lundi 18 décembre 2006

For once, a post where I don't talk about how drunk I was this weekend. Which, btw? Was very very very drunk.

Dumbass*: brr it's chilly outside
Me: Buy a sweater.
Dumbass: i refuse to buy winter clothing this year
Me: Then really, you have no one but yourself to blame if you're cold.

*Dumbass, here, referring to a stupid blockhead ex who moved out here for me even though I told him not to, now lives less than one-tenth of a mile away (which is closer than he ever lived to me when we were in college) and I still refuse to see him. Yet, he apparently doesn't get the message that he should never call (oh wait! He hasn't my new cell phone number! ON PURPOSE) nor IM me (unfortunately, I'm too lazy to change my SN). And he's from Boston; too bad he didn't stay there and far away from me.
But yes, the nice warm temperatures have finally loosened their hold on LA, and it's currently a chilly 44 degrees as I write this (but it's early yet, and ought to get up to the low 60s today, so I'm not really complaining). Winter is finally here, and oh yeah, did you know? Only ONE week left until Christmas. When did that happen? And is your Christmas shopping done yet?

(I know, there are other holidays out there too. But me, I celebrate Christmas. And this here website is all about me, hadn't you figured that out yet?)

In case you haven't, and you really don't want to brave the massive throngs of panicked last-minute shoppers (I don't blame you), this week I'll feature what I made for some presents this year whilst procrastinating on my schoolwork. If nothing else, I'm efficient at everything else when papers are due. And this year I decided to experiment. So no better time than gift-giving time, when I can inflict a whole group of my friends with my kitchen experiments.

For you see, I've never made candy before. I've always wanted to, but I haven't. I remember when I was little and flipping through my mom's copy of The Joy of Cooking and wanting to make salt-water taffy, but we didn't have a candy thermometer. So I never got to make it. But then December's issue of Gourmet featured these lovely salted chocolate caramels, which is practically my ideal candy - chocolate AND salt AND caramel, all in one little bite? I was sold.

Surprisingly, the recipe was easy to follow and the caramels actually became caramels (although I did let them boil a wee bit too long, so there's the slight graininess of tootsie pops). Unfortunately, as I found out, you can't leave the boiling pot of caramel alone for too long (really, it just takes 3 minutes, and you're over the 255 degree point at which you're supposed to take the pot off heat), so it's not really something you should make if you're being distracted by other matters.

But if you're willing to spend the approximate hour it takes (or thereabouts, depending on if your chocolate is already chopped or not), you'll have some nice little treats for your friends and family. Oh, and definitely sprinkle some more sea salt atop the caramels before wrapping - it adds a nice touch.

And for packaging, I made paper snowflakes and put them in the cello bag, enveloping the caramels. I don't think anyone but me - and now you - knows that they're snowflakes, but sometimes those secret details are fun.

Salted chocolate caramels
Gourmet, December 2006

2 cups heavy cream
10 1/2 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt such as Maldon
Vegetable oil for greasing

Special equipment: parchment paper; a candy thermometer

Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch straight-sided square metal baking pan with 2 long sheets of crisscrossed parchment.

Bring cream just to a boil in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat, then reduce heat to low and add chocolate. Let stand 1 minute, then stir until chocolate is completely melted. Remove from heat.

Bring sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt to a boil in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, uncovered, without stirring but gently swirling pan occasionally, until sugar is deep golden, about 10 minutes. Tilt pan and carefully pour in chocolate mixture (mixture will bubble and steam vigorously). Continue to boil over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until mixture registers 255°F on thermometer, about 15 minutes. Add butter, stirring until completely melted, then immediately pour into lined baking pan (do not scrape any caramel clinging to bottom or side of saucepan). Let caramel stand 10 minutes, then sprinkle evenly with sea salt. Cool completely in pan on a rack, about 2 hours.

Carefully invert caramel onto a clean, dry cutting board, then peel off parchment. Turn caramel salt side up. Lightly oil blade of a large heavy knife and cut into 1-inch squares.

Cooks' notes:
• If desired, additional sea salt can be pressed onto caramels after cutting.
• Caramels keep, layered between sheets of parchment or wax paper, in an airtight container at cool room temperature 2 weeks.
• Caramels can be wrapped in 4-inch squares of wax paper; twist ends to close.

Makes about 64 candies.