sorry-looking blobs or perfectly-shaped bricks that will break your teeth. Making caramel on a hot, humid day is just a recipe for disaster.
When I first started experimenting with caramel, I must have thrown out at least five batches. It was such a thrill when I got it right and such a disappointment when it was too soft, too bland, too burnt, too hard, or crystallized. I’ve heard people with much more experience bemoan the challenges of making caramel, which I find both reassuring and worrisome.
In the meantime, my daughter, my sister, and my friend are glad they kept the pressure on, and I’m glad I kept trying to get it right despite the frustration along the way.