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Please help. I fail at caramel.

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CakeBeret:
I am a fairly skilled good cook and I love all types cooking, but I cannot make a caramel (sauce or candy) to save my life. I have tried dozens of times. I have a spot in my backyard designated the Caramel Graveyard where the bad batches of caramel are poured out. Every time I make another batch and it fails, I feel like I am going to lose my mind because my stubborn self will not accept that I am incapable.

I have tried both the dry sugar (sugar only in the pan) and wet sugar (sugar plus water) methods. I do not want to do the corn syrup method. I have tried never touching the pan during the cooking process. I have tried gently swirling the pan. I have tried brushing the sides with a wet pastry brush. I have tried a few gentle, well-timed stirs during the cooking process.

Any caramel I make, one of three things happens:

A:The sugar crystallizes beyond all repair. This happens with the wet sugar method. The water evaporates and I am left with one huge disk of crystallized sugar that is burnt on the bottom and still white on top.

B:The sugar reaches the proper deep amber color and correct consistency, but tastes and smells burnt and bitter. It is completely inedible.

C:The sugar reaches a lighter amber color but tastes like sugar rather than caramel, and is so hard/sticky that it is completely unusable. This stuff could double as industrial glue.

So for awhile I thought it might be because I was using cheap nonstick pans. I got good stainless and copper cookware for my birthday and tried two batches this weekend. The first batch ended in result B, looked perfect but was too bitter to eat. I removed the second batch from the stove sooner and even poured it into a bowl so that it would not overcook. I reached result C, tasted like sugar and nearly removed a filling when I tried to eat it.

The good news is, now I know an easy recipe for homemade industrial glue. :P

So, seriously, can anyone help me before I kill myself trying to make an edible caramel?

singingserpent:
There's a way to do it by boiling a full, unopened can of condensed milk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjwidycuSdk
I've not tried it myself, but it looks like it would be easy enough to do.

Cat-Fu:
It sounds like you might be cooking it at too high of a temperature—the longer you take to bring the temp up to whatever it's supposed to be (I forget, I think it's 250°F), the more firm the caramel is. Do you use a thermometer? Are you using flame or electric heat? Flame is more difficult to control IMO; I've basically given up on candy making at my current place because I can't get the burners to do what I want. :P

CakeBeret:
I have done the condensed milk trick. I have a mental issue with being incapable of doing something, though, so I really do want to learn to make it from scratch.

Cat-Fu, I have tried different heat. I have a smooth-top electric stove. The crystallizing usually happens at lower heat. My stove dial goes from 1 to 10, and last two attempts were done at 5, or precisely medium. My stainless and copper cookware tends to retain a lot of heat, so I was advised to not use it at higher temperatures. Should I try turning it down to a 2 or 3?

I don't use a thermometer because *someone* (ahem) keeps putting my thermometers in the dishwasher and killing them. I can buy one if I really need to, though.

alkira6:
You mention water in your first post - are you just using water?  Caramel takes milk. But, the recipe that I use I got from using my google-foo and have not had a problem with it.

Ingredients:

2 cups white sugar

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup corn syrup

1 cup evaporated milk


1 pint heavy whipping cream

1 cup butter

1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract


Directions:



1.

Grease a 12x15 inch pan.



2.

In a medium-size pot, combine sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, evaporated milk, whipping cream, and butter. Cook on medium high until mixture begins a rapid bubble, stirring constantly. Reduce to medium just after rapid bubble stage. Monitor the heat of the mixture with a candy thermometer while stirring. When the thermometer reaches 250 degrees F (120 degrees C) remove the pot from the heat. Alternately, test for soft ball stage.  Caramal is ready when it it just beyond soft ball stage.



3.

Stir in vanilla. Transfer mixture to the prepared pan and let the mixture cool completely. When cooled cut the Carmel into small squares and wrap them in wax paper for storage.


Attention

The above is the origional recipe - I have modified it to my tastes.  Instead of corn syrup I add an additional 3/4 cup of white sugar and 1/2 cup of water. In stage 2, I mix the extra sugar and water and cook it to a simple syrup, then I add the butter, warm it uptil all melted and incorporated, and then add all of the other ingredients.  Add the vanilla after the caramel has been removed from the heat and right before pouring.


* use a non nonstick pan or it will not reach the soft ball stage
* it takes 30-45 minutes for the caramel to reach thesoft ball stage
* after pouring, stick it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes then cut immediately with a buttered knife. Any sooner and it will be gooey still, any later it will be too sticky and/or hard to cut properly
* make sure that the pot you use is twice as large as you think you need - this stuff expands during cooking and you don't want a spillover (ask me how I know  ::)
* I line the pan with waxed paper and butter the paper. Overkill, yes, but I've never had it stick
-After reading your post, go down to between 3/4 on your stove and use the SS cookware. When we got a smooth topped stove a few years ago that's what I had to do. Also, don't do it on a humid day.

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