Author Topic: Please help. I fail at caramel.  (Read 1394 times)

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CakeBeret

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Please help. I fail at caramel.
« on: March 18, 2013, 01:28:24 PM »
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?
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singingserpent

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Re: Please help. I fail at caramel.
« Reply #1 on: March 18, 2013, 01:33:30 PM »
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

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Re: Please help. I fail at caramel.
« Reply #2 on: March 18, 2013, 01:50:34 PM »
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
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CakeBeret

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Re: Please help. I fail at caramel.
« Reply #3 on: March 18, 2013, 01:57:25 PM »
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.
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alkira6

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Re: Please help. I fail at caramel.
« Reply #4 on: March 18, 2013, 02:04:06 PM »
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.

buvezdevin

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Re: Please help. I fail at caramel.
« Reply #5 on: March 18, 2013, 02:12:56 PM »
It does sound as though you may be using too high a heat setting, try a lower heat setting. 

Also, stirring the sugar while cooking can cause crystallizing, so After the sugar is dissolved, just shake the pan rather than stirring.
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CakeBeret

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Re: Please help. I fail at caramel.
« Reply #6 on: March 18, 2013, 02:16:23 PM »
Well, I would be adding cream and butter after removing the pan from the stove, but I never make it that far successfully. :P A traditional caramel sauce is usually made with just sugar (or sugar and water) with milk and/or butter added after removing from heat.

This weekend was pretty humid. I will have to try again tonight and turn the stove down as suggested.

Thanks!
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alkira6

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Re: Please help. I fail at caramel.
« Reply #7 on: March 18, 2013, 02:39:59 PM »
Well my recipe is for caramel candy and for caramel sauce I cheat and melt a handful of my premade caramels in some half and half until disolved and finish it off with a quick stir in of butter.

PastryGoddess

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Re: Please help. I fail at caramel.
« Reply #8 on: March 18, 2013, 05:02:00 PM »
Here is my recipe:
Don't use an aluminum pan and make sure you are using a wooden spoon.
You don't need a thermometer.

The reason for the water is that it helps to control the caramelization of the sugar. The sugar won't caramelize until all of the water is gone, so the more water you use, the longer it will take

2-4 cups of White sugar
Just enough water to wet the sugar
1-2 cups of warmed heavy cream
Wooden spoon
A large bowl with ice water

Put the sugar in the pan, add water and mix until it the consistency of wet sand. 
Take a wet pastry brush and brush the sides down until they are clear of sugar crystals
Turn your heat on medium and start to boil the sugar and water. 
Get your cream ready in a measuring cup or pot (I boil my cream and keep it on low)

The difference between light caramel and burnt is about 10 seconds on steady heat.
When your sugar begins to get some color, pick up the pot and gently swirl it around in a circular motion.  You want to spread the caramelized sugar around so the temperature evens out.
Put the pot back down on the burner and watch the color.  If one part of the pot turns deeper color sooner than the rest, pick up the pot and swirl it around to evenly distribute the caramel. 
Once the caramel all is a deep amber color take it off of the heat (turn the burner on low) and add the half of the cream
Stir like crazy once the sizzling has stopped
Put the caramel back on the burner and continue stirring
Add more cream until the caramel is the consistency you want
Take the caramel sauce off of the heat and put the pot bottom into the bowl of ice water to stop the sugar and cream from cooking.
If your sauce is too thick, put it back on a low burner and add more warm/hot cream

You can tell the temperature of the sugar by the bubbles.  When it is at lower temperatures, the bubbles will be tiny and fast.  When it is at higher temperatures, the bubbles will get slower and slower and eventually disappear

I don't use half and half or milk.  Straight cream which is more fat and less water.




PastryGoddess

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Re: Please help. I fail at caramel.
« Reply #9 on: March 18, 2013, 05:13:13 PM »
Oh and I recommend getting a Silpat for making caramel candy.  They are very useful, not just for making candy

Hmmmmm

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Re: Please help. I fail at caramel.
« Reply #10 on: March 18, 2013, 05:20:09 PM »
http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/caramel_sauce/

I've never had an issue with caramel.  Try the above process and see how it works out for you. 

If B is happening, I think you might be cooking to fast or not stirring enough to keep some of the sugar from burning.  Also, make sure you are adding the butter as soon as the sugar crystals are gone to slow down the temperature.

CakeBeret

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Re: Please help. I fail at caramel.
« Reply #11 on: March 18, 2013, 11:04:33 PM »
Two more batches have joined my caramel graveyard. They both crystallized beyond redemption. What is happening is that the mixture bubbles, but the very surface of the mixture--between the bubbles--slowly crystallizes. I'm thinking the heat may be too low--my last two failed batches, which did successfully reach amber stage--were cooked at a higher heat and did not crystallize.

I'm now waiting for DH to bring home another 5lb bag of sugar.

Hmmmmm--that is the method I have been using. I'm really baffled as to why it is never successful for me.
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CakeBeret

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Re: Please help. I fail at caramel.
« Reply #12 on: March 19, 2013, 12:14:29 AM »
YOU GUYS. I DID IT.

I tried the dry method and used a saucepan instead of a skillet. I added the butter and then poured it into a separate bowl so that it didn't continue cooking, since my pan retains heat so long. It actually was a tiny bit undercooked, so I filled my saucepan with water and used the bowl as a double-boiler for a few minutes to let it cook a little longer. It turned out quite good, it could have cooked a little longer for more depth of flavor, but I'm so glad I was finally able to do it!
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Luci

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Re: Please help. I fail at caramel.
« Reply #13 on: March 19, 2013, 12:44:10 AM »
Just for the record, there are a few things I can't do, mainly, toasting a sandwich. You can tell me all you want about low heat, butter, and patience, but the thing will still turn out awful. I've been cooking for 57 years and haven't made a good toasted sandwich until I crammed the darn thing into my Foreman grill for a bit.

So, sympathy from here!

sweetonsno

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Re: Please help. I fail at caramel.
« Reply #14 on: March 21, 2013, 06:41:48 PM »
Ah yes, candy. The baking of cooking. Candy is unique in that it is far more scientific than most stove-top ventures.

I'm glad to hear that your most recent attempt turned out well. I've had much more luck with the dry method myself. I also prefer to keep stirring while I'm melting the sugar. It just works better for me.